I always said I would never willingly be separated from my husband. Luckily for us, most circumstances allowed us to make a choice to be together. The closest we came to even considering being separated, aside from mandatory deployments, was when he was assigned at the last minute to a seat at the Army War College. We had been expecting another year at his current duty station, so the assignment caught us by surprise. Additionally, it was not a convenient time to move for me professionally, and it was a horrible time for us to leave the home we had purchased two years prior. The housing market was at its lowest in almost two decades, and our house was under water.

But in the end, we decided it was more important to keep our family together, so we rolled the landlord dice and later ended up on the losing end (that is an article for another day!). Carlisle ended up being one of our favorite tours! We loved everything about those short ten months from the newly built house we found to rent, to the kids' school, to the mil spouses who have become lifelong friends. In looking back, it was the perfect decision for us, especially since my husband ended up deploying for 13 months a year later.

NO CHOICE

Not everyone is as fortunate in being able to avoid the dreaded unaccompanied tour. A service member doesn't always have the option to bring the family along because of where the assignment is located. Korea and Turkey are two locations where unaccompanied orders are frequent. In 2016, more than 600 family members of U.S. military and civilian personnel were forced to leave Incirlik Air Base and several smaller bases in Turkey because of worsening security conditions there. The Pentagon has since changed the status of permanent duty assignments there to one-year, unaccompanied tours.

TO STAY OR GO?

Whether unaccompanied by choice or not, there are decisions to be made. Where should the family live and will a move be paid for? The answer is, it depends. There are a number of reasons why a family will choose to stay behind. Spouse employment, a special needs family member, real estate obligations, elderly parents, or a high school senior are just a few. I've known many families personally that have decided not to follow their service member so that their high school age student could graduate from a particular school.

I had another friend who stayed behind in Florida when her husband was sent to Japan for a year. She had little kids, and it wasn't a good time for her professionally to move. At the end of that year, he was offered a three-year follow-on assignment there, and the family joined him.

OPTIONS

When the decision is made not to PCS with the service member, or when unaccompanied orders leave you no choice, there are several options to be considered. The simplest might be to stay at your current duty station. If selling the house is a concern or you have older children who do not want to change schools, this might be what is best for your family at the time.

Another option is to move back "home." Some choose to be surrounded by friends and family in a familiar environment. With a spouse halfway around the world, the comforts of home might be exactly what you need.

Others might choose to move ahead to the next duty station if you know where you are headed. This option allows you and the kids to get settled while your service member is away. The one downside is that the powers that be may change your spouse's orders and you end up moving unnecessarily. This happened to a friend of mine. She left Duty Station A and moved to Duty Station B while her husband deployed. Not only did she spend the year away from him, but she was starting over in a new area. At the end of the year, his orders were changed, and the entire family ended up back at Duty Station A!

WHAT ABOUT BAH?

As for how Basic Allowance for Housing or BAH is calculated, it can get tricky. If a family is not allowed to accompany their service member because of the location of the tour, the BAH the family receives is based on their location which could be their current duty station, the follow-on duty station or their hometown if they choose to go home.

If a move home is not authorized for an assignment, the BAH would be based on the duty station where the service member is stationed, no matter where the family lives.

NO RIGHT OR WRONG

Do your homework and ask questions to find out what your situation warrants.

Deciding whether to go or stay is not easy, and there is no "right" or "wrong" answer. Your family's particular circumstances will dictate the final decision. You may want to be surrounded by family and friends while your spouse is away. You may choose to stay put if your spouse's follow on tour is where you are currently stationed. Or you may want to move ahead to the next duty station to give the kids a chance to settle in, giving them one more year to call a place home.

Want real information on your next duty station from real Mil-families just like yours? Join our community and read and submit reviews on moving companies, on-base housing, neighborhoods, and more!

The post was sponsored by PCSgrades.com.

Some people have amazing experiences when military moving. My first and only door-to-door PCS went exceptionally well. Our items all arrived and there was very minimal damage. It's reasonable to expect a knick or scratch anytime you load and unload furniture. Because of personal preference, we have since completed all the rest of our moves as DITY moves (Do IT Yourself).

