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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.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Great Big Korean Adventure, Day 4: Passport Lady, Take 2

For those of you following along, Day 4 has already been a day full of stress and disappointment. Passport Lady was less than helpful when I went into the office, and I last left you with the teaser information about emails being sent between the two of us. Here was my attempt to change my vinegar to honey:

Ms. [Passport Lady],

I came into the Passport Office about an hour ago. I was a frazzled mess and very stressed out. I'm sorry that I projected that upon you. I was disappointed in myself to find that I had come in during your lunch time, and didn't want to interrupt your lunch any further. After stepping away from the situation, calming my stress down, and looking at that scene from the outside, I realize that the way I spoke with you was not the way I was intending. Please accept my apologies; I am very sorry for being short with you.

Every time we PCS to a new duty station, we play the PCS Shuffle: we get told that we have an insane amount of things to accomplish in an impossible amount of time to do it. We show up to an office to check something off of our list, get told a handful of information and are sent on our way. When we return, having accomplished the handful of information we are generally told that we have still more to do before we can get helped. My husband is currently in Korea, so I am handling this entire process by myself. I am tired and overwhelmed already, and I have only been handling this move since Friday. 

I was in the passport office about a month or so ago. I cannot recall who the person sitting at the front desk was, but she handed me the "Obtaining an Official Government Passport" paper that you referenced. She told me that I needed to work on the DD Form 156, bring in the expired passports, and just come back in. I asked about the other forms listed, and was told that we could take care of it in the office. I'll work on the other forms listed, but I do have the DD Form 156 filled out and ready to move forward.

At this point, I have 60 days (starting last Thursday) to get to Korea. To say that I'm in a rush, and frantically trying to gather all of the pertinent information and documents in the most efficient way possible is an understatement. I am kind of running blind as I navigate these OCONUS PCS waters right now, and am trying to schedule my life according to how long things will take to complete. Since the passports will take a while, I would like to complete this ASAP. Can you please spell it all out for me? I would really appreciate it.

Just under an hour later, she wrote back. My desktop computer was at the Apple Store, getting looked at for a few annoying habits it picked up that I needed removed. Better to take care of it now, with an Apple Store just off post, than later when we're in Korea. With my desktop "in the shop", so to speak, I needed to find a place I could use to print the DD-1056 and DS-11 forms that I was originally told would be taken care of when I came into the office with orders in hand. These forms are packets, so running to Staples to print them out would have been a last resort. The library on post was (in perfect unison with the way the day was going for me already) closed for yet another remodeling situation. And I vaguely remember Sweet Baboo's old boss telling me that if I needed anything to simply swing by and let them know. So I did. And when the last page of the final packet of papers popped out of Big Boss' printer, Passport Lady's email came through:

Thank-you for the sweet note. I know you are exhausted in this process which can be daunting at times....don't worry....I will help you all I can.

So.....your husband is in S. Korea now.....and you & your 2 daughters are to PCS to join him...right?

OK...first thing...we need his orders stating you and the children are authorized to go.  Then we start with who has what you (or the children) have a blue PP now?  If not....we will need a birth certificate for each of you.  then we will need the DD-1056 ( I can take care of that )....we will also need a DS-11 for each person who does not have a RED official passport now.

If you want, we can do all this in my office one day when I do not have any appointments, we can knock it out in about 45 minutes...I take the pictures, and can do most of your paperwork.

Let me know if this is OK with you?

Being, literally, a block and a half away from the Passport Office, I decided to pop in and see about getting an appointment. The first time I was in the Passport Office, I was led to believe that I didn't need an appointment. "When you get the forms together, just come on in and we'll take care of you." The wording on Passport Lady's email didn't say that I needed an appointment, but I didn't feel like I had the spare time to head on in to her office "...when [she does] not have any appointments...". Plus, she made herself perfectly clear earlier that day that she works by appointments only. And I really do not enjoy being on the phone. So rather than run the risk of playing voicemail tag, or being on hold, I opted to pop in to sort things out in person.

