Archive for the ‘navy life’ Category

So.

We’re moving back into military housing.

If you remember the last time we did this, you might wonder why we made this decision again, so I’m going to walk you through the thought process. The pros, the cons, and why we ultimately went this route (at least for now) may help you through your own housing choices.

Or it might be ridiculously dull.

Either way, it’s what you get this week.

Pros of Military Housing

No deposit necessary. Depending on your budget, this can make a huge difference. You don’t have to pay the first month’s rent up front, either, just the pro-rated dates for the month you move in and then allotments come straight from military pay. Easy peasy.

Flat rate rent. There aren’t going to be any unexpected rent hikes. It also usually includes all of your utilities, which is fantastic when you’re running air conditioning in southern California.

A military-friendly community. There’s a lot to be said for a community of people who understand things like deployments and weird moving schedules and the like. (This isn’t really a factor for me, but for many people it’s a huge check in the PRO list.)

It’s bigger on the inside. Okay, not really, but often with military housing you can get more space than you’d be able to afford on the civilian rental side. This isn’t always true, though (case in point: Great Lakes housing is TINY.)

Cons of Military Housing

A military-only community. This may not seem like a con to some people, but I prefer living with a mix of neighbors, rather than all military. The vibe is different, as are the lifestyles.

High turnover in your neighborhood. It comes with the turf. People transfer all the time. Your neighbors won’t stay consistent. The good news is that a bad neighbor may very well leave soon. The bad news is the good neighbor will, too.

Flat rate rent is your whole Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). Even though rent won’t change on you suddenly, it will probably take your whole BAH. For some people this is a deal breaker.

Not much pet friendly space. One thing we run into a lot is that instead of taking pets on a case-by-case basis, much military housing is blanket “pet friendly” in this neighborhood and “no pets allowed” in that one. It severely limits options* with our cats, and means we’re only allowed to live in certain neighborhoods. These also tend to be the older, less up-to-date homes.

Choosing Military Housing

So why did we choose military housing? The current housing market in San Diego is ideal for sellers, which means renters (like we would be) run a high risk of having a rental sold and having to pay out of pocket to move. We did that in Chicago and don’t want to do it again right away.

We don’t want to live an hour out of town. That housing market I mentioned? Rent prices have gone up by ~$600+ a month since we were there 3 years ago, and we’ve been mostly priced out of the San Diego neighborhoods we would have wanted to live in.

We’re moving over the holidays, and trying to get in touch with agents or owners who can show us homes and take the time we need would be a challenge in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

We’ve also been in apartments and condos for most of the last decade (with a 3 year exception in a duplex home), and are ready to not share walls (or floors or ceilings) with other people for a little while. Given that we wanted a little more space, it was worth asking the question, and sure enough they offered us a (pet friendly!) house that’s big enough for what we need and only about a 10-15 minute drive from the base.

….so we’ve got a house!

We’re moving in at the end of December, and it’s SUCH a relief to know we have a place to go and don’t have to go through the house-hunting process this go-round. If we stay in San Diego longer than 3 years, I don’t know that we’ll stay in military housing, but for now it’s a good fit for our current situation.

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*Military families are notorious for ditching pets when they PCS, and this policy does NOT help– making it more difficult to find housing because you have a pet is setting some animals up for being dumped. But that’s a soapbox for another day.

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Somehow even though I’ve been counting down the months until we would move away from Chicago since, oh, 35 months out (what can I say, winter is NOT my favorite thing and there’s a LOT of it up here), this move feels like it snuck on me.

Maybe it’s because we just moved into the current place a year and a half ago. Maybe it’s because I’ve just got so many plates spinning (working and booking and grad schooling and bears*, oh my!) Or maybe it’s that this move isn’t like most of our moves before it, in that we’re going to a place we already know (and have friends waiting for us there) and that we already have a place to live (I’ll get back to that) and that I’ve already got my grad school program lined up to move with me and it has (so far) been a really seamless transition.

In any case, we leave Chicago in 28 days. Exactly 4 weeks from today. As in, 4 weeks from now we will be halfway to our first stop in Missouri and Leena will probably have puked at least once and I’ll already be regretting taking a road trip with cats but it’s too cold to fly with them and we still have to move the car so what can you do anyway except pack them and drive for 4 days straight and hope for the best.

All the same, I’m starting to feel it this week as we begin to experience the “Chicago lasts” before the move. We went to our last (probably, as nothing else is planned) theater show this weekend with the 40th anniversary run of A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre.