I believe that our experience was, unfortunately, the exception, not the rule with military moving.

THE PCS SYSTEM IS BROKEN.

A simple search will lead you to horror story after horror story of damaged goods, drivers lying about weights, lost items, and heartbroken families. Control of the entire process is ceded when bad practices and unscrupulous companies come into the equation.

Some PCS seasons the problems are worse than others.

Sometimes geographical location can play into your negative experience with military moving. I've seen a lot from families coming into or out of the Louisiana and Jacksonville areas report significant damage and large amounts of missing items.

HERE IS A SMALL SAMPLE OF WHAT SOME FAMILIES HAVE REPORTED POST MILITARYMOVING:

"I'm missing all my utensils, measuring spoons, cups, cookie cutters, mixers, etc. All of our items were checked off as well."

"Moving company denied our claim on the dryer THEY broke in the move. The reason being that we can't prove it worked before the move."

"We had the guy come look at all our damage today, and he made me feel like I broke the stuff myself. I mean he was so rude!"

"All baby gear, beds, refrigerator, washing machine, mattresses, couches, anything upholstered or material was deemed total loss and not cleanable. What was cleanable is still destroyed by water damage but is a separate claim. The other half that arrived today (because I wrote xxxx president and news crews) was ONLY 20 boxes. Every box was a new box that was not the boxes they left in and with inventory stickers clear taped on them."

WHY?

My question every time I see these stories is, why? Why is this acceptable? Why are our military families subjected to substandard service when so much money is on the table? And, why does the problem seem to be getting worse?

Of course, the whys lead to what is the most critical question to me: what is being done to help our service members and their families? Far too often the companies we welcome into our lives to handle our belongings don't take the same care with our possessions as we would, and that is simply unacceptable.

DITY?

Sure, the easy answer to this problem is that we all should DITY, but that is not a practical or reasonable answer for many families.

Sometimes, orders come down at the last minute. Families spend their time before the move scrambling to learn about neighborhoods, finding new schools, and coordinating medical care. Other times, the service member is not present for the move. And other times still, the PCS is to or from an OCONUS location where DITY is not an option.

Regardless of the circumstances around choosing to have your belongings moved, we should have a reasonable expectation that the majority of our items will show up in the same condition they left our possession. There is a fight that needs to happen at the highest levels of the DoD to fix the process.

IN THE MEANTIME…

PCSgrades believes there are easy, yet influential, steps we can take to help facilitate a better interaction between the pre-move inspectors, packers, and movers you will come into contact with as part of your military moving process. It all starts with the Mover's Notice.

The moment the first person walks into your house, generally the pre-move inspector, you hand them the notice. Right away, they see you are excited to be working with them to safely and efficiently transport your belongings from one location to the next. You've also made them completely aware that you aren't going to keep quiet about the experience, good or bad.

WHY A MOVER'S NOTICE WORKS FOR MILITARY MOVING

As you pass this notice to everyone who will come into contact with your items, you are putting the proverbial ball in their court. It is up to them to decide what type of grade they will receive.

Pack lovingly, transport carefully, and communicate effectively; your grade will no doubt reflect a great user experience. Damage or lose items, blame the family for problems, and brush off claims; your grade will show all potential future customers as well as transportation offices that the service provided was substandard.

Good reviews will help to build a business. Bad reviews, could lead to termination of contracts and loss of future potential business.

IT'S A SMALL STEP, BUT IT STARTS A CONVERSATION.

Most importantly it starts to put some of the control back with the service member and their family. The control we so desperately deserve.

To start the process of downloading your Mover's Notice, and other helpful checklists today, visit PCSgrades and register for your free account. From there you can download the Mover's Notice (and instructions for use) to hand your next military moving team.

This post was sponsored by PCSgrades.com.

11 Space A do's and don'ts

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If you've been following the PCSgrades blog series on Space-A travel, you've learned a lot. You know the Space-A basics, what to pack, how to travel with kids, and what resources to access for more information.