When I arrived, Passport Lady had a bucket of papers in her hands that she was taking to a set of large garbage cans in the lobby area. She was walking by as I came in. The very first thing she said to me was, "I didn't mean I could do it right now." She gave nervous look to me, and I took that as her attempts to be funny. I gave a nervous chuckle (she is the only person on post who can help me with this, so I opted to be as nice as humanly possible and just get the job done), and responded with, "Well, your email didn't specify when you don't have any appointments. So I came in to set one up." After she finished with the papers in her hand, she came over to me to discuss the next steps.

I showed her all of the passports I have between the girls and me. The Elder and I have both No-Fee Passports and Tourist Passports. The Wee only got the Tourist Passport. But all of the passports, regardless of the type of passports, had blue jackets. I felt it was important to let her know about this because Sweet Baboo and I thought it odd that our Official Passports didn't come in red jackets (like so many of our friends'. Plus, she had referred to the different colored jackets in her email to me, and I wanted to make sure that she understood that while I didn't have any red jacket passports, I did have Official Passports for 2/3 of us. More on that later.

After showing her the rest of my paperwork, and letting her know that I had just printed out the rest of the documents that I was told would be handled when I came in to get the photos taken, she told me to not worry about those forms; she would take care of them when I came in. I asked several times when I could come in, stressing to her that time was very short and I would probably need expedited passports to ensure everything came in on time. She pulled out her calendar and we made an appointment for the girls and me to come in on the morning of Day 6 of our PCS process. She told me that the appointment would last approximately 45 minutes, and to come ready for photos. I asked her if I needed to bring anything else for the appointment and was assured that I had everything I needed.

While I was there, I made an appointment to see a Household Goods (HHG) counselor so I could schedule my pack out dates. Even though I'm not moving during "PCS Season", I wanted to make sure I could lock in the appropriate dates for a smooth PCS. As luck would have it, there was an opening after lunch on Day 6. We could knock out the passports, grab a quick bite to eat, then come back to the same place and bang out HHG. Things were starting to look up.

The next day, on Day 5, the girls and I got started with "The Great Purging". Starting in the Triathlon Room, and moving to the Laundry Room, we grabbed big white trash bags and labeled them: DONATE and TRASH. The Triathlon Room has a wall of shelves built in, so we labeled them with HHG/UB, DONATE/SELL, and NTS. By the end of the day, we had taken 5 garbage bags of donations to the van, 3 bags of trash to the curb, and the Triathlon Room was tidy. For the first time in years, I can walk in that room without stubbing my toe, tripping, or having to kick things out of the way. PCS' are fantastic at making sure you don't become a packrat for too long... but more on that later.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Great Big Korean Adventure, Day 4: The Passport Office

Ah, the Passport Office on post. I remember the Passport Office at Fort Carson being super helpful, and very understanding with the difficulties that come with an OCONUS PCS with small children. He was an expert in his field, knowing exactly how the paperwork needed to be filled out under every circumstance. He explained every step, and even (gasp) gave us a checklist so we wouldn't forget to bring an important piece of information. I was amazed that he held all of the knowledge of what the State Department needed without looking up every detail. His response? "Ma'am, it's my job. The only thing I do for 40 hours a week is help people get their Official Passports. If I don't know the regulations, why would I continue to have a job?" I mistakenly assumed that our Passport Office would be the same way.

When Sweet Baboo was prepping for his PCS to Korea, I heard him grumbling about the Passport Office here. A chorus of other people chimed in with the grumblings. Through my rose colored glasses, I was simply sure of the fact that it couldn't be that bad. But it was. Oh, was it bad.

The week I sent all of our Command Sponsorship Exception to Policy paperwork to Sweet Baboo, I went to the Passport Office on post to gather information about getting our Official No-Fee Passports updated. I was given a sheet of paper and told that I had to wait until the CS got approved before I could move forward. At least I got the sheet of paper, right?

