Over the years, I’ve accumulated a fairly good repertoire of things that improve our lives between frequent moves to new cities and staying on a tight budget. Here are some of my resources, and feel free to share with whomever needs it, or to suggest more in the comments!

1. The USO 
The USO has made a HUGE difference for us while stationed in Illinois. They not only have really awesome airport lounges (often with free snacks and drinks, wifi, and maybe even places to nap!) but they provide access to all kinds of opportunities for entertainment thanks to donated tickets. In the last year alone we’ve been to a Bulls game, an illusionist, and a jazz concert. They are also, of course, famous for bringing entertainment to military bases for free shows (think Bing Crosby in WW2), but they do so much more than that. Search for your local USO chapter and sign up for their mailing list– you won’t be disappointed.

2. VetTix
Similar to the USO, except way more options offered on a lottery system, VetTix allows for individuals or groups to donate tickets (or just funding to fulfill wishes through the Hero’s Wish program) that military service members can apply for via lottery. If your lottery entry is selected, you pay a service fee (like you would on Ticketmaster to transfer tickets to your own account) and can go to all kinds of events for a low price. Again, sign up for your local mailing list!

3. Military Travel Agents and Accommodations 
Most bases have an ITT (Information, Tickets, Travel) office (or look up your “Military Leisure” office), but some are partnered with people who can actually help you plan your vacations. We did this when we were stationed in Hawaii, and were able to take some fantastic trips. There are also military-only hotels including Shades of Green at Disney World. AND there is a military campground inside Volcano National Park, not to mention cabins you can rent on all kinds of military bases (I love a good cabin!). Many bases have hotels that are available for leisure/recreation use, and a lot of them are right on beaches (so right at the top of my list).

4. MWR Rentals
MWR (Morale, Wellness, and Recreation) is the Military’s Parks and Rec department. They have tons of things you can rent for free or cheap, ranging from popcorn machines to kayaks to bounce houses. Do your research and make sure you know how to operate whatever equipment you’re borrowing, but if you want to take a boat for a spin without buying one yourself, it’s not a bad way to go. They even offer classes for a wide range of things.

5. COMPASS
This one is Navy-specific, but there are versions for other branches. COMPASS is a program for brand new Navy spouses to help them do things like read their spouse’s LES, navigate military life, etc. I only found out about it after I’d figured all this stuff out the hard way, so wanted to include it in case I can catch anyone in time to take advantage of it!

6. National Parks
Here’s a cool thing: military personnel and their dependents get free National Parks passes! You can find out more info on their FAQ page, but the summary is that if you or your sponsor is active duty (or reserve) then just bring your military ID to a National Park Office where they sell America the Beautiful passes and they’ll give you one! They’re good for a year, so be sure you’re up to date when traveling, but this make national parking SUPER easy and affordable! We love visiting as many national parks as possible, and it’s usually pretty affordable to stay (or camp!) in the parks, too!

Anything I forgot, or something you want to share? Comment below! 

So I have now been a “military spouse” for over a decade and there are some things I wish I’d known when this whole thing started that would make life a little easier. In case you might be a new military spouse, here are some things that I learned the hard way. As always, your mileage may vary.

It Can Wait
You’re going to spend a lot of time thinking that if you don’t do that thing Right Now then it will never happen. Whatever that thing is, it can wait. This is doubly true for Big Life Decisions. I see a lot of people getting married Right Now, Really Quickly Before Deployment! for instance, and that just isn’t always necessary. If you are panicking because you aren’t sure how you’ll LIVE for six to twelve months without a ring on your hand… maybe think twice. The ring isn’t the thing that will make it stick.

Don’t Wait on Everything
I promise this isn’t counter-intuitive. That first one is about big decisions (like getting married just because of a deployment!), but there are other things where the timing is never going to be perfect because, y’know, NAVY, so you may as well just go for it and then make things work around, y’know, NAVY. This could include college or grad school, picking up a new hobby, travel, anything really. If you try to time everything around deployments and PCSing, you’ll never find a window of opportunity. Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it. (Example: schools are more and more online– so just pick a program and get started!)