It’s a very good production and the adaptation infuses enough humor to balance the more serious bits, and the set pieces are gorgeous. It helps that the Goodman is just around the corner from the Christkindlmarket, which opened this weekend, too. I got my gingerbread and cider fix before the show, though I suspect that was not, in fact, our last visit to that particular place.

It’s not all fun stuff, though. I’m planning for my last day at work, my last day at Shedd, scheduling the last vet visit for the kitties, and just did the last big deep clean before we vacate our current place, too.

Then there are the unknown lasts that are a little weirder, harder to pin down. Like when it snowed two Fridays ago and it occurred to me that it might be the last snow we see here (and how much I hope it doesn’t snow on the day we load the moving truck). It might not be the last one, but you never know.

I do know it won’t be the last time I’m in Chicago, though. While I doubt we will ever live here again (see the aforementioned thing about winter), I have friends here I need to see sometimes. But I am definitely looking forward to being a tourist here and not a resident.

The firsts in San Diego are a little different. We’ll see the house we’re moving into for the first time in about a month, for instance. But moving back to a place? This is the first time we’ve ever done that, and it’s actually really nice. I don’t have to find a new vet, a new dentist, a new mechanic– I’ve already got them all!

And speaking of that new house– we’re also doing a thing we’ve never done and moving into a house we rented sight-unseen. That’s because we’re heading back into military housing (though a VERY different scenario than the last time we lived in it). The thought process (and application process, etc) will be a blog post for another day. But we know where we are going and might actually have our first door-to-door move, with our belongings never going into storage. That would be so good.

So that’s it. A lot of lasts and a lot of firsts and in about a month I get to put my parka into long term storage.

I am SO ready.

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*No bears are actually involved in my life currently**, but it seemed the thing to say. Not even the Bears, which will likely be the only one of Chicago’s pro sports teams from my List that I won’t get to see. Cubs, Sox, Hawks, and Bulls– check! But no Bears. Oh, well.

**I feel like I need to stipulate that there are currently no bears because, being a zoo person, particularly who likes working with carnivores***, bears are always an option. And who doesn’t like bears??****

***Bears are omnivores. But you get where I’m going with it. I’m definitely a “lions and tigers and bears” person. And also wolves and sharks and snow leopards. Especially the snow leopards.

****If you don’t like bears, I don’t understand. I mean, have you SEEN a bear?

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Okay.

We have “Hard Copy Orders” in hand. This means that J is officially set to transfer to….. San Diego! Ta-da!

But this also means that now it’s time to start all of the hoop-jumping that’s involved in actually, y’know, setting it up. This isn’t like doing a civilian move (which I just negotiated last March, as we had to move within Chicago on kind of short notice). We’ve got to have forms, copies of things, signatures, dates set months in advance…. and all on the beast that is move.mil (the DoD’s website for PCSing).

I’ve been at this long enough now that I remember when you used to have to schedule a “counseling” appointment, and actually go into an office on base and have some random clerk person fill out the paperwork for you while you tried to keep your head from spinning. Then they “upgraded” it so that you STILL had to go into an appointment in an office on base but you had to log into one of the DoD’s ancient PCs and use a digital form (that was kind of like using DOS in middle school was) to submit, and then still sign it with a “counselor” who was there to answer any questions. That stage of this “upgrade” my questions mostly were “WHY are we sitting here doing this at a junky old computer??” and “WHY can’t the counselor sit here with me when we need help with every other question??” and other gems.

Now the process is fully online, including the paperwork. You can download, sign, scan, and re-upload your forms all in one go. But the process to getting those forms? It’s still a pain. I spent probably 3 hours trying to get the website to work properly because, as a DoD site, it doesn’t run as well on new browsers. And you’ve got to allow it to generate pop-ups, and even once you do THAT, it only actually pops up about half of the time. It doesn’t tell you when it’s timed out until you suddenly can’t save anything anymore, and sometimes it times out while you’re actively submitting things. (I literally uploaded two forms, and when I went to click “Submit” it told me it had timed out. But when I logged back in, there were the forms! I DON’T KNOW EITHER.)

Thank goodness for good friends who help me keep my sanity:

PCS no cats or plants

(I’m in pink, click to make bigger.)