A few weeks later, on Day 4 (Monday), I went into the Passport Office with my super-organized PCS Notebook and all of the necessary documents. I was so proud of myself for having the forethought to stop by the place weeks earlier so I didn't waste my time or have to ping-pong back and forth to go fetch more paperwork. The girls dressed themselves, in their sparkliest outfits and were excited to check another block off our list. When we got there, however, our fire fizzled.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Great Big Korean Adventure, Days 2-4: Sweet Baboo Goes House Hunting

So while drinking a delicious glass of wine, we learned that Sweet Baboo would have to acquire our Korean home before we could even leave the US. My anxiety instantly and exponentially spiked when I realized the potential consequences of this little detail.

In the beginning years of our marriage, Sweet Baboo and I made the decision to let me handle most things pertaining to how the house would be run, and he would deal with how his office would operate. I don't go to his office and tell him how to set up his desk; he doesn't tell me which kitchen is best suited for my work. Ever since we came to that agreement, house shopping and dwelling blissfully has been on cruise control. That isn't to say that he gets no say in how we set up the house; but he realizes that between his day-job and the many travels he tends to take, our home some times feels like a hotel room for him. So it is my job to pick the home.

Until the Army fires me from that job.

Thank the high heavens for Facetime! And for patient realtors who do not make their clients feel weird for doing a virtual walk through, live. And for awesome roller derby coaches who stay behind after practice so we can finish a walk through in one of the homes. And, most importantly, for husbands who realize the importance of letting their wives be as involved as humanly (and technologically) involved as possible.

But before the tours, we needed to decide what we could afford. Here's the kind of scary part: we get paid in US Dollars. But we will pay our rent in Korean Won. And our allowance won't immediately reflect the exchange rate changes. So we wanted to make sure we stayed pretty well below our OHA cap. I went here to find our budget.

Next, Sweet Baboo sent me a list of furniture that we would be able to borrow from the Army to furnish our new home. Remember that mess about potentially not being able to bring the 50% weight allowance? You can't be expected to sleep on the floor, so the Army keeps loaner furniture over there to save money on shipping our furniture. The furniture isn't top of the line, but it's something. And I'm grateful for the service.

Finally, I gave Sweet Baboo my "please, please, please, oh puhleeeeeese look for places with this..." list. It includes such items as "a kitchen that I can actually cook and enjoy cooking in", "a space large enough for us to do homeschool in", and (since I do want this to be an adventure) "as authentically Korean as possible". We don't get to live on post, so if we're going to live on the economy, I want to "live as the Koreans do". It's only temporary, right?

I did have a second list. It was my "but if you can make this happen, I'd be forever appreciative". This list had items like "if we're going to live in a high rise apartment, please put up high so we can enjoy the views!", "a view from the kitchen sink would be fantastic", "plenty of closet space so I don't have to fold much laundry", and "somewhere to put The Beast".

Sweet Baboo came through!

We have no pictures of the new home just yet. You'll have to wait until I can get there and pull out Lux. But until then, here's what I know:

* 19th floor
* Beautiful view from the kitchen sink
* Awesome kitchen sink (this was very important to Sweet Baboo)
* 4 bedrooms, 2 baths
* Hardwood floors throughout
* A cafe and two small grocery stores in the building
* Fantastic enclosed patio
* Closets in every bedroom

I'm pretty excited, and I'm proud of my husband for jumping through hoops to make sure I'm as involved as I can be from the other side of the world. I married an amazing man, and worry that I don't tell him often enough how much I appreciate him.

The Great Big Korean Adventure, Day 1: Setting up for a Proper PCS

So, you have your wish list sorted out: Soldier has sought the wisdom of the elders in his MOS, Wife has asked around the "Army Wife Mafia" (as Sweet Baboo likes to call it), and both have come together at the Negotiation Table to sort through each person's desires. The kids want Hawaii, but the Soldier doubts he will get the billet because he lacks a certain school. Wife wants Europe, but Soldier is the wrong rank for the position. Soldier wants Korea because he had a fantastic time the first time he was there, and would love for the family to experience it with him. Plea bargains get tossed around, and finally the wish list is written out. With Korea at the top. And the Army gives the awesome family their wish: Soldier goes to Korea. But wait! We want to go as well! That story has been written. Let's move forward.