Volunteering to count humpback whales in 2011

Have Your Own Hobbies
This may seem self-explanatory, but you really need to go in with the assumption that you’ll be spending at least some time on your own. Whether it’s a once-a-month duty night where you’re fending for yourself come dinner time or a year of an IA, there will probably come a time in your relationship where you’ll be on your own. If you don’t have your own Thing to do, this can get a little overwhelming. Personally, I look forward to random duty nights as my chance to watch what I want on TV without having to discuss it and ordering a pizza with the toppings I like.

End of deployments are often in the local papers!

Keep the Clippings
Was your military service member in the base newspaper? Was the deployment covered by local press? If you can get a physical copy, keep it! And get multiples. This is the type of thing that will be interesting to look at twenty years from now. It’s also the kind of thing that extended family will find interesting.

Invest in Communication
The hardest thing about any relationship, military or otherwise, is communication. Investing in communication ability can make all the difference in the world. This can look different for different people, but for us it means we’ve got iPads so we can FaceTime (when that’s available where he is) and (granted, this is a little old, but the overall idea still applies) getting smart phones so you never miss an email. Early on, I felt chained to my computer in case I might hear from him while he was underway, but getting a smart phone made a 1000% improvement in my quality of life. Take the email with you.

Morning in the Philippines, 2013

Travel, Travel, Travel
Deployments are the perfect time to travel! What’s so awesome about traveling alone? Everything costs half as much! Only one set of airfare, only one thing to pay for per meal, only one ticket to buy for that tour! Team up with a friend or go and visit family or whatever you need to do, but take advantage of a much more flexible schedule. Note: if you have kids or other family members, your mileage may, again, vary, but this still applies– having something AWESOME and EXCITING to look forward to DURING deployments, it can make the time go by faster, and keep the experience from being a negative. Turn it into something positive!

Good friends make all the difference

Choose Your Friends Wisely
This goes back to the What I Should Have Learned in Kindergarten, but the best way to get through deployments is by having a solid group of friends that you can trust. These might or might not be fellow military spouses. Proximity doesn’t always breed the best friendships. I don’t mean this to sound negative, but if you are looking for friendships, the best place to find them is in spaces where you have things in common, like volunteer jobs, hobbies, church, etc. This also goes back to the thing about having your own hobbies. It’s important.

Friendships can last despite the miles between you.

You Are Not Alone
Even if your fellow military spouses aren’t going to be your best friends, they know better than anyone what you’re going through, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them. There are spaces online to meet people, clubs and events, all kinds of ways to get connected, and there is value to just being able to be like “UGH THAT STUPID BOAT IS GONE AGAIN” and have someone nod and pour you another glass of wine without you having to explain more.

That being said, some of my closest friends over the years have come from the military community. We usually have something else in common than “Well, here we are at this military function together,” and having them to vent/drink wine with has made a huge difference. One of my favorite traditions at a particular base was a weekly dinner party with rotating hosts. We never had much of a plan beyond “show up at this time and I’ll feed you, and bring wine” (yes, I know, it’s a recurring theme, but trust me on this one) but those dinners were invaluable.

Plan fun things for when your service member is home, too!

This, Too, Shall Pass
It feels like it’s taking forever. The ship/squadron/platoon/plane/whatever has been gone for weeks or months and time is dragging by and you’re stuck in a rut because it feels like you’re back to being single, and work is boring, and you just can’t watch any more Supernatural on TV no matter how cute those Winchester brothers are, but you know what? Time is still passing. You’re getting there. Set small interval goals to look forward to (see the previous Travel!) and it will help break up the marathon into easier-to-run sprints. You can do this.

Got any other tips for military spouse survival? Leave them below! 