SO. If you’re here looking for tips to set up your PCS, here’s what I’ve got:

  • Move.mil isn’t terribly user-friendly, so once you’ve found your ETA SSO Portal and the actual DPS page, bookmark them both. You’ll have to log into the ETA SSO Portal first regardless, but having the DPS page bookmarked will save you the twenty minutes I always spend hunting down the right link.
  • The system will actually save where you left off, after you’re a certain amount along in the process. I’m not sure exactly how much that is, but I’ve been able to go back and work on setting up the household goods (HHG) shipment in pieces.
  • Military spouse/dependent? Be SURE to add yourself as an authorized agent for both pick up and delivery. It doesn’t hurt to hold a Special Power of Attorney covering HHG shipments specifically.
  • Add the new orders to the system (and upload them as a PDF to the website!!) BEFORE you start adding your HHG shipment.
  • You can sign and upload the documents you need directly to the site– DO NOT CLICK SUBMIT until you’ve done so!
  • WHEN YOU CHOOSE DATES, be aware that it’s asking for your “Preferred Pick Up Date” which means the LAST day that you will have movers. Anticipate them being scheduled for 1-2 days before this. (So if you want to start moving on Monday, list that Wednesday as your Pick Up Date. If you list Monday, they’ll come the prior Thursday, and so on.)
  • If you get an errorjust close out your DPS page and go back to the ETA SSO Portal. Click CTRL + F5 to give the page a clean refresh, and then go back to the DPS page. This resolved just about every error I encountered.

I was reminded of all of this last week as I fought the very clunky system. Got any other tips? Leave them in comments below. (I could probably use them. Heh.)

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Early on Sunday morning we were first in line for the Willis (née Sears) Tower Skydeck. The doors opened at 8:00am and by 8:15 we were on the 103rd floor with a couple of other sailors and our families and Jared signed up for 4 more years* in the Navy.

I don’t do well with heights, but Jared wanted something specific to Chicago (and this duty station and that we couldn’t do anywhere else) so the Skydeck was it.

Re-enlistments are a lot like tiny military weddings, except that the military member is re-committing to their branch of service. You’ve got to have three elements: the sailor (in our case), an officer to perform it, and another sailor (also in our case) as witness. They’ll sign the papers, too, and make it all official (once the Navy’s had enough admin time to get it done).

One of the things many non-enlisted/non-military folks might not realize is that the location of the ceremony is wherever the service member chooses. Within reason, anyway. And that means there have been some pretty wild places chosen. We know people who’ve had their ceremonies in the nose cones of submarines while underway, from the yardarms of their ships, on the deck of the USS Constitution, and in their own front yards. It’s just one of those little quirks that makes Navy life interesting. (Last time he re-enlisted was on the USS Missouri in Hawaii, standing under the big guns.)

That also means that, like little weddings, they can get a little pricey if you’re thinking in terms of a big event. I can tell you, though, that there are a lot of ways to make interesting or unique re-enlistment ceremonies happen. The USS Missouri, for instance, didn’t charge us at all, and was able to schedule a morning time slot for us on the day of Jared’s choice (his birthday, five years ago). Many military sites (and even some National Park sites) will work with you on this and they love supporting military members and their families. In the case of the Skydeck, if it hadn’t been a holiday weekend, we could have booked a private deck time for a pretty reasonable rate, but being that they had early hours for Memorial Day weekend, we just made sure we were there first thing.

You can also make it more like a fun picnic event, inviting the whole division to a cookout somewhere for a party to celebrate. I find that a bring-your-own thing to grill works out well because it leaves the most expensive items up to the guests, plus everyone gets to eat what they want.

All of this isn’t to say you can’t have just a simple, quick-and-done thing one day at work, either. Jared’s first was like that, with him extending an extra couple of years on his first enlistment. The ship’s galley (if you’re at sea, and even sometimes on shore duty, if you’ve got galley access) is good about making cake, though. Re-enlistments call for cake!

Anyway, Jared wanted something that was a just-Chicago thing, and it worked out that his mom and my parents were able to come, and the weather held so we could actually see and generally it was fantastic.

Obviously I’m really proud of him for reaching this point in his career, where this enlistment will take him all the way to twenty years and the possibility of full retirement (we shall see what happens in the next couple of years, though… might stay in longer), but can I just take a moment to also be really proud of myself for actually going out there on that platform with him?

As I said, I don’t do heights. This smile is a LIE (or a deep cry for help right before I scurried back to the psychological safety of the not-see-through floor). Anyway, me going out for a photo? That’s love, right there. (And a smidge of my recent efforts to face fears, and to just put myself out there and try things even when I’m scared. Deep, y’all. Deep. Except also really tall. Deep and tall? Deeptall? I’ll stop now.)

Anyway, that is done now. We survived. We had a lovely brunch and then went home and had a lovely nap (while Jared did one of his ridiculous workouts).

I guess we’ll do four more years of this Navy thing then. Here we come, 2021!

