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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

NOTHING.

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My music, my photos, my writing…

NOTHING.

Cue the crisis.

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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.

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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!

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Everything expressed below is my opinion only and doesn’t represent any position on behalf of the National Park Service or any other entity, cited or otherwise.

Let’s talk about that bison calf.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? From a press release out of Yellowstone National Park today:

In recent weeks, visitors in the park have been engaging in inappropriate, dangerous, and illegal behavior with wildlife. These actions endanger people and have now resulted in the death of a newborn bison calf.
Last week in Yellowstone National Park, visitors were cited for placing a newborn bison calf in their vehicle and transporting it to a park facility because of their misplaced concern for the animal’s welfare. In terms of human safety, this was a dangerous activity because adult animals are very protective of their young and will act aggressively to defend them. In addition, interference by people can cause mothers to reject their offspring. In this case, park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the newborn bison calf with the herd. These efforts failed. The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway.

You can read the entire release here, and they cite other instances just in the last few weeks of humans getting way too close to these animals. From viral videos of people trying to touch bison to concern over an “abandoned and cold” calf, humans have gone way beyond crossing a proverbial line.

So what’s going on exactly?

Personally I think a combination of the desire for viral phenomena as well as a pure lack of real education about wildlife and our environment have created a hotbed for bad behavior. The strange thing about wanting to be a viral phenomenon is that almost nobody is going to remember your name afterward. Think about the last viral video or meme you saw: can you say the username of the person who made it? How about their actual name? No? That’s because it’s a flash in the pan situation. You’ll remember the blue and black dress (or is it white and gold??) but not the woman who wore it. That’s not a Thing that really needs to be Fixed so much as that people need to take a step back and ask why they’re really filming/photographing/recording something that may cost them (or an animal) their life.

And now we come to the bison calf.

One of the biggest reactions I saw when I started looking into this article is that people don’t understand why the calf had to be put down instead of being hand reared or even taken to a zoo. While I don’t know enough detail in this specific case, I can give you what my general impressions are from the press release and offer my best explanation based on my previous experience with zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, etc.

  • The bison calf wasn’t going back to its mother. This is a problem for many reasons. The main reason is that it is a young herd animal that needs its mother and the rest of the herd to feed it, protect it, and generally teach it how to be a bison. Without being part of the group, the calf was at risk for starvation, predation, injury or death simply from being alone. That’s the thing about herd animals– they need the herd to survive. That’s how they function.
  • The bison calf was approaching humans. This is very dangerous for the calf and for the humans. The calf was at risk of being hit by a car (and hitting a large animal with a car can be deadly for the humans involved, too!) as well as not getting the food and protection and other things provided by the herd. Humans just can’t do that. Not only that, but having a young bison near humans might A) attract other bison, including the mother, to be near humans (and bison are dangerous) and B) might contribute to disease being spread. Many many many of the weird strains of flu and other viruses come from humans being too close to wild animals. This calf was probably A-Okay, but it’s still not a good idea.
  • The bison calf was born in the wild to a specific wild herd. This is probably the number one reason the calf couldn’t go to a zoo or other sanctuary. As I said before, bison are herd animals and the calf needed a herd, but it wasn’t going back to its own. The calf would be hard pressed at best to join another herd in a zoo or sanctuary, and at worst would be outright rejected, leaving it in a yet more vulnerable situation.
  • The bison calf might pose a health risk to other bison. In addition, if the calf were carrying any diseases or pathogens, even ones that are normal and healthy in a wild herd, it could decimate a different population that has been bred and raised in a zoo. With bison considered “stable, but near threatened” according to the IUCN, populations in captivity shouldn’t be put at risk for a single individual.

So let’s get some wildlife watching education.

There are a few general guidelines to follow that will help keep wildlife watching safe for you and the animals. Here are some tips!