Before you claim expert status, here are some Space-A do's and don'ts to know when flying Space-A.

1. Do your research. Don't go in blind.

If you haven't read the articles linked above, start there, and keep reading. Space-A is a process, and like everything in the military, it comes with rules and regulations that you must understand and follow. Your travels will be a lot smoother if you've done your homework.

2. Do use Space A flights for leisure travel when you have time and flexibility. Don't use Space A for emergencies or important events. 

Your best friend's wedding, a funeral, a family event: those are not the right times to fly Space-A. Space-A is never a good option when you have to be somewhere by a certain time because it's too unpredictable.

3. ​Do make a backup plan (or two) when flying on a Space A flight. Don't fly Space A unless you have the money to pay for commercial airfare. 

Your backup plan could include catching a hop to a different destination and renting a car or taking a roundabout way to your target destination by patching together different Space-A flights. Your last resort is to fly commercial, so be sure you have enough money to pay for tickets.

4. Do ensure that all of your post-flight travel plans are flexible or refundable. Don't make non-refundable reservations based on your expected Space A flight. 

You shouldn't book a hotel, tour, cruise, or anything else you can't cancel when flying Space-A flights.

5. Do avoid the busiest travel times to increase your chances of getting a seat. Don't fly Space A OCONUS during school breaks. 

The summer PCS season and the winter holidays are the worst times to fly Space-A. Spring break isn't good either, because it's generally only 1 week. Yes, it's possible you will get a seat, especially if you are Cat 3 (active duty on leave). But do you really want to risk blowing your spring vacation sitting in the passenger terminal?

6. Do stay in the terminal if you are selected for a flight. Don't leave the terminal between roll call and baggage check. 

Be sure to return your rental car and make that final commissary run before Roll Call. You will lose your seat if you're not there when the passenger terminal staff finish manifesting passengers.

7. ​Do stick around the terminal a while longer. ​​Don't leave the terminal before the plane departs. 

Even if Roll Call ends and you didn't make the cut, there's always a chance that more seats will open up. Most other Space-A passengers will leave if they don't get a seat. If you're the only one left when they release more seats, you just got lucky! Be sure to let the passenger terminal staff know that you're still waiting.

8. ​Do treat the passenger terminal staff with kindness. Don't blame the passenger terminal staff. 

Space-A flights, better known as military missions, are changed, canceled, and delayed regularly. Planes break down. Pilots decide not to take Space-A passengers. All of these things are beyond the control of the terminal staff. Don't shoot the messenger when you learn that you won't get a seat on the flight you wanted (or that you have been bumped for a family of space-required passengers).

9. Do remember that Space A is a privilege. ​​Don't be that passenger who complains or makes life difficult for the flight crew.

Our job as Space-A passengers is to be as little burden to the flight crew as possible. Dress in layers so that you can adjust accordingly if the plane is too hot or too cold, and bring plenty of your own snacks and water in case there are no boxed meals available.

10. Do keep children under control. ​​Don't let kids run wild.

No matter how much open space is on that C-17, keep in mind that you're on a military mission. It's not safe for kids to run around, and it's not the crew's responsibility to ensure that kids aren't getting into trouble or bothering other passengers.

11. Do approach your Space A journey with a positive attitude. ​​Don't forget that Space A is an adventure!

Along the way, you will meet other travelers who will remind you how helpful and supportive the military community can be. Hitching a ride with a military mission is a privilege and, for dependents who have never flown in a military aircraft, a very unique experience. If you think of your journey in this way, you will be better prepared to handle any parts of the process that don't go as planned.

This post was sponsored by PCSgrades.com.

If you're new to Space A flying – or you're planning your first Space A flight with the kiddos – we've got you covered. Here are 11 important things you need to know about flying Space A with kids: how to plan, what to bring, and how to stay sane!

1. Every passenger must have a seat

All passengers traveling with you – even babies – need a seat. There is no such thing as a "lap child" on a Space A flight, even if you plan to hold your baby the entire time. When signing up for a flight, be sure to include all children in the passenger count.

