Follow by Email

Friday, October 2, 2015

TGBKA, Day 6: Passport Lady, Take 3!

The day came for us to go back to the passport office to finalize the process of applying for our Official Passports. Now, I do my best to have "average expectations", but Sweet Baboo is constantly telling me that my expectations (of both myself and of others) is far too high. You be the judge here:

When we arrived, Passport Lady greeted my children (ages 5 and 9 years old) by saying, "Okay, you can't come back here making a lot of noise. I have a lot of paperwork to do and need it quiet so we can focus." Up to this point, the girls had quite literally said nothing. Not one word was spoken out of either of their mouths because they had nothing to say. I, on the other hand, was gently (and in my "I'm in a working office" voice) guiding them to where they needed to go. When she started the visit with that greeting, I looked at her with my obvious, "Are you f-ing kidding me? Did you really just speak at my kids that way?" facial expression and she jumped to explain herself: 

Passport Lady: "There is a lot of paperwork, and I wanted to make sure they knew to keep it down."

Me: "I'm sure they'll be fine. I have good kids."

Passport Lady: "Do they have coloring books and toys to keep them occupied?"

Me: "Nope."

Passport Lady: "What? You didn't bring coloring books and toys?! Why not?"

Me: "I wasn't told to. Is it a requirement?"

Passport Lady: "Well how are they going to stay occupied?"

Me: "I have good kids. I'm sure they'll be fine."

Passport Lady: "It's going to be, like, 45 minutes! Fine."

*For the record, we were there for 2 hours and not once did I have to tell them to behave.* 

We got started with the paperwork, and right away I had questions for her. She wanted to put in the application that we didn't already have passports. But I did. They were expired, but I had them. She said that since they are expired, I needed to put in that I don't have one. But we ended up turning in the passports that I just said on the application that I don't have as one of the official forms of identification.

Despite the several times I told her that The Elder and I had Official Passports (which were expired), and the The Wee never had an Official Passport, Passport Lady kept asking to see my no-fee passports. I would pick up mine and The Elder's passports and hand them to her, explaining that those were the no-fee ones. But they had blue jackets on them. Which apparently, in the eyes of Passport Lady, meant that they simply could not be no-fee passports. Despite the fact that the instructions for the no-fee passport was clearly printed in the correct spot at the back of the book. She still wouldn't listen.

She typed with her index fingers. And she looked for the keys as she typed. This slowed down the process substantially since I had to wait for her to ask me for the information, and she had to search for the keys to type it in. I'm surprised that with the ├╝ber-technological way we live, employers don't have an expectation that the employees they hire have, and maintain, a minimum typing skills assessment if their main duties in the workplace require that they use a computer. At the risk of judging her by her age (she started it with the way she spoke to and about my children), I'm sure she has been working in that office since typewriters were a luxury. But that doesn't excuse her from being able to provide services efficiently and effectively. 

At one point she stopped her painfully slow typing, turned to me, and said, "You're really lucky. I don't do this for anybody." F-bombs were being swallowed at this point. I didn't mind doing this paperwork at home. In fact, it would probably have been more efficient and it definitely would have been easier on the girls. They can handle boring errands, but they find ugliness very difficult to understand. The paperwork that she so generously filled out "for me" that day was online, via the State Department's website. It wasn't some super secret form. I just needed to know where to find it and I could have done it myself. But she insisted that she do it for me during our appointment. 

When it came time to sign the applications for the girls, I was told to give a copy of the POA that Sweet Baboo gave me so I could sign for him. I thought this was odd; can a POA authorize me to get my kids a passport? My mind went through all of the ugly things I've watched wives to do their husbands with a POA in their hands: cleaned out bank accounts, changed names on vehicle titles, take out big loans, etc. Then my mind raced through every creepy Lifetime Original Movie where one parent goes behind the other parent's back and runs off with the kids. No forwarding address... no way to figure out where they went. A passport would allow me to do just that, on an international level. Wouldn't our State Department have safeguards in place to keep things like that from happening?

Turns out, they do. But Passport Lady either didn't know about them, or she didn't want to bother with them. Either way, I find it hard to believe that she is still employed at her job because she really offered me no actual assistance of value throughout the entire process. The DS-3053, Statement of Consent Application Form, needs to be filled out and notarized by the non-attending parent(s) for a child under the age of 16 to get a passport. I learned that when I went to the post office to apply for our tourist passports. And for Sweet Baboo to get me the DS-3053, he had to hunt down a JAG Officer in the final hour of the duty day just before a Korean holiday. Then he had to scan and email it to me. But that happened for Day 8: Tourist Passports... because Passport Lady either didn't know that I needed it, or didn't care to bring it up. And when I did sign my name, she stopped and dramatically said, "That is your signature?"
Me: "Yes. Why?"

