Our First OCONUS PCS: Lessons Learned

PHEW! We just finished another PCS season. Congratulations to those who moved this past summer! We made it! And for those lucky ones who stayed put, you know what I’m talking about.

Confession: I’ve been with my service member for almost nine years, but this was our first official PCS together since we got married. Oh, and it was overseas. I did NOT know what I was getting myself into.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with all the PCS checklists out there; believe me, I think I read most of them. I noticed a few to-do’s that were missing though. Below are a few things I learned on my own during our most recent international PCS.

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Throw a party!
Not at your own house though and schedule it far enough in advance of your actual move! We opted for a local watering hole that was convenient for us and many of our close friends who would be attending. We scheduled our going away party about two weeks before movers came so we could enjoy ourselves.

Drive cross country!
We had to drive cross country since we were PCSing overseas with our dog. Fun fact: no commercial airline can guarantee they will fly a short-nosed dog (Pugs, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, Pit Bulls, etc.) in August due to the heat. So we made an unforgettable trip–with our Boxer in tow–by driving from northern Virginia to Seattle to catch our Air Mobility Command (Space-A) flight to the Asia Pacific region. We gave ourselves almost two weeks to follow the Lewis and Clark trail. We first traveled to Ohio to visit family, played tourists in Minneapolis, then followed the trail by driving around Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the North Dakota badlands, hiking Montana’s Glacier National Park, following the Columbia River Gorge, and ending in Seattle. This affordable trip is highly recommended for those history buffs, families with pets, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Your pet is worth it!
Pets are part of the family. My dog is my everything, yes, I’m a dog mom! No, I don’t have children but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot harder to PCS with a pet overseas than with five kids. Despite the countless trips to the vet to prepare for the move, it was worth it. We were extremely organized, which made the flight very easy. Flying AMC was very stress-free and extremely helpful with the pet. At each layover, pet owners were able to walk their pets and give them water. Once we landed, customs took only a few minutes and we took our dog straight to the kennel. It was a great experience.

Have a meltdown!
It’s okay, we’ve all been there. Sometimes you just need to cry it out.

When OCONUS, immerse yourself in the culture!
You only have a couple years in country, so make the most of it. Take advantage of the base’s language and cultural course offerings. Travel as much as you can. Time will fly by!

What would you add to this list?

Posted by Nicole Russell, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Japan

Survive and Thrive: Scott Air Force Base

Scott Air Force Base (SAFB) is located in Illinois, just 30 minutes outside St. Louis with access to all the perks that come with a big city. A plethora of restaurants and retail stores can be found both in the heart of St. Louis, as well as the surrounding cities. Eureka, a city neighboring St. Louis, offers a Six Flags theme park. There’s historical attractions, including museums and attractions dedicated to the Arch as well as Lewis and Clark’s expedition that went through St. Louis.

There are lots of great housing options available in St. Louis, as well as the cities and towns on the outskirts. Some of the great neighboring towns that are within a ten minute drive are: Lebanon, Mascoutah, Swansea,  Summerfield, Belleville and many more depending on the commute preferred.

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Endless options of churches and organizations to get involved in

For the service members and family who desire a church home there are hundreds within a few short miles of base, as well as a chapel located on Scott. There are also multiple organizations you can join to make you feel connected.

There are excellent school systems with many extra curricular activities. For the families that homeschool–there any many homeschool co-ops. Illinois also happens to be one of the more homeschool-friendly states and has very few laws to restrict families from doing so. For the military spouses there are fantastic women’s groups on base, as well as MOPS groups, too!

Great for families or single service members

The single service members will have plenty to keep them busy. There are museums, theaters, clubs, and bars. There are also major sports leagues for the avid sports fan including soccer, hockey and baseball.

Appealing to both the families and single service members, there are many farmers markets and public farms to enjoy, as well as large flea markets in the nearby towns.

St. Louis and other nearby cities have endless opportunities for the family. With a jump zone getting ready to open in Fairview Heights and one located a little farther over the Mississippi River. The St. Louis Zoo is a free exhibit and was recently voted as the top free attraction in the U.S. The children’s museum and science museum are located within a few miles of each other, and there will also be an aquarium opening inside the St. Louis Union Station soon.

So, what about the base?

SAFB is a decent size installation with many comforts and amenities. There are a few restaurants located right on base including McCalisters, which just opened. It also features a nice size BX and Commissary. It has a dog park, airman’s attic, thrift store, and library. The base also includes a community outdoor pool and bowling alley. On-base housing has a few different neighborhoods and schools for families to call home while stationed there.

