Tag Archives: OCONUS

5 Gifts Military Life Gave Me (And #2 is a Shocker!)

Around the holidays, it can be hard to find things to be grateful for in military life. During this time, many are going through deployments, trying to figure out if they can make it back home to see family, or tackling other challenges. But for as many challenges as the military throws our way, it’s given me many other gifts in return, like:

My Spouse
If it weren’t for military life, I wouldn’t have met the man of my dreams. We met at Fort Hood, Texas where my father and husband were stationed. My husband and I are from two different parts of the United States. I believe that we never would’ve met if it weren’t for the US Army.

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Deployments
Okay, hear me out! I know, how could anyone consider deployments a gift? Don’t get me wrong, these were some of the hardest times in my life; my husband did four deployments in the first five years of our marriage. Yet, with each deployment I learned more about myself.

The first and second deployments, I learned I could make it on my own and take care of myself. I learned to pay bills, navigate some family issues, and how to stand up for myself.

The third and fourth deployments taught me how to communicate with my spouse. Our whole marriage was based on emails, chats, and telephone calls when he was gone. It only proved to make us stronger.

Lifelong Friendships
As a military kid, my sisters were with me every time my family PCS’d. Even to this day, one of my favorite people to talk to is my middle sister. We talk at least two times a week, if not more. In my teen years, I met my best friend and just this past September I was able to go see her after 13 years. It was like we were never apart. I have friends in numerous states, and Germany, because of the military. Each has a special place in my heart for different reasons.

New Experiences
How many people can say that they’ve lived in Germany three times? How many have a seven-year-old that loves sushi? The military life has given my family the opportunity, not only to meet new people, but also to see new places. We’ve found new types of food and awesome places we’ve loved living in.

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United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC)
Being a part of USAREC has given me a glimpse of what living outside of a military installation is like. I’ve had to learn how to get medical bills paid, find a doctor, childcare and so much more. I have knowledge and experience that will help when it comes time to leave the military and transition into civilian life.

How about you? Can you think of some things that you are thankful for this year because of the military?

rdodge-headshotPosted by Racheal Dodge, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse, Chattanooga, TN

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

Connect With Your New Military Installation Fast! Here’s How…

The gym had been transformed; it was filled with tables decorated in beautiful autumn colors. A large screen dominated one corner, already broadcasting Armed Forces Network’s Monday Night Football game. The buffet table gleamed with silver chafing dishes, piled high with traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Leaders dressed in their finest stood at the ready, serving utensils in hand. The band swung into “City of New Orleans” and the room began to fill with single service members and newly arrived families for our “Taste of Home” Thanksgiving dinner. The evening was a resounding success thanks to our volunteer team.

Volunteering is how I connect with a new community. Once the boxes are unpacked at a new duty station it can be challenging to know what to do next. Volunteering has always been my next step; it not only helps me connect with issues I care about in a new community, but it introduces me to others who care about them, too. It has given me the flexibility to put my family first in this often tumultuous lifestyle, while still finding a way to contribute to my community.

After arriving in Belgium in July 2014, I reached out to the National Military Family Association (NMFA) to see if there was a way I could volunteer while overseas at a NATO base. The answer was yes (yay!), giving me license to get involved in my new community. I spent time talking to organizations across the installation, meeting lots of new people and gaining insight to the challenges of this new duty station. I was able to share resources and programs with families who might not otherwise be aware of them. And I was able to connect with others who were committed to supporting military families.

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Over the course of this assignment, I saw that while Europe has much to offer, families especially missed home around the holidays. Those times of year were challenging for our young single service members, many of whom lived in barracks. Newly arriving families, living in temporary lodging, were also faced with trying to create a holiday environment at a brand new duty station, often while living out of a suitcase.

Last fall, we pulled a team together, sponsored by the senior chaplain, and began reaching out to every organization we could think of – BOSS, JROTC, MWR, AFN, Boy Scouts, and even our local thrift shop. Every single organization we invited eagerly joined in to make this event happen. These volunteers brought their talents to the task at hand and made that Thanksgiving one to remember.

Volunteering is the single best way I have found to connect with my community and make a difference. And the volunteer support I have received from NMFA has been key to my success. The Volunteer and Community Outreach Managers are encouraging. They empower their Volunteers and ensure that we understand NMFA’s mission and focus. NMFA actively seeks our Volunteer input from the field and uses it to better advocate for military families. If you’re looking for a way to connect with your community and support your peers, volunteering with NMFA is one of the best ways I know to do both. Come join us!

Interested in finding out more about how you can serve military families from ANYWHERE around the world, check out our Volunteer section and apply now! (It’s free!)

kelly-hPosted by Kelly Henry, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Moved Back to the States

My family lived in Wiesbaden, Germany for three years. The day my husband came home with orders overseas, I jumped up and down in excitement. The day he told us we had to go back to the States, I sat down and cried.

