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Saturday, October 17, 2015

TGBKA, Days 22 - 29: More Passport Fun

Remember Day 6, my no-fee passport apppointment? That was the day Sweet Baboo and I decided to file for our tourist passports. I didn't trust that our no-fee passport applications would get back to me in time, or that they were even filled out properly. So I spent Day 7 getting Sweet Baboo to get me the proper paperwork from him (he needed to send me the DS-3053: Statement of Consent since he wouldn't be there to give consent in person). $524.50 later (including expedite fees for each of our passports), we were able to file the applications at the post office quickly and with relatively few headaches.

I say relatively few because at least those headaches were absolutely excusable, or my own fault. First, I had to go to two post offices (on opposite sides of town) because the first one wasn't doing passports that day. Apparently, the employee who does them at that location fell ill. Okay, no problem. I went to the other passport office. When I made it to the other passport office, there was no line... no waiting! I walked right up, and the lady looked over my paperwork. I had everything... except for a printout of Sweet Baboo's military ID card. That needed to accompany the DS-3053. Of course, the post office didn't have any printers that I could use (he emailed me a scanned copy of his ID card for a different PCS duty of mine) so I had to head over to the local Staples to pay for copies. It was quicker than driving the 20 minutes back home (and then the 20 more minutes back to the post office) to print it out. When I got back to the post office there was, of course, a long line of people wanting to get passports.

When I finally got to the front of the line, the passport lady looked over all of our documents again and told me that one of my documents wouldn't be accepted. It was the court decree for my legal name change. You see in 2012, for reasons I'll discuss in a different blog post, I legally changed my name. I didn't get divorced; I didn't remarry. I just had had enough of my legal name and asked the probate judge to legally change it. He did, and something inside of me got brighter that day. But I digress. I had the court decree, but had to hand it over to Passport Lady on post for my official no-fee passports. She assured me that a photocopy of the same document would be acceptable for the tourist passports, and even made the copies for me. Post Office Passport Lady didn't think the photocopy version would fly. She made a phone call to the State Department and came back saying that they would, in fact, accept it. So we sent all of the paperwork in.

On Day 22, I got a letter from the Department of State saying this:

"Please submit a certified copy of the court ordered name change. Photocopies and notarized copies of these documents are not accepted for passport services."

Well dang.
Post-yoga: Welcome to my Namaste Hair. But this has (unfortunately) been my "yoga or not look" for the past 20 days.
There was a 1-800 number on the letter for me to use should I have any questions. I got the letter after 6pm on Friday before a federal holiday. I was just sure that I wouldn't get anywhere with the issue until the following Tuesday. I should have made the call right away. Turns out the State Department takes calls at all hours of the day or night! On Day 26 I called the 800 number and explained the situation. The nice fellah at the other end of the line told me that only original certified copies are accepted. I told him that the original is with my application for the no-fee passport... couldn't he just walk over to that department and check it out? He chuckled, but not in a condescending manner. He explained that "that department" is in a completely different state... so the walk would take a while. He recommended that since I'm still in the county that I got the name changed, I head over to the probate judge's office and ask for another certified copy and send it in. So I did.

Man, is our probate judge's office amazing! I think I'm going to spend my Sunday making something tasty and equally amazing to take back up to that office to give to the employees there. They were kind, informative, understanding, and one employee had a hug to give me when I told her that I was overly stressed, excessively caffeinated, and severely under rested. Within five minutes I had two fresh certified copies of my court decree, and a smile on my face. I wished the entire office a wonderfully blessed rest of their week, and headed out the door. Fabulous! I went directly home and mailed one of the certified copies to the Department of State. And then I waited.

So today... Day 29... I watched with excitement when our mail carrier approached the door with two priority mail envelopes. I just sent out my certified copy of the court decree two days ago, so I knew my passport wasn't in one of those envelopes. They had to the be envelopes for the girls. They were! But no passports were inside. Instead, I got two (almost) identical letters telling me that I needed to send the original DS-3053 that Sweet Baboo filled out. He scanned and emailed the forms to me because he wouldn't be able to get them in the mail, and in my hands in enough time for me to get them in the applications and on the way to the State Department with enough time for them to process the applications and send the passports back to me before we had to leave for Korea. (Whew! Run-on sentence, anybody?). The letters got to me at 5:03pm my time. I decided to call the 800 number anyway. Amazingly, I didn't get a message telling me to call back during business hours! Rather, I got a very friendly woman (Susan) on the phone who spent the next 40 minutes helping me with the girls' applications as well as mine. Then she went through the system and "linked" our applications so that they would all be processed together.