2. Children of all ages need proper identification on a Space A flight

All passengers age 10 or older need a military ID card. Children younger than 10 need a passport or a MilConnect printout that shows their DOD ID number.

3. You have the option to check car seats

The Air Mobility Command recommends the use of car seats for children under the age of one, but they are not required. If you don't want to use your child's car seat on the plane, you can check it. Car seats are not included in your baggage count (two 70 lb bags per passenger on most flights).

4. You can bring extra infant formula, breast milk and juice

Military passenger terminals follow Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines for those liquids. Declare them before going through security screening.

5. All passengers must have appropriate clothing

Closed shoes are required on all aircraft except for the Patriot Express. That means no sandals or Crocs. Depending on the type of aircraft and where you're sitting, the plane can be extremely cold or very warm. It's more often the former but dress in layers just in case. Remember that you will not have access to your checked baggage on a Space A flight– even if you can see it on the pallet in front of you – during the flight. Any clothing you may need has to be on your body or in your carry-on bag.

6. The aircraft is not a playground

If you fly in a cargo plane, such as a C-17, it's possible that there will be a lot of open space. You may be tempted to let restless kids run around, but it's not a safe place for that type of play. The aircraft has buttons, switches, cables, sharp corners, heavy metal rods, tie-downs, ladders, ropes, and military equipment onboard. It can be very easy for a child to get injured or tamper with something he/she shouldn't be touching. You can take advantage of the open space by stretching out and letting the kids play in the area near you, but keep in mind that you are hitching a ride with a military mission, and the safety and supervision of your children are your responsibility.

7. Bring ear protection

Many military aircraft are very noisy, and the flight crew provides ear protection for all passengers. They will give you a pack of foam earplugs that must be inserted into your ear. These earplugs aren't always very comfortable or suitable for small children, so it's better to bring your own ear protection for the kids. Headphones that connect to an entertainment option are a good choice and some kids like earmuffs!

8. Pack activities and snacks

Between the actual flight and the hours, you may spend waiting in the terminal, be prepared for a lot of downtime. Make sure you have movies downloaded to your tablet and plenty of books and portable games to keep the kids entertained. Also, don't forget about snacks. You can purchase a boxed meal for less than $10 per person on most flights, but you won't receive the meals until you're onboard. Don't count on the snack bar in the terminal being open; the flight kitchen's hours can be unpredictable.

9. Don't forget your sleeping gear

Bring blankets or a small sleeping bag for warmth and to help the kids sleep comfortably. Depending on the type of aircraft, passengers may be able to stretch out on the floor. In that case, having a small, easily-inflatable air mattress is very helpful.

10. If you're traveling solo, buddy up

Traveling by yourself with kids can be very challenging, but sometimes you don't have a choice. In particular, many unaccompanied spouses fly Space-A while their sponsor is deployed or the family is stationed OCONUS. If you see other Space-A passengers traveling with kids, ask if they want to pair up. You can help each other by watching luggage while one parent takes a child to the bathroom or nurses, by sharing games and activities, or simply by offering moral support. Having a buddy to navigate the journey with you can make a huge difference!

11. Don't be afraid to ask for help

Space-A travelers are a friendly bunch. If you can't find a travel buddy, don't hesitate to ask other passengers for help. Whether they're retirees or other active duty families, someone will be happy to lend you a hand.

You've got this!

That's a lot to remember, and flying Space A with kids may seem daunting. But with the right preparation and planning, it can actually be a much better experience than flying commercial. Keep in mind that you are avoiding one potential source of stress when flying on military planes: if your baby cries the entire time, you don't need to worry about disturbing other passengers. Between the noise of the aircraft and the fact that everyone has earplugs, no one can hear it!

This post was sponsored by PCSgrades.com.

If you've never been to Japan, you're in for a treat – and maybe a little bit of culture shock. Everything about Japan is drastically different from the United States, from the customs, to the food, to the style of lodging. Getting the full Japanese experience is fun, but if you prefer having a few comforts of home when you travel, here are five Japan destinations that you can visit and stay on a U.S. military installation.