Every PCS has a lot of the same hurdles for each family to navigate (I'm looking at you, HHG and Housing!), but the hurdles look very different from one PCS to another. For instance, Sweet Baboo had close to 6 months to out process our duty station here, pack 230 pounds of professional and personal gear, and head out to his new job in Korea... and he had our "help". When we got the orders that allows the girls and myself to join him in Korea, we got 60 days to get there. 60 days! Seems like a lot, right? Here is what the first week of those 60 days looks like:

Day 1:

Purchase a 1.5" binder with lots of page protectors and tabbed dividers to organize all of the billion pages you'll have to keep track of. Set up the binder and label the super important sections. Print out no less than ten copies of the orders and have them at the ready to hand out to the dozen organizations/companies that will need them to help you move. Sit back, exhale dramatically for a moment as you try to convince yourself that your binder will be big enough. Then realize that you'll need at least 2.5" and even more page protectors. Things are about to get crazy!

The beginnings of a smooth PCS: smoothie for energy, PCS binder to keep those documents together, iPad with a data plan to look stuff up (and for entertainment in waiting rooms), pen, highlighter (and the pencils are in my hair). Things are about to get real!
Immediately fill out a calendar in pencil, and invest heavily in erasers. Because you're going to have to pick dates. And then you're going to have to change them. You're going to need to schedule your HHG (household goods) shipment (the "slow boat to Korea"). We're going OCONUS (Outside of the Continental United States) we we will also need to schedule our Unaccompanied Baggage (aka: Express Shipment... the airplane) and our Non-Temp Storage (things we can't take overseas, and need to be stored while we're over there). We are entitled to ship one POV (personally owned vehicle) at the government's expense, so we'll have to do research to figure out which one to ship, and what to do with the other one. When should we ship it?

There's an art to all of this, of course. I handle it by mapping out the dates and visualizing how life will be over the next 60 days. Backwards planning gets me started... but I always seem to have that all-important eraser handy for the changes. Because: math. You see, UB takes between 30 and 45 days to get to Korea. The purpose of this shipment is to send your "super important stuff" over as quickly as possible so you don't go without it for very long. These are things like your bed sheets, your towels, maybe a vacuum cleaner and mop, clothes for the next season (if you'll be making the move when the seasons will be making dramatic changes), etc. HHG takes the slow boat over, and can take anywhere from 3-6 months (I've heard some crazy stories on the timelines here) to arrive. So pack your decorations, your book shelves, and your furniture... but learn to eat standing up, and sit on the floor if you don't get all of the loaner furniture you want.

When dealing with HHG, you have to consider the math. Not just the timing... the weight. Each family has a weight allowance for what we are authorized to ship at government expense. If we go over that amount, we pay. The weight allowance is based off of Soldier's rank, and number of dependents. We get 13,500 pounds. Total. What I ship to Korea on the slow boat, on the airplane, and what goes into storage all needs to equal less than 13,500 (not including our vehicle). How the heck are we supposed to know how much our household goods weigh? Take a look around. Go from room to room and guess how much your stuff weighs. Yeah. It's pretty tough. The Personal Property Office tells you to average it out to be about 1,000 pounds per room in your house (obviously, your bathrooms will be less... your garage will be more).

But I have certain directives I have to follow with the weight allowances. For instance the UB is the most expensive form of moving my stuff, so I max out at 350 pounds for every dependent over 12, and 175 pounds for every dependent 11 and under. Since we're moving to Korea, shipping a lot of our HHG is still expensive on the government so we're capped at at 50% of our allowance. (My PPO counselor tried to tell me that I was capped out at 25%, but I asked her to reference the regulation that said 25% because the most updated JFTR that I read still stated 50%. That's a big difference, people! It's the difference between 6,750 pounds of my stuff, and 3,375 pounds.) And all of those weights, plus what Sweet Baboo has already shipped to Korea, has to add up to no more than 13,500 pounds. Whew!