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Scenic places nearby

While Scott may not have mountains or beaches, it does have some scenic places within a few hours that are worth visiting. From amazing hiking trails like Pere Marquette and beautiful lakes such as Carlyle Lake, the outdoor person will have plenty to do, but will have to drive an hour or two to enjoy them.

The downsides

There are some things that we don’t love so much about being stationed at Scott. One of which is the lack of outdoor things to enjoy–nearby mountains, beaches, and other beautiful things just aren’t there. Since Scott is not next to any major bodies of water, there seems to be little explanation for the constant and sometimes overwhelming humidity. But the largest and most common complaint people have with SAFB is the medical group. Many have reported that they are slow and unorganized. Those who live on base often complain the housing isn’t as nice, or as durable as other housing they have lived in, and sometimes dealing with maintenance can be a challenge.

Final Grade

Many families enjoy living at Scott. While it’s often not their favorite installation, it isn’t the worst. Many retirees enjoy SAFB so much they come back here to stay. There is much to enjoy in St. Louis as well as neighboring towns and on Scott. Just keep expectations reasonable when dealing with the medical group and this Air Force installation will feel like home in no time.

Has your family ever been stationed at Scott Air Force Base? What would you add to this list?

mandi-verlanderPosted by Mandi Verlander, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse

When Separating From the Military Unexpectedly Becomes Your Reality

When a service member separates from, or even considers a life outside of the military, it affects the entire family. Regardless if it is by choice, or because of the “up or out” policies of the military, it still can take a major toll on everyone involved.

Just a few months ago our family was anxiously awaiting the results of the most recent promotion boards. My husband has always planned on making the Air Force his first career, and I was anxiously awaiting my first opportunity to “pin on” his next rank (the last time he promoted was during a deployment). Then the day finally came when the promotion list was released.

My husband’s name was not on the list. The military had thrown us another curve ball and I found myself flooded with a range of emotions.

I felt angry, frustrated, and confused. My husband and I both knew there was a chance he wouldn’t make the next rank due to an incident that happened nearly eight years prior. But I had convinced myself that him being worried about not making it was just his normal way of underestimating himself. I never once thought he wouldn’t be on the promotion list.

It didn’t take long for those first emotions to take a back burner to fear. I found myself worried about everything. When people would ask how my husband was holding up after the news, I always said, “You know him, just getting his ducks in a row and giving work 110 percent like always.”

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I tried to play it off like this setback was no big deal. Then a close friend asked how I was feeling about all of it. I tried to act like it didn’t really effect me–since it was happening to my husband, not me. But my friend saw right through it. She pointed out that if he did separate, it would impact all of us.

When I left my job to put my husband’s career first, I put faith in the notion that my husband’s career could support our growing family. But now with his career in question, I was suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of what comes next? And you know the worst part? I didn’t want to share my fears with my husband, because I didn’t want to make him feel any worse than he already did.

I know if he does separate in the near future he will find a job he loves, he will find a new way to serve the military and our family will keep moving forward. We’ll adjust, like we always do, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.

In fact, it’s actually had the opposite effect. How are we supposed to know what to do next with our lives? We always figured we wouldn’t have much say in our path until my husband reached that magical number of 20 years, so when we talked about having a “normal” life, it always seem so far away.

Even as I say it, the idea of a normal non-active duty military lifestyle sounds terrifying. You would think I would love the idea of no more TDYs, or last minute PCSs. I would embrace the fact that our last deployment could very well be our last deployment.

But instead of being excited about these prospects, I find myself a little lost and confused. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have my husband around and out of war zones, but I know how much he loves to serve. And I would never wish for that to no longer be an option.

In the last couple of months, my husband and I have began working together to tackle all the emotions and concerns that come along with the idea of possibly separating from the military. We’ve made list after list of places we could live, ways he could still serve (i.e. Guard or Reserves), civilian jobs he might be interested in. We’ve researched and discussed each option in depth about what it would mean for both his career and our family. And even though we might not know what will come next, we are a lot more prepared than we’ve ever been in the past.

For all you spouses that find yourself in a similar situation, I have just a few words of advice. Don’t pretend it isn’t affecting you, don’t say you’re okay if you aren’t. Talk openly with your spouse. The first couple of conversations may be tough, but opening the lines of communication will save you many sleepless nights.

