Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2nd Trip to Travis AFB

The ever critical "Official Passport" trip to Travis occurred today. In my discussions with the very helpful folks in Germany and onboard Travis AFB here in Cali, there were mixed opinions on how to best obtain the Official Passports we'll need as Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) personnel stationed overseas. I was told by some that we could wait until we arrived in Germany to get the "red" passports, but that we had to at least apply for them here Stateside. Others told us that we had to have them in hand going through German customs.

We opted for the safety of requesting them here in the States. To do so, we made another trip over to Travis AFB, with the kids in tow, to obtain passport photos and to deliver passport applications. We pulled Joshua out of school early, because there is only a narrow window of overlap between the "Open" hours at the passport photo office and the passport application office. We arrived at the passport photo office just before 1pm, when they opened. Once inside, I explained our "civilian family on PCS orders" status, and we filled out the necessary paperwork to get photos taken. Joshua went first and was a champ. It took all of two minutes for his picture process to be completed. Next came Sam, who decided to be a terror. We didn't get his picture taken very well. So we skipped him, and Nicki and I got ours done. Finally, back to Sam. We tried distracting him, coddling him, smiling at him, singing to him, flirting with him... to no avail. Eventually, he broke down in a fit of screaming and tears, which is when we got our best photo of him. Sure, he looked very sad and angry, but his face was directly pointed at the camera, his eyes were open, and he met the legal requirement for passport photo success.

From that point on, it was all downhill. Nicki took the boys outside, while I waited for the pics to be printed out. Once they were, I got directions to the passport application office and we went on over there. Once inside, we waited a good half hour for a family ahead of us to apply for their passports. During that time, Sam just couldn't get happy. So everyone else knew he was unhappy. Eventually, it was our turn. We went through the process, handed in our tourist passports as proof of our identities (which could come back to haunt us later), and were told that it would be 4-5 weeks for our Official Passports to arrive. Then I panicked, think that in 4-5 weeks we'd be about ready to go. But the rep couldn't request expedited service for us, since we were still outside of the 30-day til departure window.

So now all we can do is hope. If our passports arrive ahead of the 5 week window, we'll be A-OK. If not... well, I don't want to think about that!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wanna Be Friends?

Along with blogging and staying online with my favorite time suck, facebook, I've also been trying to chat it up in chat rooms to fish out some other Mommies in Ramstein/Landstuhl area. Then I'm planning on pestering and grilling them with questions! Nah, just kidding I won't pester too much.

The truth is, I'm a little worried about my first day there. We'll be staying off post in temporary lodging. This is a hotel with a kitchen, laundry, fridge, and other things we would need for an extended stay in a hotel. The very next morning, Mike is expected to check in at a meeting, leaving the boys and me in Germany by ourselves... no friends, no family, zero, zilch, nada. The good news is that this country is not some kind of war-torn crime-ridden land. I hear that it's the Japan of Europe. In other words, very safe and pretty friendly. I figure if I can find out where a playground is and it's not raining, we'll be OK. The wonderful thing about us humans is our resourcefulness and ability to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations. Plus, I tend to think the best of people. No matter where someone is from, it's natural to want to help or guide a person to the right path. Yes, there are icky people in this world but they are the minority. Ideally though, I'm hoping that there is an active spouse group in Mike's command with some mamas that can possibly meet me in this new world I'm entering. Another option would be to just tag along with the hubs to base and hang out there with the boys until he's done with whatever mandatory business he has to attend to.

So, here I am pondering what my first steps will be in Germany. What business do I need to attend to first? I assume once we land, we'll want to have Euros & of course hopefully all of our luggage! Anything else. If anyone is out there reading this and is located in Germany, what made your first day or couple of days there more comfortable? Is there anything you wish was done differently?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Visit to Travis Air Force Base

In preparation of the move, I had to make arrangements with the nearest military installation's Transportation Office, which sent me to Travis Air Base yesterday. I was a little worried about getting on base, since I'm not a current DOD employee, but it turns out that my DOI ID carries a little weight, and I was armed with my travel orders, a passport, driver's license and all of my vehicle's current registration info. After signing in at the main gate, I was good to go.