If you’ve been able to live in Europe, this post probably won’t surprise you. There is something about living there that changes you. As much as I love our home here in the States, a piece of me will always be yearning for Germany. If you are still lucky enough to be living overseas, here are some things about coming home that may surprise you:

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Reverse culture shock is real. 

This one is difficult to explain. Feeling out of place in your own home is a thing. It took time for the kids and I to adjust to saying “thank you” instead of “danke.” They hardly remembered living in the States, and they were confused by everything from the way American toilets flush, to the types of door handles we used. The first night we were back, we stopped at a restaurant, and my poor son stood in the bathroom crying because he couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet and he was too embarrassed to walk away without finishing the job. We had to send someone in to “rescue” him!

Everything is LOUD.

When we were overseas, I couldn’t understand the language being spoken around me. When you don’t understand the language, it’s really easy for the sounds of people talking to just become background noise–you tune it out. When we got home, it felt like I had some sort of superhuman ability to hear everything. All of a sudden, I could understand all the noise around me again, and it took some time for me to be able to block out that noise. It was overwhelming for the first couple weeks!

You’ll be homesick…for a country that isn’t home.

We’ve been back two years now, and I still ache for Germany. It hits me at the most unexpected times. Around Easter, I want to go back for Spargle season. In the summer, I can’t stop thinking about all the festivals. At Christmastime, I’d sell my soul for a Christmas market. I can’t stop thinking about it!

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Things go back to the way they were.

While living in Germany, I was determined to make sure we could travel (a lot!) and not rack up a huge amount of debt. In order to balance the budget, we didn’t have television service, or smart phones. The TV was almost never on, and I learned to function with an small, emergency-only cell phone. No one could reach me, and I was never distracted from the moment. It was magical. We also shopped at farmers markets instead of the grocery store, and almost never ate out.

When we came home, I was determined to stay unplugged, and stay healthy. Lets just say the iPhone and Panda Express won in the end. I’m still a little disappointed in myself.

Everything changes.

I struggled a bit with how much everything changed at home. We have a large family, and I wasn’t able to afford a trip back to my hometown for all of us, so after four years, I finally flew to San Diego to see my family. When I arrived, my favorite ice cream shop from my childhood was closed. The house was older. The people were older. I was different, too. Things didn’t fit together the way they once did. I no longer felt like I belonged there, and I didn’t belong in Germany. Everything was different.

Living overseas is magical and exhilarating, filled with places to explore, and memories to make. Coming back home is a little different, as you can see.

Have you ever had a hard time adjusting back to living in the United States after OCONUS orders?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Moving OCONUS with Pets: How Hard Could it Be?

“It’s cheaper to ship our car than it is to ship our dogs,” I relayed to my husband as we finalized preparations for our move overseas. New kennels and veterinary visits for mandatory health certificates, along with their airfare added up to just over $3,000. Our car could have made the trip for about $1,200.

Not all military families will face a bill quite so steep. Our move was stressful enough for me, between inaccurate information from the transportation office, booked flights on carriers that never accept pets as luggage, and driving our dogs to an airport with an airline that would get them overseas, then trying to connect my family back to our original government purchased airfare, it’s safe to say, we’d been through the ringer.

We have two dogs, both too big to transport in either the cabin, or as luggage on US flagged carriers. This meant they’d have to fly as cargo. The contracted airline for our move overseas never transports pets, so the dogs couldn’t travel on the same aircraft as us (typically a less expensive option). Further complicating the process is the fact that fewer US flagged carriers will even accept pets on board these days.

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Options are even more limited in the summer months (peak PCS season). Generally speaking, if temperatures exceed 80 degrees, pets can’t fly. What’s a military family to do? Our pets are a valued part of our family—they’ve helped my children deal with the stress of moving, among other things. And handing them off to someone else because we can’t afford their airfare would be heartbreaking. So, we chose to pay the fees and bring our dogs along on our overseas adventure. However, not all families can do the same and are left to find a new home for their pets.

Moving back to the US, we face a similar challenge. There’s not much information for pet owners. We haven’t been able to figure out if pets can fly unaccompanied as long as they’re met by someone in the destination city. I’ve been trying to connect with Ramstein AFB, but they keep referring me to their online brochure, which doesn’t give us any answers. Most families are getting their information from local Facebook groups. The question of flying pets unaccompanied is one that comes up over and over for military families, and for our family, has truly been one of the most stressful aspects of moving overseas.

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So, we’ve decided to get our dogs back to the States ahead of our move (thanks Mom and Dad!), but now must decide how we go about making it happen.

We have the option of using a professional pet shipper, who will collect our dogs and get them loaded as cargo on a flight out of Brussels. We could play “Space-A roulette” out of Ramstein when it’s time for our entire family to fly back to the states, or one of us can make the drive to Amsterdam to fly KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, with the dogs traveling as luggage (KLM has a higher weight limit than any US flagged carrier).