So a divider in my binder goes specifically to "Pack It". There are subdividers that break up lists of "HHG", "UB", "NTS", and "Get It OUT!". As I'm going about my day, doing the dishes and whatnot, if I see something that I don't think I'll need in Korea I'll ask myself if I'll want to unpack it in two years. If the answer is no, I'll put it on a list in the "Get It OUT!" section of the book. Then, when the time comes to go through the house with a fine-tooth comb, I can pile the stuff together appropriately and know what is going where.

Then, I plan some more. Since the vast majority of our stuff (approximately 9,195 pounds' worth) is going to NTS, I'll probably schedule that pack-out last. It will have almost all of our furniture, most of our dishes, and lots of our clothes. I want my express shipment to get there ASAP because I don't want to sleep in a sleeping bag for longer than I have to. So that will be the very first thing I need to schedule. And so on... and so forth.

I haphazardly toss the date for taking the POV to port based on when I think I could step away from the craziness long enough to take a day-trip to Atlanta and back so we can get the vehicle on its way. Then I start an inventory in our deep freezer so we can eat the entire contents in the next 45 days. That way, I can defrost it, drain it, clean it, dry it out completely, and have it ready to store. I make a mental note to pull out all birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, and other legal documents so they can be handy for this craziness. And then I sit down for the first time with a big glass of wine to read over the rest of the orders and make sure I'm not missing anything. And that's when I see it: we are not even authorized to leave CONUS until Sweet Baboo has acquired housing for us. But that's a blog post for another day. Day 2, to be exact.

What's REALLY necessary in the PCS Planning Process: organizational skills, a great glass of wine, and the ability to step away and get some fresh air in your current duty station before you really start to miss it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Great Big Korean Adventure, Day 0: The Back Story

For those of you who have been keeping up, my Sweet Baboo has made it to South Korea. Right around this time last year (actually, it was around 11 months ago or so) The List came out. What is, The List, you ask? It's the long list of potential duty stations each Soldier receives when his turn to PCS (move) to the next duty station is nearing. Every body in Sweet Baboo's MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) gets the same list of potential duty stations, and good Soldiers take The List home to share with their spouses to discuss the next big move. Hours of looking, researching, and weighing the personal vs the professional benefits of the next big move are spent. Negotiations between husband and wife begin, and the fun gets started.

We found many gems on last year's list. Sweet Baboo and I have a specific way of handling The List. He calls me the instant he can to inform me it has been published. I will immediately work to clear the schedule for the evening, if possible, so we can hover over all of the possibilities. When he brings it home, I immediately make two copies. One stays unmarked so he can make the final decision and send it to branch. One goes to me, and the final copy goes to him. I mark the crap out of my copy. Highlighters, colored pens, pencil marks... I unashamedly use them all. I scribble, make notes, and even draw simple smiley faces to quickly annotate my immediate thoughts on the area. Then I rush to the computer to look up exact geographical locations, homeschooling laws, and other details to see if we would enjoy living there or if it would be simply "surviving the duty station". (To date, we still consider ourselves to not have had to "survive the duty station".)

Sweet Baboo, on the other hand, grabs a pencil and sensibly marks his page according to what would be the best next move for his career. He does take into consideration the happiness and ability to adapt on behalf of his family, but he also knows that he has a house full of adventurers who get hungry for action. He takes the list to several people in his MOS to discuss professional development potentials, and seek any first-hand wisdom they may provide. Then, we come together with our lists to compare notes.

Most of the time, we have at least one thing in common in the top three. In the top ten, we generally share at least four desires. We laugh, drink a glass of wine (or beer... depending on what we have at the time), and make big plans for the future. We negotiate... he always gets to pick the top three since he's the guy in the boots. But he's a good man, and asks me what I would put up there. He always sneaks at least one of my wants in his top three list.