Has your service member ever separated unexpectedly from the military? How did your family handle the change?

Posted by Tara O’Meara, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse

Military Mom’s Gym Bag: 4 Excuse-Busting Ways to Get Your Workout Done

As a military wife and stay at home mom, I’ve had to get creative with my workouts over the past few years. With the help of amazing resources on our post, I have been able to get my workouts in and not make excuses. Before parenthood, I would go to the gym whenever I wanted, but now it is a little harder. I have a deep appreciation and love for exercise, because I feel absolutely amazing after a workout. Are you in the same boat? Here are some resources which might be available to help you get your workout in!

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Strollers and Mommy: This is an exercise class where moms come together with their kids in their stroller. I have not personally done this; however, the one on post is taught by a personal trainer. In my location, the first class is free. What a great opportunity to see if it can work for you and your baby! Check out what options are available in your area, and if there aren’t any, consider starting a group!

Community Center Gym: Do you live on post? Well, if you do, you might be able to take advantage of the housing office community center gym. I have used the gyms in my housing community on Fort Hood and Fort Leavenworth. The housing office offers a small gym which has a play area for the kids (though all might not). It’s been a true blessing for this mommy, for sure! I can exercise and watch my kid Monday-Sunday from 5am-10pm. If I want to go when the housing office is closed, I have a key card which allows me to enter. Remember, this is usually a smaller gym, but it should be equipped with cardio and weight training. Thanks to this resource, I am not paying for a gym membership, daycare, and/or extra fees.

MWR Gym:  At this point in my life, I don’t use the MWR gyms as much as I did in the past. However, I do get over there from time to time when my husband can watch my little one, or if she is in preschool. These gyms are much bigger and offer many more machines and activities. Free weights, cardio, weight machines, classes, basketball, and much more all under one roof. Another great reason I use this gym is the sauna and shower. I can work out, use the sauna, shower, dress, and go home. This is a great option, so I can get home and spend more time with the family.

Child Development Centers (CDC) Hourly Care: Once you have been through registration at the CDC, you can reserve spots for your child in hourly care. For a few dollars an hour, your child is looked after. I have used hourly care on several occasions for my three-year-old, and it is a true blessing. There are days when I want to go running or not stop every five minutes with weight training. CDC hourly care is another great option. Plus, it is usually a few streets away from the gym.

Working out takes dedication, even for those without children, but with a little extra effort and resourcefulness, you won’t miss out!

What tips do you have for other military spouses trying to balance parenting and exercise? Share it with us!

Posted by Jessica Richardson, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Fort Leavenworth, KS

Tips and Tricks for a Successful DITY Move!

My husband and I just experienced our first true PCS move together as a married couple and we decided to do a DITY move (also known as a Personally Procured Move)! I will be honest: the idea of people in my home, packing my stuff and then moving it across the country made my Type-A personality incredibly uncomfortable. I have heard stories about moves gone bad. At least with a DITY, any issues were our own!

Some DITY best practices:

  1. Start early and clean out often. We had to really rationalize if something was worth moving…again.
  2. Pack up the seldom used items first and then decide if it might be time for a garage sale or to donate. This is a great time to pack them up those “necessary” wedding presents and promise yourself you will use them at the next place or put them up for sale!
  3. Shop where you can save time and money. Amazon Prime gives you access to 2-day shipping. I used Amazon for most of our packing materials. FYI: Packing materials are a reimbursable expense. You can also use Amazon Smile to have a portion of your proceeds go to the NMFA! Home Depot was my second go to for this move. I used a packing calculator to determine how many boxes we would need and ordered a variety of sizes. We kept all of our boxes from this last move and plan to use them again. The we picked up our rental truck from Penske. We chose Penske because they had the lowest rate overall, offered a 10% discount for booking online, as well as a 10% military discount when you pick it up in store.
  4. Don’t forget about your pets! Moving can be stressful for your animals, especially during a DITY move. Bring plenty of water, treats and food, comfortable bedding, and toys for your animals while traveling. Also, keep their vaccination records on hand and make sure their microchips and name plates are up to date. As for hotels, La Quinta will let up 2 pets stay for free in a hotel room and they even have dog potty stations at their hotels.
  5. Have help for loading and unloading. This was probably the most difficult part of the move. If we did it again, I would hire movers to load/unload the truck.