My first stop was the outbound household goods office, which I found after making a few wrong turns along the way. Once there, I explained that I had been picked up by the Army and was looking to pack out. We arranged for our pack out to occur over several days in early October, and they began entering my info into the system. Then the system crashed. Then they found out that it might be a while before the crash was fixed. So they asked me to come back around lunchtime. I asked them for directions to the Commercial Travel Office (CTO), and off I went.

At the CTO, I booked our flight to Frankfurt, the nearest airport to Landstuhl. Things there went pretty smoothly and the customer service rep, Fran, was extremely friendly and helpful. She answered my questions about traveling with Jane, our cat, and went the extra mile in helping us arrange with the airlines for her to come with us. Fran even looked into several flights that could accommodate us having the cat with us for the entire journey. If traveling with pets is tough... traveling internationally with pets is a nightmare. As Fran was printing out our receipt for our tickets, I got a call from the household goods office. Apparently, they were told that the system would be crashed for the rest of the day, and that I'd have to come back to Travis AFB at a later date... ugh.

I decided to head back over to the Transportation Office again, just in case. Anyway, I was hoping they'd do the "outbound household goods debrief" with me so that I didn't have to come back at another time for that too. When I arrived, I found out that they were able to get into the system through someone else's computer, and that the crash wasn't really a crash after all. They were being fed bad info by the people that run the system. It happens. I was so stoked to find out that we were in the system, that I didn't care about the wait. The airman on duty gave me a one on one debrief for my troubles, to prevent me from having to come back next Wednesday. Awesome!

So now, our pack out dates and our flight are scheduled. But it's still only the beginning...

Friday, September 10, 2010

'Sprechen Sie Deutsch?'

I've been taking German lessons on my computer using the Berlitz program. I would use Rosetta Stone if it were like a fourth of the cost! $500+ for the program. This is what the government/military uses (hmm... an explanation why it's so expensive? duh). Anyway, it's helping but it's demanding for someone who has been out of the professional world and out of school for a long time.

Along with learning a little German, we are also very busy getting things together. We have a little over a month to get things in order. I've been working hard to get information on our new location to make Joshua's transition easier. The military really offers some great resources for children. Each family gets a sponsor for their move. Sometimes their sponsor is awful, which stinks, but if things go well, a sponsor can really help families to navigate through the ins and outs of an overseas transition. Along with assigning a sponsor for the family, there's also an opportunity for children to get their own sponsor. A "child sponsor" is someone in your child's age range that can answer questions that they may have through email and send pictures of the school or other youth programs.

One thing I've had difficulty finding is a civilian blog for our area there. Unlike Japan, civilian blogs are just about non-existent. Maybe we have a new job on our hands? I've got a ton of questions and most military blogs and chat groups have answers. Many times though, I have to omit the information that we are civilians or I won't get a reply back at all. I'll try my best to give accurate updates of our transition experience for those interested though.

1. Question: Are you super busy packing things up? Doesn't that cost a lot?
Answer: The DOD covers all moving expenses to a certain weight amount. That means that movers come in, box/pack up, and move everything. We are not even allowed, because of liability, to pre-pack anything. The weight amount is generous, at 18,000 lbs for the household goods. Some folks even decide to ship their car, which is not included in the 18,000 lbs limit.

2. Question: When are you leaving?
Answer: In a little over a month.

3. Question: Where will Joshua go to school? Aren't you worried about how he's going to handle the move?
Answer: DODEA/DODDS schools are located on many military bases overseas. The Landstuhl/Ramstein/Kaiserslautern area in Germany is pretty massive and there are literally thousands of children that go to these schools. In Yokosuka, there were 9 1st grade classes and this continued all the way up to 6th grade (9-10 classes of 28 students in each grade). These are American schools and are almost identical to public schools in the States. This isn't a "military academy" or "military school" in the sense that children are not little soldiers walking around. Children don't wear uniforms or speak German there either. DODEA/DODDS teachers are civilians, much like us, who move overseas working at these schools. They are trained and extremely sensitive when it comes to helping children through the transitional period of moving or dealing with parent(s) on deployment. The high schools even offer live or recorded broadcasts of student graduations to war zones and areas where parents can't make it. Most schools offer a host nation class where children learn about their host nation cultures. Many schools offer Spanish immersion, Art, & Music. For more information here are a couple of web pages: http://www.dodea.edu/home/ and http://www.lans-ems.eu.dodea.edu/.