During last year's negotiations, we agreed that a trip to Korea would be fantastic. He had already done a tour in Korea; we hadn't even met yet. He has been itching to get his family there since the day we married, and with Korea on The List, we finally had a chance! So it went at the top of the list. Months went by with no word on where we would move. Branch has a lot to do during PCS season, and we have to learn how to sit and wait. But eventually, we got word that we got Korea! And Sweet Baboo and I celebrated... until the next day, when we were told that the tour would not be command sponsored. Basically, that means that the girls and I could move to Korea, but we wouldn't be officially recognized by DOD (either financially, or in the event an emergency happened and the family members of troops would need to be evacuated). It also meant our 2 year tour would be changed to become his 1 year tour. We would stay behind at our current location.

For the next couple of weeks, I was in a fog of denial; I would spend hours scouring the internet for information on the command sponsorship freeze in the hopes to find some loophole that would allow us to continue with Sweet Baboo. I thought I had found it one time, but the information was so outdated that I didn't trust it was pertinent. Finally, a friend in Korea told me that she had heard about the possibility of an exception to policy. "Give it a try", she encouraged.

The closest thing to a family portrait we have ever had: our two dogs, two kids, and Sweet Baboo photobombing me (on purpose) on a mini vacation.
We thought about it. But by that time, the girls had come to grips with the idea of daddy going to Korea for a year without us. There was much to do, and for the first time in our marriage we had plenty of time to do it. In fact, we had a full 6 months to accomplish everything! (Before this year, I've been lucky to get 6 weeks to prep and move our family to the next duty station). So I filled my calendar with volunteer opportunities to help pass the time, and Sweet Baboo applied for (and was accepted into) his second Graduate School program to help him pass the time.

The day the packers came to take Sweet Baboo's stuff to Korea... and leave our stuff at home.
About a week before he left, I lost it. I started crying at absolute nothing, and wasn't eating. My temper was explosive, and my sensitivities were very tender. He pulled me to the side and asked me what would make things better (aside from the obvious, of course). And that's when I realized it: we weren't trying to stay together. When we first wed, Sweet Baboo and I made a promise to each other: we would always live together unless the Army gave us no other option. We've endured many deployments and long TDYs in our marriage, and we did well with each of them (under the circumstances). There are no exceptions to policy that allow a wife and kids to join a Soldier in battle. So taking those separations didn't hurt my heart nearly as badly as now. But with this PCS to Korea we just accepted that the tour would be unaccompanied and didn't pursue the exception to policy. And part of me felt like we were giving up as a result. Part of me felt like I was choosing to stay in a city that I have grown to fall deeply in love with rather than fighting to stay with my husband, a man who I have never fallen out of love with. So we decided to pursue the exception to policy.

The day Sweet Baboo left for Korea. Our farewells aren't sad... until he's out of sight. But we had a glimmer of hope in our back pockets to hold on to...
We did it secretly, only letting a select few people in on the information. We didn't tell the kids because we didn't want them to decide that we were going to go and have hurt hearts all over again if we were denied. The paperwork we had to fill out for the exception to policy was excruciating. EFMP packets for each of us, med records reviews, a look into our homeschooling curriculum and plans, etc... the list was extensive. I stayed up well after midnight working to get everything in order. And then we submitted the packet.

And we waited. And I heard nothing. And I waited. And I asked my husband if there were even whispers to hint of what we could expect. Nope. So we waited even more. My calendar was full of activities for me and the girls; between those activities and our homeschooling we were very busy during the day. But then night came, and Korea was awake and I couldn't sleep. So I waited even more.

Then one night, as I was dozing on the couch, Sweet Baboo called from Korea: our packet was approved! I was half asleep and dreaming of our family being together again, so when I awoke the next morning I wasn't sure if the call was a dream or not. My inlaws were staying the night with us so I didn't check my email until late in the morning. The orders were at the top of my inbox's unread messages!

My dream was about to become a reality, but not without a whole lot of insanity first. This is our Great Big Korean Adventure. Hang on... it's going to be a stressful ride!