She made notes in the system about the situation, asked several questions that were pertinent and relevant, and then asked if she could call me back in about ten minutes. Impressed to find a federal employee who cares and was willing to do more than just point me elsewhere, I was giddy with excitement. After we hung up, I was visualizing becoming BFFs with this sweet lady. We would have mimosas during Sunday brunch, we would take girls-only weekend getaways annually, we would do the things BFFs do. All because for the first time since we got orders to Korea, I had a person who was going out of her way to ensure this would be the very last speed bump in the passport process for me. I felt like I was the second grader on the playground who was getting picked on by other passport people, and Susan was my big sister who could beat them all up. People, PCS-ing is stressful. It is not for the faint of heart when you have your service member there to help. It's really no joke when you're the only person handling it all.

Susan called back and recommended that I fill out the DS-5525 and overnight it to the State Department. This form is the Statement of Exigent/Special Family Circumstances.
I got off the phone with Susan feeling confident that once I turned in the DS-5525, we would be well on our way to passport-ownership. The post offices were closed, so I could put off filling out the form and sending it in until tomorrow morning. The girls had been so good this week as I navigated very frustrating waters, and our housing office was hosting a Resident Appreciation Week. Tonight was the last night of appreciating us, and they were celebrating by hosting a small fall festival. Pony rides, pumpkin painting, BBQ, bouncy house... the girls would get some good entertainment and I didn't have to cook dinner. Double win!
It was a beautiful evening for outdoor activities. I was glad to step away from the PCS craziness for a bit.

The Wee loved riding Mystery. He was a gentle horse who handled her clumsy mount and dismount gracefully.

The Elder's horse seemed to be very happy to be there. Despite not wanting to walk any more.

Eventually he got moving again. And the Elder enjoyed her ride as well.

The BBQ was lovely. The girls were debating whether the object in the air was a rocket, an airplane, a meteor, or a falling star.

The Wee decided to not take any chances... she would "pray on her falling star" just in case.

The bouncy house was a big hit... until the Wee got a big hit in her face. A fat lip later, we went home.
Wanna know how I know that the State Department has people who tend the phone at all hours of the day? Because I got a phone call from Sharon at 9:04 pm! She called because she was trying to finish up our passports and wanted to know more about the exigent circumstances for the Wee. I explained the situation to her again, and added that the circumstances were the same for the Elder as well. She looked into both cases and ended up telling me that she would go ahead and process the passport applications without the Form 5525. The passports would be good for one year. My immediate thought: In one year, I'd have to fork out another $525 in fees to get the passports updated again. She assured me that I wouldn't have to pay another $525. The one year expiration date is given to allow me enough time to get to Korea, get Sweet Baboo to fill out the DS-3053, and send everything in all over again so we can get the 5 year passports. WHEW! Sharon was quickly moving to the State Department BFF list.

She asked if I had any setbacks in my own passport and I told her that it should be rectified since I turned in a certified copy of the court decree days ago. She looked into it, asked me more questions, typed a bunch of stuff in the computer, and told me that they didn't have the certified copy just yet. Not wanting to lose hope, I told her that I would check back in next week to see if it had arrived. I heard more typing, then she asked if she could call me back. When she did, she gave me the great news: they would process my passport now.

Despite the overly frustrating trip to the DEERS office, today was a GLORIOUS day. I needed today.










5 comments:

  1. Your tenacity and ability to get stuff done in spite of the roadblocks that get put in front of you is AMAZING! I'm gonna miss that when you're gone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm going to miss you like crazy as well! Thank you for your kind, encouraging words. It's more effective for keeping me positive and effective than coffee these days!

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  2. What I'm confirming from reading your blog: 95% of government employees are completely incompetent. PTL for the 5%!

    ReplyDelete