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Other tips:

  • Invest in plastic storage bins
  • Keep in mind that while weight is a crucial part of your reimbursement, the more items you add to your truck is more you have to unload when you get to your destination
  • Research weigh stations beforehand! The closest weigh station was 50 miles in the opposite direction from where we lived.
  • Don’t forget that some costs will need to be paid up front

Despite the difficulty of the move, it was nice to have all of our stuff as soon as we got here. Within 2 days, it already looked like home. We made sure to save our receipts for reimbursement and researched the rates to get an expected amount for per diem, dislocation allowance (DLA), mileage etc. We spent about $1,800 upfront and our reimbursement was close to three times that.

Would I DITY again? Yes, I would, and I would recommend it to anyone that is up for some hard work and adventure (or if they just want to ease their mind by doing it themselves).

Have you ever done a DITY move? Leave your tips for others in a comment!

Posted by Lesley Boatright, NMFA Volunteer, Fort Benning, GA, Army Spouse

How to Help an Anxious Child After a PCS Move

PCS season rush  is over. You have relocated, which means you found and moved into a new home in a new town with new people and are anticipating new experiences.

However, your child is anxious and may feel like they’ve lost control of their life because they have been removed from their school, friends, and home. They also may feel as if they have lost their sense of security, too.  As a military parent, I have sought out professional help from therapists and read countless books on how to help my child adjust and feel comfortable in their new settings.

Here are some tips that have helped my own children thrive after relocating:

  1. Remind them of their blessings: basic necessities met are considered blessings, such as shelter, food, water and clothes. Reminding them, but not comparing to those without, allows the child to realize that they are safe and in-control of their own environment.
  2. Point out the amazing and extraordinary activities, like traveling, visiting, and living in a place that might not have happened to an average child their age.
  3. Find ways to minimize anxiety by encouraging and facilitating ways your child can be an active participant in problem-solving their own issues.

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But not all problems are from the anxiety of moving. Sometimes, they’re just typical kid problems. And we’ve faced them, too. Here’s some helpful examples pulled from my own experiences as a military parent raising military children:

Riding the bus
If your child is anxious of riding the school bus, encourage the child to ask the bus driver to assign them a seat. The child will feel control in sitting in a seat that is assigned to him or her because it will give the child a sense of security.

Student-teacher personality clash
new school means a new set of teachers who are unaware of your child’s quirks. If your child is experiencing a personality clash with a specific teacher, help your child write a letter or note allowing them to express their thoughts and emotions in a constructive manner that is both helpful and progressive. The child has the ability to remind the teacher they are trying their best, promise to keep up, and desire a great school year. This will allow the anxious child to feel like an active participant in controlling their environment and situation with their teacher.

Neighborhood bully
If a another child is bullying youus, the best solution is to encourage your them to express their concerns to the child bothering them. Most military children already feel lack of control over their lives, it is not acceptable for their peers to restrict any more of their sense of safety and security. Remind the anxious child that making bold statements is hard but they were able to do it, which proves that they are strong, reasonable, and in-control of their own life.

If your child is the so-called bully, allow other kids to express acceptable and reasonable thoughts and opinions of your child’s behavior to them. As a parent, find ways to encourage group participation without leading the group. Help your child learn new ways to be cooperative without losing their autonomy.

If a child apologizes to yours, as a parent you should also feel as if they have apologized to you, too. Allow the children to solve their situation as much as they can on their own and only get involved when necessary.

Parenting is tough. None of this easy to do, facilitate, or encourage. However, we as parents, are given an extraordinary privilege to raise extraordinary children. Should you feel frustrated and need encouragement, I recommend speaking to a licensed professional. Military OneSource, TRICARE, and Give an Hour can assist you in finding a therapist who is ready to help you and your family thrive.

What tips would you give other parents with kids who are having a tough time after a PCS?

Posted by Fari Bearman, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

Survive and Thrive: Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston and its surrounding areas are full of history and intrigue for the casual weekend vacationer looking for a getaway. It’s also awesome for the military families who live in the area! It’s no surprise that Charleston was recently named the best city by Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards.

Charleston Geography
When first moving to the “low country,” as this area of South Carolina is called, it can be a little daunting and difficult to navigate. Charleston refers to not only downtown Charleston, but is also comprised of smaller towns and communities in its surrounding area. If you are moving to here, make sure you have a map and a GPS to navigate the areas of downtown Charleston, Mount Pleasant, West Ashley, Folly Beach and the other communities in the area.

Charleston has several larger cities and tourist destinations within a five-hour drive including: Columbia, SC, Myrtle Beach, SC, Hilton Head SC, Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA and Orlando, FL.

