Posts Tagged ‘military life’

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.

Read Full Post »

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! 

Read Full Post »

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. 🙂 

—-

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

Read Full Post »

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! 

Read Full Post »

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! 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »