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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 paperwork....do 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.

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