*Symbolically. Paperwork is a separate thing. Really, the best metaphor for this whole thing is a like a mini-wedding. Ceremony, paperwork, cake.

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I recently got a question from another military spouse about how I took my cats to Hawaii, so I thought I’d tell you a little about the process we undertook in order to bring the pets on our PCS. I will try my best to keep my info accurate as of this writing, but always check the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s website for the most up-to-date info!

The first thing you need to know is that Hawaii is a rabies-free (or as close to it as possible) place! This is good news for your furry family member once you’ve arrived, but it means that there will be some legwork on your behalf in the months leading up to your PCS. This can be tricky now as the DoD isn’t officially scheduling moves until 60 days in advance (again, as of this writing), but as long as you have about 5 months’ notice, you’ll be fine. It takes a little money and a little scheduling, but I can tell you that if you put in the work, you can pick your pet up at the airport (or within a few days) and it’s not at all stressful.

Have basket, will travel.

The basics of taking pets to Hawaii

Pets must undergo a 120 day quarantine to guarantee them rabies-free, but here’s the key: it can be before you move. Hawaii has a 5 Day or Less program that your pet may qualify for if you can do the legwork beforehand. If coming from somewhere else in the US, you will need to have a blood sample overnighted to one of the two rabies labs in the country and the pet must pass the blood test more than 120 days before arriving in Hawaii. The good news is the test is valid for 36 months, so you can do it at any time before the 120 day window. If you can do that, the rest is relatively easy.

Your pet must also be microchipped and you’ll need the microchip number for all your documentation.

Other things you’ll need: 

  • The form and import fee required by Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture
  • Paperwork from the previous two rabies vaccines, which must be more than 30 days apart
  • A health certificate from  your vet within 14 days prior to departure declaring your pet healthy enough for travel
  • A flea and tick treatment applied by your vet at the time of the health certificate
  • An airline-approved crate to ship your pet (more about that further down)

Double check the checklist from the HDOA’s website, of course, to make sure none of the requirements have changed, but I can tell you that we took the kitties to Hawaii in 2009 and eight years later the requirements are the same.

We knew we were going in Hawaii about 7 months in advance of the actual move, so I was able to get the bloodwork sent to Kansas State University’s Rabies Lab more than 120 days in advance. I timed the vet visits and got copies of the cats’ rabies vaccination certificates, then had my vet apply a flea and tick prevention and give us multiple copies of health certificates. The cats qualified for the 5 Day or Less program and were actually released to us in the airport as soon as they’d been processed. We took them straight to the hotel with us the day we arrived.

That military cat life.

General Tips for PCSing With Pets

Any time you’re moving to a place where you need to fly your pets, do your research to find out the best airline for them. This changes just about every time we move and the service with the best rating three years ago won’t be the best one this year. There are pet-dedicated services but know that they are charging you a service fee to still book your pet on the same exact airline that you could book yourself, so save yourself the $50-100 (or whatever the markup is) and just call the airlines yourself.

If you are sending your pet cargo (which is totally fine! this is what we do!), be sure to find out if your pet will be climate controlled the entire way. You do not want your pet sitting on a hot or cold tarmac. Climate control and temperature restrictions are the main things I look for when choosing an airline for my pets.

Crates are a good investment, even if you’re only planning to fly your pet the one time. “Airline safe” crates are usually available at the Exchange or online and while you may pay more for them, it’s like investing in a car seat for an infant: you’re keeping them safe by having the right equipment. Ideally your pet should be able to sit up without the tops of their ears brushing the top of the crate. My cats always spend their trips lying down, but at least they have the option if they want. Be sure to check with your chosen airline for the specific requirements. (Note: My cats have flown on different airlines than I have– the military often chooses our flights but I choose for the cats so they are not locked in to whatever deal the military has made.)

Some people may suggest that you give your pet a sedative when flying, but my vets have all recommended against doing that. It’s much more stressful for an animal to “wake up” in the middle of an airplane with no idea where they are or how they got there than it is for them to be aware of the process, so we’ve always opted to simply leave them be.
EDIT: I was reminded that “comfort sprays” are not sedatives and can be very helpful for animals to relieve stress! We use Feliway spray in the crates (even on road trips) and it makes a big difference for our kitties! Just a couple of spritzes in a small space is all it takes.

Kitty left behind by neighbors in military housing; I worked with a local rescue to rehome him.