JAPAN DESTINATIONS NEAR A U.S. MILITARY BASE

1. FUJI

WHAT TO SEE AND DO:

Mt. Fuji is Japan's most famous mountain. To climb Mt. Fuji, you must visit during the short climbing season, which lasts from mid-July to early September. In other months, you can enjoy seeing the beautiful snow-capped mountain while exploring the nearby Fuji Five Lakes and visiting the Chureito Pagoda, a 5-story pagoda with excellent views of Mt. Fuji and the surrounding area. You can also taste Japanese Sake made with Mt. Fuji spring water at Ide shuzo Sake brewery or relax at one of the many onsens (hot springs).

WHERE TO STAY:

For easy access to Mt. Fuji, spend a few days at Combined Arms Training Center (CATC) Camp Fuji. It's a small base in a very tranquil area about 2 hours southwest of Tokyo. The Mountain View Inn accepts space-A reservations up to 60 days in advance.

HOW TO GET THERE:

The Camp Fuji Trips & Recreation office web page has directions from various U.S. military bases as well as links to the Tokyo airport shuttle schedules. Pro tip: contact the Trips & Recreation office directly to find out if they have any scheduled day trips to Tokyo. You may be able to hop on one of their shuttles on its way back to Camp Fuji.

PCS to Japan

2. OKINAWA

WHAT TO SEE AND DO:

Okinawa has something for everyone, whether you're traveling as a family, a couple, or solo. With its subtropical climate and gorgeous beaches, Okinawa is a major destination for SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and boating. You can find beautiful waterfall hikes, ancient castle ruins, and sacred shrines. The kids will love Okinawa's famous Churaumi Aquarium and Ocean Expo park, while war history enthusiasts won't want to miss the Peace Memorial Museum. For hundreds of other ideas, visit Okinawa Hai, a website created by members of the U.S. military community.

WHERE TO STAY:

The U.S. military has more than a dozen installations in Okinawa, and most of them are clustered in the central part of the island. Kadena Air Base is the largest, and it's where you will land if you fly space-A. The two lodging facilities on Kadena Air Base are the Shogun Inn and the Navy Gateway Inns & Suites. You can also find lodging on other nearby bases.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Fly space-A into Kadena Air Base or fly commercial into Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Peach Airways offers very inexpensive fares to Naha from mainland Japan.

3. TOKYO

WHAT TO SEE AND DO:

We're talking about Tokyo, so take your pick! Whether you want to shop, visit temples and shrines, enjoy Roppongi nightlife, experience the famous Tsukiji fish market, or eat your way through the city, you definitely won't be bored!

WHERE TO STAY:

When visiting Tokyo, you couldn't find a nicer hotel for a better value than the New Sanno. It's easily the equivalent of a Hilton or Marriott in terms of luxury, but you can get a room for the whole family for less than $100 per night. The New Sanno is located in a prime area of Tokyo, within a couple subway stops of popular neighborhoods such as Shibuya, Ebisu, and Rappongi. The hotel has seven restaurants, an excellent gym, and a pool the kids will love. The New Sanno accepts space-A reservations up to 6 months in advance.

GETTING THERE:

The New Sanno has a shuttle from both of the Tokyo airports and Yokota Air Base. Their website also details public transportation options for other U.S. military bases in Japan.

4. HIROSHIMA

WHAT TO SEE AND DO:

The main attraction in Hiroshima is the Peace Memorial, which includes the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Museum, and several other monuments. The island of Miyajima, only a short boat ride away from Hiroshima, is also worth visiting. It is considered one of the most beautiful sites in Japan, and its famous Itsukushima Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hike or a take a tram to the top of the mountain for amazing 360-degree views of Hiroshima Bay.

WHERE TO STAY:

Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni is approximately one hour from Hiroshima. The new Inns of the Corps has comfortable, modern rooms and a nice fitness facility.

GETTING THERE:

You may be able to fly space-A into Iwakuni. The base is also easily accessible by train from Hiroshima.

