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Friday, September 25, 2015

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.

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