Oh hey, it’s March! Around the middle of this month, we enter the “9 month window” for transfer where we get to look at possible orders that J could get. Do I know what they are yet? Nope! But that’s okay. We’ve got another week or so. I’m anxious…but trying not to think about it too hard.

It’s been interesting the last couple of weeks, looking back at my older posts from our first PCS together, to Hawaii. I actually haven’t written much about “navy life” since then, as it became kind of routine for me, though those first couple of years in Hawaii were something else entirely. “Adjustment” is the understatement. We moved to a whole new culture, both in terms of Hawaii itself and in terms of suddenly living on base and being part of a sea-going command. J’s first command in Italy was mostly always in port, even though they were “at sea”– repair stations are different beasts– and then he was on shore duty and at school, so it was a pretty big shift for both of us.

Anyway, there were all kinds of lessons to learn, from how to deal with military housing, to finding my footing in the middle of a LOT of other military spouses, to just getting around places. Maybe it’s time to revisit some of those older experiences and respond to myself with the Things I Know Now.

I guess I don’t have much else to say except that I felt the need to check in and record where my mind is leading up to this next PCS. The slightly weird thing is that at this point we’ve been to enough places that there’s about a 50% chance we’ll be going “back to” someplace, which is both reassuring and…not. Friends aren’t necessarily in those places anymore so in a sense, it’ll be starting from scratch regardless. In another sense, I now know the housing markets, etc, in those places, which would make it a lot easier.

I’m going to wrap things up for now. If there’s anything you specifically want to know about this process, please feel free to ask! I’m not always sure what’s of interest and am just rambling for now. Heh.

So I mentioned in my post last week that we are 10 months out from our next move with the US Navy, but what does that mean? Why is 10 months significant?

Well, in a sense, it’s not. This is the last deep breath before things start to “matter” I suppose. And now that this is going up, it’s even less than 10 months for us.

In our specific case (active duty, enlisted, Navy), it means that J comes into his “negotiation window” 9 months from his PRD. (Remember “PRD” from my Glossary of Terms? No? Here you go.)

Next month, J gets to log onto the Navy’s most recent iteration of their automated job-matching program and see what billets are going to be open when it’s time for us to move. I’m not kidding about the automated part– there used to be individual detailers (people whose job is to match the needs of commands with the available sailors/service member of your branch’s flavor) we’d talk to, and there still are detailers who ultimately process this stuff, but in the ongoing effort by the military to move everything online, now there’s a form thing to fill out. I’m getting off track.

My point is, J can look at what’s going to be available, and then he and I discuss (because hey, I have to go live there, too), and then he submits the choices in order of preference. And what happens next is why we refer to it as “negotiating” orders. Once he submits, the Navy comes back and says “well, you can have your # 3 choice” or “actually none of those are available after all” or whatever version of that may happen.

Sometimes there’s nothing either of us likes, and we can wait another month to see what else might come up. It’s a gamble, though, especially if there is an option we might like already on the table. But we navigate it as it comes, and will see how things go.

I know this may sound confusing, and I probably won’t document the exact instances as they happen, but I’ll try to explain as we go through it. You’ll probably mostly get my frustration while we wait to hear back and then wait some more and then wait some more….

Oh, and the most asked question I get about this is “Do you have any idea where you’ll wind up next?” and the answer is always “NOPE.” We won’t know until J hits that 9 month window and we can actually see. But the list of Navy bases is relatively small, and the list of those that are surface ships (as opposed to submarines or naval air stations) is even smaller, so there you go. Those are the best guess I have. Sorry it’s not more specific, but that’s part of the process, too.

Do you know someone in the military? Do they seem to be speaking another language? Probably. Here is a general glossary of terms that may make communication just a smidge easier.

This will be a work in progress as I come upon new things that need explaining, or as folks ask me questions that I may need to answer more broadly. That being said, there is a lot of jargon in my everyday life that most people don’t understand or that I have stopped thinking of in terms of jargon. I’m going to share some of that here so that you, too, can translate some of the things coming out of your military friend’s mouth.

In No Particular Order:

  • Active Duty Service Member: 
    This is a full time military service member. The military is their “day job” if you will.
  • Reservist:
    This is a military service member who trains on a monthly basis but has a different “day job” the rest of the time. They can be activated and deployed as needed.
  • Orders:
    This refers specifically to the documents that spell out what the military member’s next assignment is. You may here them refer to “orders in hand” which means they literally have the physical copy of the assignment in their possession. Orders can change at any time. In my house we say they are written in Jello.
  • Billet:
    A specific position that an individual service member can be assigned to fill. So you get orders to fill a billet, if that makes sense.
  • PRD:
    Stands for “Projected Rotation Date” and is the day that the current orders expire and the military member is scheduled to go to the next duty station.
  • PCS:
    Stands for “Permanent Change of Station” and it means start taking inventory because guess what, honey, we’re moving. Again.
  • TDA/TDY:
    Stands for “Temporary Duty Assignment” and “Temporary Duty” and for our sake we can assume they are mostly interchangeable. If you want to get technical (which I’m sure some of you do) TDY is more typically used in the Army and Air Force.
  • IA:
    Stands for “Individual Augmentee” and is what you call the individual service member that is sent on TDA/TDY.
  • CONUS:
    The continental United States. This does not include Alaska and Hawaii.
  • OCONUS:
    Not the continental United States. This does include Alaska and Hawaii as well as any other international bases/ports/whathaveyou.
  • DFAS:
    Defense Finance and Accounting Service. It’s who pays the military bills, including pay to service members.
  • LES:
    Stands for Leave and Earnings Statement. It’s the monthly breakdown of a service member’s income, etc, including base pay, allowances (for housing, etc), taxes and other deductions, and any leave earned or used.
  • Leave:
    Time off. Most active duty service members accrue 2.5 days of leave per month, which equates to 30 days a year.
  • Commissary:
    The military grocery store. They don’t charge tax there and often have items at reduced prices, though depending on where you are the selection may or may not be great. Bigger bases = bigger commissaries. (From personal experience, I used this way more OCONUS than CONUS.)
  • BX/PX/MCX/NEX:
    The Exchange, in different branches. (So, Base Exchange, Post Exchange, Marine Corps Exchange, Navy Exchange respectively.) Similar to the commissary but for non-food items. Think of Sears and Target and your local outlet mall kind of mushed together under one roof. You can buy cat food and Coach bags in the same store. I know.
  • Deployment:
    This one may seem obvious, but it changes depending on the branch of service your military friend is in, as well as the particular orders/duty station. It can be short (a few weeks) or long (over a year) but on average for the Navy it’s 6 to 9 months.
  • Sea Duty and Shore Duty:
    Okay, so this one is Navy-specific, but it’s exactly what it sounds like: Sea Duty means orders to a command that goes to sea (i.e. deployments) while Shore Duty means orders to a command that is always on shore (i.e. shipyards, instructor billets, etc).

By No Means Comprehensive

So, do you feel like you’ve got a handle on this? Let’s say your military friend comes to you and says: “I just got orders OCONUS and need to set up my PCS.” Can you translate? If you guessed: “I’ve been reassigned overseas somewhere and now they’re going to send movers to pack up all of my stuff” then you win!

Know that this isn’t by any means comprehensive, plus there are all kinds of terms that get thrown around that are slang, and I’m not going to try and suss those out here. If you really want to get into the nitty gritty you can check out this Glossary of Military Terms and Slang from Military.com, but know that the old adage about “swearing like a sailor” applies in triplicate to military members and their slang. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

*taps mic*

Is this thing on?