Passport Lady: "Really? That's how you sign your name?"

Me: "Do you want me to prove it? I have that same signature on three picture IDs."

Passport Lady: ~grunt~

After everything was signed, and I was just about to walk out of her office, I asked her how long the expedited process will take. She looked at me funny, and I reminded her that on Day 4 I mentioned possibly needing the passports to be expedited because 6-8 weeks would be cutting it really close. She said, "where's your memo signed by a 4-Star General?" Wait. What? Apparently, I need a General to approve applying for an expedited no-fee, and when I asked her about the expediting process two days earlier she failed to mention that. The list of information that I was lacking, despite my best efforts to gather it, was growing by the minute. 

So needless to say, I am not even sure I'll be getting my no-fee passports in time. They will process in 6-8 weeks. That would put them to me between Day 48 and Day 62... if they are even approved. Stressed, I told Sweet Baboo what happened. We decided that I would file for our tourist passports, and spend the money to get them expedited. This should be fun...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Great Big Korean Adventure, Day 5: Shipping my POV, Take 1

As I've written before, the Army authorizes us to ship a vehicle when the whole family participates in a PCS OCONUS. When the family has two vehicles, how does one decide which one to ship? When should we ship it? What should we do with the other vehicle? How are we going to get the shipped vehicle to port, and back to the house again? Or if we decide to ship the vehicle the day before we leave for Korea, where do we store the other vehicle and how do we get back from storing it so we can PCS? There are so many variables.

Thank God for the community of spouses that Sweet Baboo lovingly refers to as The Military Wife Mafia. Have a death in the family, and need to fly out ASAP to attend the funeral? Reach out to members of the MWM and they'll dog sit, check in on your house, and help you figure out the most cost effective way to get there. Have orders to a different country? Chances are, one of your MWM members currently lives there, have lived there recently, or has a friend who is currently there and can be your "boots on the ground" with current information and a helping hand. Need to drive 3.5 hours east to take your vehicle to port so you can ship it to your husband who is currently OCONUS and can't help? Boom! MWM members understand that stress and rearrange their schedules so they can drive a trailer-car so you don't have to hitchhike back, or pay for an airplane ticket.

My original plan:

1. Ship my beloved minivan. We have been through a lot in that thing: I didn't write about it here, but there was an "incident" with a deer at 1:30am while driving to my FIL's house in 2012 for a visit. The deer didn't make it. My van had a dent and a broken headlight. Last month I was on the interstate, driving to visit family in the hospital after surgery. A school bus driver and I didn't see each other as we merged into the same lane, at the same time. The school bus had a pretty nasty gouge down the side of it, my van had a few scuffs.

It's hard to take a photo that shows the depth of the damage while standing on the side of the interstate. Bus: gouged. Van: pain transfer.

I say that to say this: my van has done its job well for over five years now. These two incidents, being three years apart, could have been much worse. But I was able to walk away from both, and not worry about major mechanical issues after the fact. I never thought I'd say this, but well done Dodge! So with the dings that this van has endured, if it gets a few more in transit to Korea I won't cry a tear. My van is my tool... tools are only shiny at the store. I don't intentionally beat up my tools, but if they get scratched and dinged in the process of working for me, I accept it for what it is.

2. Store our beloved hatchback at my MIL's house. It's small, so it won't take up a whole lot of space in their driveway. FIL has driven it, and found it to be surprisingly comfortable. And it's "technically" Sweet Baboo's car (that I get to borrow when I don't feel like driving a tank around), so I thought I'd keep it looking nice by not having it endure the dings and damages that can come with shipping a vehicle OCONUS.

3. Spend the night in Atlanta (the nearest port to us) either the night before my appointment to ship the vehicle, or the night of our appointment. Depending on which night we spend in Atlanta, we would make an experience out of it. Visit the Georgia Aquarium, go eat at The Varsity (a restaurant I haven't been to since I was a Senior in high school... but I've thought of it every time I have thought of Atlanta), or maybe take a tour of the World of Coca-Cola.

4. Make this trip around Day 40 or Day 41 of this Great Adventure so I don't have to hunt down all of the paperwork in a hurry.