PCS to Japan


5. NAGASAKI

WHAT TO SEE AND DO:

Visit Nagasaki to see the powerful exhibits at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and the Peace Park. You can also visit Dejima, the site of the former Dutch trading post and Japan's only international trading port for more than 200 years. If the weather is clear, catch what has been recognized as one of best night views in the world from the top of Mt. Inasa.

WHERE TO STAY:

Sasebo Naval Base is about 2 hours from Nagasaki. There are two lodging facilities: a Navy Lodge and a Navy Gateway Inns & Suites.

GETTING THERE:

You can take a train or bus between Sasebo and Nagasaki in under 2 hours. If you rent a car, the drive is slightly shorter, depending on traffic. If you're flying into the area from abroad, you may land in Fukuoka, the largest city on the island of Kyushu. From Fukuoka airport, the base operates a shuttle twice daily, but seats are space-A.

GETTING TO JAPAN

Wondering how you can visit all these great Japan destinations without breaking the bank if you're not already stationed in Japan? Fly space-A! Here's a detailed guide to flying space-A to Japan.

Staying on a military base while visiting Japan offers the best of both worlds. You can enjoy the beautiful sites of Japan along with the delicious food and the culture. At the same time, you can have comfortable lodging with familiar amenities at very reasonable prices. Traveling "military style" – using your military benefits and privileges to make your travel more convenient and affordable – is the best way to see the world!

This post was sponsored by PCSgrades.

By Allyson Miller

I am a Virgo who is married to a Logistics officer, so it should come as no surprise that we own a label maker, all of my spices are in alphabetical order and we have a moving checklist. Although we add to our checklist with each military move, somehow, we always end up forgetting something.

OOPS!

Halfway between Fort Lee and Fort Knox, I realized I had forgotten our son's medical records. I accidentally left my glasses prescription at Fort Leavenworth. And I can't tell you how many times we've ordered items from Amazon, only to have them ship to our old address.

There's a reason most civilians don't move every few years – it's a lot of work! Even if you remembered to pick up the kids' immunization and medical records, got the cat vaccinated, filled out the change of address form and made an inventory of your high-value items, did you retrieve everything you've loaned out? Check to make sure none of your credit cards will expire while you're traveling? Pick up all the dry cleaning?

DON'T CRY UNCLE!

I am currently one week out from the packers arriving and if it wasn't for the PCSgrades moving checklist, I probably would have thrown my hands in the air and gone out for margaritas.

Additionally, with every prior military move we've had at least 3 months between receiving our orders and moving. This time we had less than 30 days. So, when I saw the moving checklist, I printed it and immediately stuck it in my PCS binder.

After first glance, I felt a little faint as I realized we had bypassed most of the bold-faced categories: 3-6 months before your move, 2 months, 1 month. We were 3 weeks out and there were a lot of boxes to check off! It helped that this is a CONUS move, although we are literally moving from sea to shining sea.



USE A MOVING CHECKLIST

I had to start somewhere. So, I flipped to page one, 3-6 months before your move, and started working my way down. We didn't have 3-6 months, but if we were about to forget something, it was better to know now.

YA GOTTA LOVE MILITARY MOVING!

As it turned out, I had already done most of the 6 month, 3 month and 2 month tasks. But I always panic in the last few weeks. In the mad rush of picking up records, getting the oil changed and dropping off another pile of donations, I forget the other details. Put a checkbook in the PCS binder. Assemble the first night box so we aren't ripping into boxes in search of the paper towels. And now I'll download a Mover's Notice. This lets our moving company know up front we'll be reviewing their performance on PCSgrades after the move is complete.

The PCSgrades moving checklist addresses CONUS and OCONUS moves. Additionally, it is thorough without being overwhelming. It has helped keep me on track and calm. I know that if I feel like I'm forgetting something, I can just refer to the list. PCS moves are barely controlled chaos but at least now it's organized, barely controlled chaos. And that's good for everyone, even a Virgo and a Logistics Officer.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

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