Posts Tagged ‘military spouse’

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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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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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.

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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.

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Today I learned some important things.

1. When J has to be at his ship at 6am, and isn’t coming back until Friday night, and we only have one car, I have to drive.

2. Getting to the ship is easy! Go through gate, turn left.

3. Getting back from the ship at 5:30am is NOT easy. Drive toward gate, run into cones, get redirected back to the middle of base, drive around Pearl Harbor for a long time, find that people won’t let you merge and get forced in yet another unknown direction.

4. Pearl Harbor has a tiny little “porter’s gate” that connects to Hickam Air Force Base.

5. Hickan AFB has housing on-base, which means that if you drive through the little gate, it looks like you’re leaving base and getting into housing, and might mistake the area for “home.”

6. Hickam AFB has lots of roads and at least one traffic circle and they don’t all have street signs.

7. The “Caution Explosive Area” of a base is apparently not off-limits. It’s entirely possible to drive into it, at any rate.

8. Airmen who are out jogging are good sources of information. They can usually direct you back to the main gate. This is more helpful than the Navy squadron PTing in the AFB in one huge group.

9. There are a LOT of planes on an AFB, and not all of them are in places you expect.

10. My house is about 3 blocks from the AFB main gate. Turns out in the middle of all this, I was almost home.

So that was my Adventure of the day. I have now seen more of Hickam than I have of Pearl Harbor. Fun stuff. I get to go back for J on Friday night and we’ll have the weekend, then he’ll be back on the ship from Monday to Friday next week. They have a lot of training since they’ve been in dry dock for a year and a half. Feel free to call me if you want to keep me company! ^_^

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