  • Do not approach wildlife for any reason. Think an animal is injured? Call a professional, be it a park ranger, a wildlife help hotline (really, those exist! I have a bird person and a small mammal person in my contact list), or even your local SPCA. They will ask you some questions to understand the situation and, if needed, come assess things. You aren’t an expert, even if you’ve seen a lot of Discovery Channel. Especially don’t approach large animals. Many parks have posted signs or regulations as well. In this case, there is a 25 yard minimum distance you must keep between yourself and the bison. Anything closer is breaking federal law and you could go to jail. Surely an instagram photo isn’t worth that. Oh, and bison? They have horns. That can gore you. That’s right, gore. Don’t believe me? Google “bison gore risk” and see what you find.
  • Do not feed wildlife. This means ducks and seagulls, too. I know it’s tempting to feed birds and other wildlife. I know how much it makes your kids happy. It is not healthy for the animals, no matter how “hungry” they seem. I could write a whole other post about this, but the biggest take away is that birds and other animals are not adapted to survive on human food. Bread and bread products are particularly bad for them, causing obesity and diabetes in animals that shouldn’t ever encounter it. Think about how unhealthy our modern diets are, and you want to give that stuff to a bird? Not to mention you’re changing natural behavior and disrupting a food chain, and possibly an entire ecosystem. Don’t be that disruption.
  • Do not move baby animals. Even if they look abandoned. Even if you think they might be injured. (See above.) Animal parents will often leave their young in a tucked away, camouflaged area while they go to look for food, or to try and lure larger potential predators away from the young. This doesn’t mean humans won’t occasionally stumble across this type of scenario. In every case, do not move the baby animal. Do not touch the baby animal. The parent is probably nearby, but moving the youngster may make it impossible for the parent to find it again, even if you’ve only moved it a few feet. Remember that the parent chose this location for its offspring and doesn’t think like a human would. Even touching the animal can cause harm, and not because the “scent of humans* scares away the parents.” This comes down to injury and disease again. You don’t know what germs you both might be carrying, or how to handle baby wildlife if you are not an expert. And here’s the thing– experts will only touch a baby animal as a last resort.**
  • Do take photos from a safe distance. Photos are a great way to remember what you saw, where you saw it, and share with others! They can also help you identify specific species you might not know. I photograph birds and reptiles all the time so I can take the pictures home and look them up online or in my wildlife guides. I can’t tell you the number of cool species I’ve seen, and only realized it because I had the foresight to photograph them for identification! Photos are also fun to share with rangers, who are usually interested in what animals are where in the park. It can even help build conservation knowledge about the animals to know where they are at certain times. The key is to stay at a safe distance. Don’t know what that is? Google is your friend, and park staff can give you good guidelines!
  • Do keep food in safe containers or locations when camping. And no your car is not a “safe” location– bears can break into cars like you bust into a can of baked beans. By keeping food where animals can’t get to it, you are not motivating them to come hang out where humans are. Not only does this preserve everyone’s safety, but it could save the animals’ lives: human food can make them sick and nuisance animals (i.e. animals that come too close, posing a health and safety risk to people) often have to be relocated or euthanized.
  • Do your research. This is huge, and relatively easy– if you’re going to be in an area with wildlife, just read up on what you might encounter. Look for official park websites, talk to park staff or rangers, even chat with someone at a zoo or aquarium who can tell you about animals in specific places. There is a huge amount of information out there, just waiting for you!
  • Do share this information with your friends! One of the biggest problems we face is that people lack education about wildlife, so become an animal advocate! Explain to your friends and family why it’s not a good idea to feed bread to ducks at the local park or why you aren’t going to move that baby deer at the edge of the woods. It will take time and a lot of effort, but the more we can spread the word about how to interact with wildlife, the more animal (and human!) lives can be saved. Don’t let this bison calf die in vain.

So there you have it. I hope this has been helpful for folks searching for answers about what happened to the little bison and why it “couldn’t just be put in a zoo.” It can be hard to see the bigger picture sometimes, but often taking a step back makes a big difference.

Got any other animals in the news you want to ask me about? I’ll give you my take!

[UPDATE: 5/16/16 1:20pm]

From Yellowstone National Park’s Facebook page:
Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to read this post and share our safety messages. We’re reading through your comments and noticed many people asking why the calf had to be euthanized.

In order to ship the calf out of the park, it would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis. No approved quarantine facilities exist at this time, and we don’t have the capacity to care for a calf that’s too young to forage on its own. Nor is it the mission of the National Park Service to rescue animals: our goal is to maintain the ecological processes of Yellowstone. Even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.


*It’s a myth that birds won’t take care of their young if a human touches it, but use this knowledge with caution! If you know what nest the baby bird fell from, use a washcloth to touch it as little and as gently as possible, and put it back. If you do not know, there’s a better than good chance that baby is learning to fly and its parents are nearby watching. If the baby is still there a day later, call a local bird rescue and ask for advice.

**I think it’s important to note that sometimes experts do touch baby wildlife, or even adult animals, for scientific research and conservation purposes. This is usually a tagging situation, where they need to track an individual or population to help keep it healthy or to study its range in order to better understand and protect it. Think of California condors– many of them were tagged as chicks to help keep track– but the experts know the proper way to do this with the least stress and risk to the animals involved. You and I are not those experts.

Oh hey! WordPress just told me it’s my 7th anniversary with this blog. Huzzah for that!

Things have been pretty hectic here the last couple of months. We were supposed to move into a new place at the start of May but for various reasons which aren’t terribly interesting the timetable got accelerated… and we moved March 24 instead. I also have been picked up for a lot more hours at my job and have successfully interviewed and been taken on as a volunteer at a local place (details to come later, as I feel it needs its own post).

#earglehaslanded

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In the meantime, I have been to North Carolina twice in the last five weeks, first for my sister’s bachelorette weekend and then for her wedding (how did it go? it worked!) and now I’m at the other end of all of the things and have a few days to finish unpacking my household and putting stuff on the walls and figure out what the next six months hold.

We did hit up a national park while we were down south: Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War ended and General Lee surrendered his troops. They’ve got much of the original village either restored or replicated, and it was fascinating to visit it having just been to the Abraham Lincoln Home in Springfield, IL, about seven months previous. The two are, of course, closely tied together and the perspectives on everything happening at that time are fascinating and sobering.

National Parking at Appomattox Courthouse. #findyourpark #iggleverse

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One of the things I like about national parks in general is that they preserve slices of things important to our heritage, whether it’s vast forests that have unreachable depths, ancient homes, or sites where important things happened that directly impact us today. It’s a way to literally touch history. I also generally just like being outside and doing things, so that’s nice, too.

Other big things include launching a new YouTube channel for Geek Girl Pen Pals. We don’t have many videos up yet, but the plan is to have regular content focused on our monthly site themes, and to encourage response videos from members of the community.

There have been many other things happening in the last couple of months and I may not get to all of them on here. If you need my new mailing address, please contact me in the usual way. ~_^

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Last April (2015) I flew out to Houston to visit my friend Arielle and to check out some of Texas’s famous wildflowers. We had a lovely time visiting and hanging out at some of her favorite local places (including my second-ever trip to this awesome shave ice stand) and Did Texas Wildflowers.

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One of our stops was at a botanic garden, where they had a tiny fairy village set up along one of the trails. There were also dinosaurs roaming the grounds and it was a completely magical place. (And if I’d written this back when I actually visited it, I would remember the name of the garden without having to ask Arielle.)

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Part of the trip involved a short road trip into the middle of the state, and a hike at Enchanted Rock (above). Even though it was overcast, it was beautiful, and the smooth rocks made the plants seem to glow in the low light.

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We also passed entire fields of wildflowers that looked like someone had scattered paint across them. Of course I had to get a closer look.

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Gorgeous, no? The coral ones are called “Indian Paint Brush” and the yellows are Black-eyed Susans (or, that’s what I’ve always called them). We saw so many others, I could probably make a whole gallery of them.

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And then, of course, we had to find the Full Texas, aka a longhorn in a field of bluebonnets. We did a lot of other fun things, too, including Houston’s Japan Festival where we took part in a tea ceremony and ate some really good food.

 

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We also went strawberry picking (and made preserves) and ate at I can’t even tell you how many amazing places, from the Blue Bonnet Cafe to Cooper’s Old Time Pit Barbeque.

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So there you have it. My trip to Houston in a nutshell. Many thanks to Arielle and her husband for putting me up (and putting up with me!) and for hauling me all over Houston and hill country! ^_^