Saturday, January 17, 2009

How to Move to Germany

Our move to Ramstein is officially a month and a half away.

It has been quite an ordeal getting to this point, and I must confess that we are already burnt out on the moving process. Allow me to relate the hoops we have had to jump through to get to where we are.

This is our first PCS. As such, you would think the Air Force would provide some sort of couples orientation, complete with a checklist and a timeline for things on the checklist to be completed. Of course, no such orientation, checklist, or timeline exist. The only information I have been able to find has been on non-official sites like SpouseBuzz or Yahoo!Answers. Just for grins (and maybe for our next PCS), I'm going to post the checklist we should have been given:

-Get "The Packet"
-When Are We Leaving?
-The Port Call Checklist
-Learn All About Shipping Your Vehicle
-When Are the Movers Coming?

1.) Get "The Packet"

Get in touch with MPF's Outbound Assignments IMMEDIATELY. They should have a whole stack of papers to sign, have signed, etc. Our packet included our medical clearance sheets, our dental clearance sheets and a set of extremely vague instructions on obtaining an official passport.

For anyone involved or enrolled in military healthcare, you know that getting a non-emergency appointment for a lowly spouse in a timely manner is practically unheard of. I was extremely fortunate mid-November to be given an appointment for late December. Because these appointments are so ridiculously hard to come by, have absolutely everything ready. Active duty members are given a single sheet of paper to ensure their medical clearance. We were able to get this form signed the day we recieved it.

My clearance was another matter entirely. My clearance consisted of 17 pages - no joke. I had to fill out each one carefully BEFORE my appointment so that the doctor had only to sign each page. After getting all the pages signed, I was required to meet with three doctors in order to determine my "fitness" to travel. Do yourself a favor at this point - smile politely and tell them that you are perfectly healthy both mentally and physically, because it really felt like a bit of a witch hunt, leading questions included.

The Dental clearances will require the Active Duty member to visit the base clinic for an exam. For spouses, most civillian dentists will just let you drop off the form for them to sign.

And finally, to the vague passport instructions. Because it was not otherwise indicated, my husband and I assumed that he'd be the one who would need an "Official" passport. On a whim, I filled out the same paperwork and had some passport photos ready just in case I was required to have one too. Once again, the lack of informaiton here just astounds me. It turned out that I was the only one required to get an Official Passport - my husband only needed his CAC card and a civillian passport. As a side note - I am also required to have a civillian passport - the official one only gets me onto Ramstein for the first time - that is truly its only funtion.

2.) When Are We Leaving?

Your initial orders will have a "Report No Later Than" date. Ours is March 31, 2009. Because we didn't want to push things, we decided our "Preferred Travel Date" would be March 1, 2009. The decision is really up to you. I know my husband was particularly eager to get out of his current work setting and into a new one, so choosing an early travel date was an obvious decision for us. The reason this question gets it's own listing is that your "Preferred Travel Date" (which is the date you want to get on a plane and go to your new base) will be the single piece of information that everything else hinges upon. This is something to decide as soon as possible after receiving your initial orders.

3.) The Port Call Checklist & 4.) Shipping Your Vehicle

Although "checklist" is in the title, don't be fooled - this form is in no way helpful. If at all possible, it only confuses things further. This is the form where you enter in your "Preferred Travel Date." It is also the form that deals with shipping your vehicle. There are a couple of things to note about this section. Or rather, there are two different options to choose from. You can ship your vehicle "in advance" or ship it "en-route." Shipping in advance means that you plan to drive your vehicle to the port nearest to your location and fly back (at the expense of the government) BEFORE leaving for your new base. The Ports the Air Force will ship from are:

-Atlanta, GA
-Baltimore, MD
-Charleston, SC
-Dallas, TX
-Los Angeles, CA
-New York City, NY/NJ
-New Orleans, LA
-Portsmouth, VA
-Richmond, CA
-Orlando, FL
-San Diego, CA
-Seattle, WA
-St. Louis, MO

The closest port to us is Dallas, TX. When we spoke to a representative there, we were told that it would take approx. 52 days to ship our car from Dallas, TX to Ramstein AB. We were also told that we could bring in the vehicle as far in advance as we chose (although this may vary with other ports). If you choose this option, the sooner you ship your car out, the sooner you'll have it in your new location.

Shipping a vehicle en-route means that you plan to drive to the port closest to your location and then depart from that city to your new base. If you choose this option, you'll be without your vehicle for approx. 52 days (if you're going to Germany).

5.) When Are The Movers Coming?

Now there is an amusing story behind this question. And by amusing, I mean that I might someday look back and be able to laugh about this. At one and a half months away, I was beginning to wonder about the logistics for moving, especially since base housing was asking when our unit would be available. Perplexed at how I could possibly be expected to know what schedule the movers were operating on, I asked the good people at the housing office when the movers usually came by. "Oh about a week before you leave," they told me. Okay I thought That gives me a timeline to work with. But something was still nagging me at the back of my mind so I broke down and sent an inquiry out via Yahoo!Answers:

"When Can I Expect The Movers To Come?"

Here are some examples of replies I reveived:

"Haven't you gone to the Household Goods Office yet?"

"Weren't you told to see TMO to schedule the movers to come?"

"You have to schedule for them to come by - they don't just come on their own!"

Well of course it seems obvious once you read the posts, and I assure you I felt appropriately dumb. What kind of a person would have waited like an idiot until the day of their departure for someone to swing by and pack their stuff without realizing that they had to schedule it? Me, that's who. I can offer as my only pathetic excuse that this is our first move, and no one at any point told us that there was a Household Goods Office or to visit it. Thank God I asked.

This is the faithful narration of all our drama to date. We both are hoping that all the loose ends have been sufficietly tied off now and that our next post will, indeed, be Live From Germany.

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