So… it’s been a while. And I hate HATE starting out a blog post by saying that but as my last post to this blog was in, oh, MAY of last year, I can honestly say “It’s been a while” with no trace of irony whatsoever and really who can even properly read irony on blogs anymore anyway? (I’m hoping you can. I’m a heavy user of irony and also satire and puns though maybe puns the most. Despite this, my most viewed and commented upon blog post continues to be the ridiculous one about North Dakota even though I keep replying to Every.Single.Comment. with a link to the definition of “satire” from Dictionary.com and still people don’t notice. It’s amazing.)

I am also a heavy parenthetical user. I offer no mea culpa. Parentheticals are useful.

So where are we? Well, we are 10 months from our next transfer with the US Navy and there have been enough folks expressing an interest in the process that I have agreed (agreed? decided? I’m not sure. I’ll go with ENCOURAGED) I have been encouraged to document the process as we go through it. I may (will most likely) have other thoughts about things as we progress and will try to offer as much explanation as I can, with a few caveats.

Caveat 1: I will not provide exact dates for things. If this continues and we get into any kind of military-related timetables, they will not be posted here. These’s this thing called Operational Security. It matters.

Caveat 2: I will probably repeat this one a lot, but for the purposes of clarity you should know that my spouse is in the Navy (other military branches have different processes) and Enlisted (Officers in the Navy also have different processes) and active duty (again, reservists have… you get the idea). That being said, this is only my perspective. Yours is probably different. I will regularly remind you that your mileage may vary.

j-and-j

So there we are. I have no additional things to say except that this photo is the most recent one I have of us, taken on the way to brunch on Saturday, and though I didn’t notice it until later I’m very entertained by the street signs above our heads. Oh good, now you’ve seen them, too.

More soon. Probably. Assuming I can put jumbled thoughts into less jumbled paragraphs.

No, not the new computer.

That happened a couple of years ago, but I had a handy dandy external hard drive with everything backed up on it. It’s about my third or fourth, and I migrate my data every couple of years to keep it safe. YAY! Everyone is happy!

Happy-Spinning-With-The-Smooth-Best-Friend-Cat

But then, due to a weird sequence of events…. well….

I bought a new computer about 6 months ago. My external has been working wonderfully with the new desktop and I’ve been happily chugging along.

train chugging gif

Then we moved 6 weeks earlier than anticipated. When we packed up the computer, I backed everything from it onto the hard drive. I did not mirror 15 years worth of data from the hard drive onto the desktop.

We flew to Raleigh for my sister’s wedding. It was lovely. When I got home, my computer seemed a-okay.

About two weeks after we got back, one day I tried to access a file I use regularly and…..nothing.

NOTHING.

luke nooooo gif

The hard drive was powered on but the computer wouldn’t recognize it.

NOTHING.

vader nooooo gif

My music, my photos, my writing…

NOTHING.

Cue the crisis.

troy nooo gif

So I took it to a place where they check on such technological things, and once they physically pulled it all apart, they can mirror the data onto a new hard drive.

MAJOR RELIEF.

But in the meantime while I wait to get that back…. I don’t have my photos. So there won’t be any more 2015 Travelogue posts for a bit. I’ve got one sitting in pending waiting for pictures, but…. y’know, no photos.

FUN TIMES.

PS: When they called me to talk to me about the contents of the hard drive to make sure they were “finding everything,” the conversation went something like this….

IT dude: So, can you tell me what’s on this device?
Me: Uhhhmmmm nope. It’s got everything on it since college so I’m not totally sure what all’s there.
IT dude: Okay, I’ll read you some of what I’m seeing. So there are 9,452 photos…..
Me: Probably.
IT dude: 12,687 music files….. that’s a lot of music.
Me: Since. College. And I’m old. So this was before Napster was illegal.
IT dude: …….okay then. Wow. Moving on, I see…. Five powerpoint presentations?
Me: SINCE. COLLEGE. Don’t judge me.

hampster_dance_gif

So there you go. Back up your stuff in three places, y’all. Seriously.

But they have all my data and I’ll have it back soon! YAY! Everyone is happy!

dancing cat gif