Other notes about Military Pets

NEVER leave your pet behind if there is any way to avoid it. Military families are infamous in the animal rescue community for adopting and then dumping pets because of the cost/effort involved in moving them every 2-3 years. Because of this there are MANY animal groups that will not allow military families to adopt pets. Understand that if you are in the military you are VERY LIKELY to move sometime in the life of the pet, so take that pet adoption seriously. I won’t go anywhere my cats can’t go and J’s detailers all know that.

If you aren’t sure you want to commit to a pet because you know you’ll be moving in 18 months or three years or at some other random interval, maybe consider fostering a pet. This is a great way to have the experience of having a furry friend without the lifetime commitment, and many rescue groups are in constant need of good fosters.

Have you done a military move with pets? Any other tips I have forgotten? Let me know! 

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One of the difficult things about being a military spouse is finding the balance between “his job” and “our military career.” It’s not my career. It’s his. But because of the nature of military life, it’s also “ours” together. Where we live, when we come and go, what kind of place we live, what my job options are, are all directly tied to the fact that my spouse is an active duty service member.

I get frustrated with the people who wear their spouse’s rank/career on their sleeves and act like they are the ones actually doing the work, and I want to be clear that this isn’t what I mean when I refer to “us” or say that “we applied for orders.” Physically my spouse is the one applying for orders. But we make the decisions together as a team because that is how we function but also because the things that happen in his career also happen to me.

It’s important to keep in mind the myriad of ways that we have to negotiate life from both the civilian and the military worlds and try to find a balance in between. Part of walking that line is establishing some clear (if only mental) guidelines to tell the difference.

These are the types of mindsets that have helped me:

  • It’s “our” career but “his” job. The big picture stuff is ours together but the actual job? That’s all him.
  • Big Career Decisions are jointly made because Big Career Decisions directly impact us both.
  • “Military spouse” isn’t the toughest job in the military, despite what the stickers/tshirts/coffee mugs say. It’s no walk in the park but I’m not making life and death decisions.
  • We live in a civilian house; the navy doesn’t live here. Once he walks through the door, military rules (mostly*) don’t apply.
  • I hold no rank (and I’m pleased as punch about it). I don’t have any clout because of who my spouse is, nor do I have any restriction on who my friends are.
  • I don’t have to impress anybody because, as mentioned, I hold no rank. I can just be me.
  • His job is his job just like a plumber has a job and a lawyer has a job. This is just his job. I try to take it as seriously as I would take any job my spouse had, but not really more than that. It’s just his job.

At the end of the day it’s really what works best for you, but I find having a little perspective is good, too. Hopefully this helps you gain a little of that, too. As always, this is what works for us (and for me as a navigate this not-so-simple life) and your mileage may vary.

Got other tips? Share them below. 🙂 

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*Obviously we keep OPSEC things in mind no matter where we are and other common sense things.

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The thing about applying for orders is that you spend months and months trying to figure out how the process is going to work and where the options might be and people ask you where the options might be (and you spend a lot of time explaining that you don’t actually know until you can see) and then you CAN see the options and even if there are options you like it’s nerve wracking because THEN what happens if you don’t get the one you want, or if there’s an even better one coming next month that you can’t see yet but also you want it to just hurry up and be over.

So then you apply for orders and then it’s a whole lot of waiting.

And more waiting.

And then you either get the billet or you don’t and the process is either over or you start again next month. Either way, it marks the beginning of the end of your time at the current location.

From a spouse’s perspective this is frustrating beyond reason and you feel like you have even less control over it because it’s not actually your job. We have the kind of relationship where choosing orders is a joint endeavor but there are a lot of cases where it’s not, or where for whatever reason there’s no negotiation window and you wind up just going wherever the Navy says you’re going to go. That’s stressful, too, but in a different way. But I refer to this process with a “we” because for us it’s a discussion and a thing that affects both our lives. “We” do this.

Anyway, my point is there’s a whole lot of anxiety leading up to applying for orders and waiting to get results.

And then the fun stuff begins. In our house we say that anything from the military is “written in Jello.” That is to say it could change at any time and with little or no warning.

So in our case, for instance, J got selected for a certain set of orders. Yay! But that set of orders is for someone his current rank. If he gets promoted in the next six months, he might not be able to fill that billet after all and we may find out in, say, September or October that we aren’t going to the place we thought we were going, but are going to another place entirely.

A whole new level of anxiety unfolds.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the whole process is only the best guess we have at any given time and until the time when we arrive at the next location and J checks into his command is anything finalized. Or at least as finalized as anything is in military life.

But yes: we got orders and, if nothing changes between now and December, we’re headed back to the west coast. Wooo!

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