I’m not sure which option we’ll select, but the kennels have been hauled out of storage and the dogs know something is up. Our dogs are members of the family, and leaving them behind is not an option. And, these days, affordable transportation doesn’t seem to be an option, either.

Have you moved overseas with a pet? What tips could you share?

Posted by Kelly Henry, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Survive and Thrive: Belgium!

“It sure is going to be hot this week,” I remarked to my children as I looked at the 10 day forecast.

“It’s going to be in the 70’s all week long.”

Mind you, it was July. That’s when it hit me: I had fully acclimated to life in Belgium. What did it take to get me there? Lots of patience and a willingness to explore.

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An assignment to Belgium is not like most other OCONUS tours. My spouse is assigned to the NATO base here, and while there is an American flag proudly waving near the front gate, it is part of a semi-circle of NATO flags – it doesn’t stand alone. We use Euros, rather than dollars, on the installation. Our children attend the Department of Defense Dependents School (DoDDS) alongside children from all over NATO. Our coffee shop is full of folks chattering away in many languages (although, it now proudly serves Starbucks coffee!). There is no mistaking that you are living outside of the US.

So what can make the transition to Belgium easier? Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Bring an umbrella and some good rain gear. It rains nearly every other day here so I keep an umbrella in my purse, in my car, and one at home by the front door.
  2. Prepare to enjoy some amazing food. Our first stop with visitors from home is nearly always lunch at a cafe along the Brussels Grand Place followed by a stroll to check out the Mannequin Pis while enjoying a warm Belgian waffle loaded with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Delicious.
  3. Learn some French. While there are three official languages in Belgium, the NATO base is in the French speaking part of the country. English is not as widely spoken here as it is near other overseas US bases. And your hopeful, “Parlez-vous anglais?” may be met with a very firm, “Non!”
  4. Bring your spirit of adventure. Not only have we been able to explore many wonderful sites in Belgium, we have also been able to travel to France, the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Sweden. Belgium is a great jumping off point for travel anywhere in Europe.
  5. Bring your patience. Most stores are closed on Sundays (some on Mondays, too). Restaurant meals are leisurely affairs; your waiter is not going to be working hard to turn the table, but you may be working hard to get the bill so you can leave after two or three hours. Travel along country roads requires a much more sedated speed than zipping along an American highway. You don’t want to speed over cobblestones!

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Our tour in Belgium is rapidly coming to a close, and while we are eager to return to the US where we can be near family and friends, we will miss living in Europe. Our college student is already planning a semester abroad and exploring career options that will allow her to live overseas. If that comes to pass, she can be sure that we will be visiting – often!

Have you ever been stationed in Belgium? What are your tips?

kelly-hPosted by Kelly Henry, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Christmas in Senegal: Paper Trees and Mandarin Oranges

As a young child celebrating Christmas, I associated the holidays with cold weather and the hope for snow. We would be among the first to buy our freshly cut Christmas tree and decorate it with lights and ornaments. My mom made fancy Christmas dresses for our special candlelight Christmas Eve service. Christmas Day, we would bundle up and trek over to my grandparents for food and presents. For years, these memories were as familiar and comfortable as my favorite winter coat.

When I turned 13, my holiday experience changed in a big way. My parents and I moved to West Africa to do mission work. Little was familiar and I would soon be learning to appreciate holiday memories in a new way.

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I remember our first holiday season in Africa, like it was yesterday. It was a balmy 104 degrees, and instead of a Christmas tree, we had a paper tree plastered on the wall. In place of a fancy dress, I wore shorts and a tank top.  It was Christmas-time, but everything in me resisted the change.

I cried a lot that first Christmas. Maybe it was the sad paper tree, or maybe it was because I wasn’t around my siblings, grandparents, and extended family. Maybe it was because I just wanted peanut M&Ms that didn’t arrive half-eaten by rats. I simply missed the comforts of home.

But even though it didn’t feel like what I thought the holidays should feel like, I came to embrace my new “holiday” normal. With my brother, sister, and our entire extended family on the other side of the world, my parents and I created new and different holiday traditions. Families that didn’t fly state-side for the holidays, came together and merged into one, big “family” unit comprised of friends and stragglers. We didn’t have snow, but we had the beach. And I was actually starting to enjoy this!

My favorite past-time during the holidays became sunbathing on our empty school campus in Dakar, Senegal, while reading through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and eating mandarin oranges by the dozens. To this day, mandarin oranges are the #1 thing I think of during Christmas-time.

Military families often have to adjust their holiday traditions because of PCS moves or deployments, and I know it can be hard. Even though the latter part of my childhood was spent overseas away from family, I am so grateful for the experience and hope to give my own children the same opportunity. Who knew paper trees and mandarin oranges could create such a special holiday memory?

What’s your favorite holiday memory? Have you had to adjust any traditions because of a military move?

hannahPosted by Hannah Pike, Communications Deputy Director