Where to Live
For many in the Navy and Air Force, living in the base housing is an ideal option because of the proximity to base and the many amenities offered.

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Those who do not mind a short drive, with possible traffic and sometimes frequent railroad-crossing stops might prefer to live off base in Goose Creek, Hanahan, Ladson, Summerville, or North Charleston. For those working on the Coast Guard base, the communities in West Ashley or Mount Pleasant offer affordable, family friendly options housing options.

Most of the neighborhoods and communities in this region have Home Owners Associations with amenities such as gyms, clubhouses, and pools. So if you plan on buying or renting, make sure you understand those additional costs and requirements before committing to purchase or rent a home here.

What to Do
The low country does not disappoint in events and activities available to those who live here. Joint Base Charleston has pools, gyms, movie theaters, bowing alleys, libraries, and an outdoor recreation center. Additionally there are biking and walking trails, dog parks, access to boating and fishing and disc golf courses on base.

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For a day at the beach, head over to the Isle of Palms, Folly Beach, Kiawah Island, Sullivan’s Island, or SeaBrook Island. In addition to catching some rays, you can kayak, surf, windsurf, and kite surf. For the avid fisherman, there are many local companies that offer charter boat trips around the waters of the low country.

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For a day out with the kids, there are many options including the Children’s Museum, Charleston Aquarium, Monkey Joe’s Indoor Play Space, Ice Palace for Ice Skating, and Velocity Air Sports. Also popular with kids during the summer months are the Charleston County water parks: Whirling Waters, Splash Zone and Splash Island.

For the history buff, check out Patriot Points (home to USS Yorktown and other smaller ships), Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, the H.L. Hunley (sunken confederate submarine), and Riverfront Park. There are also historic plantations including: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Middleton Place, Drayton Hall and Boone Hall, as well as the Nathaniel Russell House and Joseph Manigault House.

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There are many festivals held throughout the year celebrating everything from the arts, local food and wine, breweries and much more. Charleston 2nd Sunday is a popular monthly event downtown on King Street with live music, local merchants and outdoor dining. Another popular festival is the annual Flowertown Festival. This is the largest arts and crafts festival in South Carolina, held the first weekend of April at Azalea Park in Summerville. It is a fun event and has something for all ages.

Charleston is also home to sports teams that offer military nights and discounts each season: Charleston Riverdogs (baseball), Charleston Battery (soccer), and Charleston Stingrays (hockey). College of Charleston, The Citadel and Charleston Southern University also have a variety of sports played on their campuses throughout the year. And located on Daniel Island, the annual Volvo Car Open Tennis Tournament is held at the Volvo Cars Stadium in April.

And let’s not forget shopping.  There are all types of options in the area, from flea markets, thrift stores, department stores and malls, to designer stores, like Louis Vuitton, and even outlets! For local goodies like the famous Sweetgrass baskets, hand made soaps, lotions and more, make sure you visit the Charleston Market.

What to Eat
In recent years, Charleston has gained a reputation of being a haven for foodies. From casual to upscale, there is a restaurant that will cater to every appetite.. There’s a wide variety of local restaurants that serve cuisines with Caribbean, African, American Southern and soul food influence. Popular must try restaurants are: EVO, Hominy Grill, Husk, Boxcar Betty’s, Taco Boy, and Smash Burger.

When living in Charleston, make sure to try some of these staples of the region: Carolina style barbecue (vinegar and mustard based), shrimp and grits, frogmore stew (sausage, crab, shrimp, onions, corn, and potatoes), boiled peanuts, sweet tea (supposedly first made in Summerville), and anything with pimento cheese.

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Opportunities for Spouses
A great part of living in the Charleston region is that there are many opportunities for careers, additional education, and training for military spouses and families.

There are lots of opportunities for employment due to the large military presence, defense contractors, and local businesses in the area. There are also employment opportunities for positions for those with medical and teaching experience as there are many early childhood learning centers, K-12 schools and medical facilities on the military installations and in the area.

Say Hello to Charlie
By the time you have finished your stay living in Charleston, I hope you’ll agree that it’s a great place to live. If you’ve tried everything listed above and you don’t agree, please make sure to visit my good friend Charlie. He is the official Officer in Charge of Complaints on the NWS side of JB Charleston.

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Have you ever been stationed in Charleston? What are your favorite things?

lauran-griffithsPosted by Lauren Griffiths, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer, Charleston, SC