Then on Day 5 of this Great Adventure, Sweet Baboo calls and says, "Hey. You do plan on shipping the hatchback to me soon, right? I'll need that to get here ASAP so I don't have to figure out how to drive to the office without a vehicle when I move off post." Hm, well that threw everything on my calendar into a whirlwind of activity. We debated the benefits and setbacks that will come with shipping the van. We discussed the timeline of how things were going. We ended up with this plan:

1. Ship the hatchback. Everything in Korea is smaller, including the parking spots, and the lanes the vehicles have driven in. To date, Sweet Baboo had only seen one minivan in Uijeongbu ("wee jon boo"), and the driver looked angry to be in such a large vehicle. Minivan stays, hatchback goes.

2. MIL and FIL are perfectly happy to store the van for us, so that's a win.

3. Still spending the night in Atlanta, but my fellow MWM Member could only rearrange her schedule so much. I'm very grateful for her doing that much! But we won't have time to stop in at the aquarium or Coca-Cola museum. Perhaps I can at least treat her to lunch at The Varsity on our way out of town!

4. Make this trip on Day 18 and return on Day 19. Sweet Baboo may not have the hatchback right when he moves into our new apartment, but he will definitely get it 22 days earlier than I had originally planned. I tried to schedule it for Day 11 or Day 12, but getting the letter of authorization from our bank would take too long to schedule the shipment that soon. More on that below.

Care to know what kind of craziness goes into shipping a vehicle? Oh, the paperwork! I told you that I originally purchased a 1 1/2" binder. Then, immediately had to swap it out for a 2 1/2" binder. That one is already close to bursting at the seams, and I'm not finished adding to it. But that project will get looked at later. Gotta get my hatchback to Korea!

Step 1: Call the port you want to ship your vehicle from. You don't usually get to choose a port; it's usually chosen for you based on where you currently live and where you'll be shipping your vehicle.

Step 2: Gather all information you need to successfully send your vehicle OCONUS the first time you try. This is important because you usually have to drive hours to get to the port, so finding out that you're missing something once you're there is enough to make you want to start drinking at 10:00 in the morning.

Step 3: Realize that you are still paying on the loan for the vehicle you're wanting to ship. This adds an extra layer of "fun". Now you get to track down the Magical Wizard in your financial institution's corporate offices and find out what you need to do to get a letter of authorization to ship your vehicle out of the country. That's right folks; if you don't own your vehicle outright, you have to ask permission from the lien holder of your vehicle to ship it to your next duty station.

Step 4: Call your financial institution and ask for Magical Wizard. Get put on hold. Speak with Original Bank Employee who answered the phone, who tells you that she can't transfer you to Magical Wizard, but she's happy to provide me with all of the necessary information. Gather the list of documents you need to fax (Nope, not email. We're still in the 1980s people!) to Magical Wizard, and expect to hear back via fax in the next 3-5 business days. Said documents included, according to Original Bank Employee, orders authorizing shipment of a vehicle, information on the vehicle, proof of insurance, and contact information in case they needed to reach out to me.

Step 5: Ask Original Bank Employee if there was a way for the process to be expedited so we could take the vehicle to port sooner. Get put on hold again. Original Bank Employee returns to the phone with a "sorry, no" response. Ask Original Bank Employee if fax was the only way to communicate during this process. Explain that I have to borrow a friend's fax machine at work to send this information off, and email would be substantially easier for me. That way, I wouldn't have to ask my friend to hover over the fax machine for up to 3 days to see if my fax came in. Get put on hold again. Original Bank Employee comes back with a "sorry, fax is the only way" response. Ask Original Bank Employee if there was an email address or phone number to Magical Wizard that I could use to communicate directly in case I had any other questions. Again... hold. Response, "sorry, no".

Step 6: Gather all necessary documents (including a very detailed cover letter) and beg Fax Friend to fax your forms. Convince her that by not faxing them, she isn't going to be able to keep me here. I'll go either way. Hug her neck and give a great "squee!" as you head home to do a follow-up call.

Step 7: Call bank again and see if another bank employee would be able to transfer me to Magical Wizard. Get put on hold; response, "she isn't in her office right now". It was worth a try. Ask if there were some way to ensure Magical Wizard got the fax. Hold. "No".

Step 8: Go to your PCS calendar and count out 3-5 business days. Make a note to check in with Fax Friend to see if your faxes have arrived.

Step 9: Consider drinking. At 11:00 in the morning. But opt for water instead.