Hope that this helps anyone out there facing a move or thinking about applying for something overseas... got any questions?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Telling Eldest

Today was the day that we told Joshua about the big move and surprisingly it went really well. We decided to tell him in the morning time and not in the evening right before bed. Our thinking was that maybe he would have time for it to sink in and ask any questions that he may have.

He actually starting getting excited about some of the things like, not having to where his uniform anymore, speaking German, having on base and off base, and the idea of seeing a lot of new places. I even told him that I will try and request a child sponsor for him that he could send emails to. He also became really happy when I told him we might be driving across the country to see Baba and Grandaddy and then flying to Germany.

I'm sure that in the future there will be some hard times. Like saying goodbye to his friends and family and the idea of leaving certain things behind but right now we are taking it as it comes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Wurst Years?

Mike got the official offer today. We are moving to Germany! I have to say the finality of that email really hit home. It's a mixed reaction that I have. I've always told him though that I really am happy wherever I am. It takes some time, but I'm happy. The year long stay in my home town has been a rocky ride. I hadn't lived here in about 10 years so the adjustment period had been hard. I've had to come to terms with a lot of things in my life that I didn't have to deal with for a long time.

Moving to a neighborhood that was less than desirable for the majority of folks in our demographic had proven for me much more difficult than I had thought. Trying to "fit in" with my "demographic" has also been difficult. It seems to me from my experience, that a military community is much more "inclusive". When we first arrived in Yokosuka, it was easy to make friends because, figuratively and literally we were in the "same boat". I really did enjoy the diversity that the military community offered. A small microcosm of America all mashed together in 1 1/2 square miles. Coming back home, I found a much more "exclusive" environment. Not that folks were "mean". More like, they already had their lives, their family and their friends so really making new friends for them is on the low priority list.

I learned not to talk so much about Japan because sometimes it turned into a very uncomfortable situation. I also learned that many folks are intrigued when I say that we lived in Japan for several years but once I say it was with the military, they aren't so interested. It felt like I was being labeled as something, which really makes me sad, because that negative attitude towards the military, especially coming from a so-called educated crowd, just seems very one dimensional. I'm proud of the work that Mike did for our military, the mission, and our country as a whole. I'm also really looking forward to our new opportunity in Landstuhl, Germany. Working with the hospital could really provide a whole new realm of volunteer opportunities for me as well. I'm sorry if I sound a bit brash, but this was my negative half portrayed in a general sense.

Now, maybe on to the other half of my feelings for leaving. We haven't told Joshua yet. He has just started school again in 2nd grade and talks about his future all the time. How he can't wait for Samuel to start school at his school and how he will have so much fun showing him everything. He talks about graduating 8th grade from there and how he loves being in his new class.

Being here has really been wonderful for him. For the first time in a long time he's been able to experience extended family. My mother and Joshua have really been able to spend a lot of time together and both my boys are thrilled and light up every time I say, "Alright guys, get your shoes on, we're going to Grammi's!" My brother and sister have really enjoyed my being here (even though they'd never admit it). My sister loves Samuel and my brother, I think, is just starting to relate with Joshua. He also has a whole slew of cousins that he's so excited to see during every family gathering.

I've been able to finally connect with old friends. Friends that I've had since grade school, and it's been great trying to play catch up. I feel like after months we are finally starting to find our place... just barely.

So here it is. Months ago, when I received the call that Germany could be a possibility, I was thrilled because I was having such a hard time fitting in here. Now that I feel a little more comfortable in my shoes, moving has now become a reality. I think the beginning will be difficult like everything else, but I think it is just one more chapter in our lives as a family. I've found that every move that we've made has somehow added a new dimension to our family and made us more of a cohesive unit. After all, my motto has always been, 'If it's not a challenge, then it's not the Corry family!'

One constant in our family over the past few years has been "change". For those of you that are new to this blog, we kept a similar blog during our time in Japan (2005-2009) and for our time in Northern California (2009-2010). The above links will get you to those blog sites.

The blog you're reading now is where we intend to track our journey through Germany over the next few years. Stay tuned!