PCSing in itself is never fun. The idea of it is always exciting, but the endless paperwork, packing, and planning is not so fun. Luckily, we have our spouse there and between the two of us, it’s easier to divide and conquer tasks and so much easier traveling with the kids and pets.
What happens if your spouse isn’t there? What happens if for example, your spouse is already at the duty station overseas and you are left alone with two kids and a dog to deal with passports, clearance, selling cars, and the movers? Yeah, that happened to me.
In 2010, the husband got orders for Okinawa. The original plan was for him to go unaccompanied. That and the orders came out right around the time we got married, so the kids and I wouldn’t have been on them anyways. We owned a house where we were in Missouri, I had friends there, and was an easyish drive to my family. The plan was for me to stay put for that two years and then we’d move to the next duty station together. His sponsor in Okinawa had also told him he would deploy soon after arriving, so the husband didn’t see the point in bringing me along to just leave me alone while he deployed right away.
He left for Okinawa on June 24. It took less than a week for him to realize he wanted us to come as well. I don’t know why he didn’t realize how much he would miss us, but whatever. His unit was also already deployed when he got there, so he wouldn’t be going anywhere for a long while. He put in the paperwork to see if we could get command sponsorship and go too. He had approval within the week. From there, it was just waiting on the official orders. Once we had those, they actually had to redo them because they forgot a kid, but that didn’t take too long. In the meantime, I was working on getting doctor appointments for me and the kids to get us cleared medically and take care of any needed shots. I felt like I was also at the Marine Detachment all the time, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you what for anymore. We also had to get passports. Mine was set to expire in 2011, so I renewed it, as well as getting DOD passports for me and the kids. There was also some drama in there with my ex telling me I couldn’t take my son overseas, which was unpleasant all the way around, but we got it taken care of.
So much of it was waiting on the plane tickets. I had no idea when we were actually going to leave. At the beginning of September, we finally got our plane tickets. We were set to fly in three weeks. Now came the fun part. I scheduled TMO, which was a nightmare in itself. There were three shipments being packed up – the express shipment going to Japan (no furniture, had to stay under 1,000 lbs and mostly clothes, sheets, towels, kitchen stuff), the household goods going to Japan (this was all the bigger stuff, but furniture was kept to a minimum as we were only allowed 3,000 lbs), and the storage shipment (all the stuff that wasn’t essential that we wouldn’t see for three more years). I had a garage sale and I sold lots of stuff on yard sale sites. Then I had to sell my car. I still had about 8 months of payments on it and I was so looking forward to the day it was paid off. I wanted to keep it as long as possible before leaving, but I wanted to for sure sell it. I went back to the dealership where I bought it, they looked it over, gave me a price, and said bring it back whenever. I took it back the week I left and they handed me a check. I’m sure I could have gotten more for it selling it myself to an individual, but I didn’t want to deal with the uncertainty of it. Someone loaned me a car for the last few days, so no troubles there. A couple days before we were to fly out, my parents came up to help with the last little odds and ends. They took us home so we could say goodbye to everyone one last time and then took us to the airport.
I was flying to Okinawa with a 19 month old, a 5 year old, and our dog. Same dog we still have. I researched exactly what kind of kennel he needed to fly that far and I thought I was good. I wasn’t. It needed air holes on all four sides. The one we had only had air holes on three sides. We were trying to check in to our flight when we discovered this. My dad was all ready to go out and find us a kennel, but the super great guys at the airport found a drill, drilled holes in that one side, and we were good. Crisis averted.
The kids and I got on the flight from St. Louis to Chicago. Little plane, short flight. We had minimal time in Chicago though. My 5 year old son pulled one suitcase, I pulled the other and pushed his sister in the stroller. The flight was already boarding, but we made it. From there we flew to Tokyo. That was one long. freaking. flight. This was before we could just shove a screen in our kid’s face and they’d be content for a while. My son was fine. He had a few things to entertain him. My daughter was a different story. She didn’t want to stay put and wanted to crawl all over the seats, run down the aisles, and I wasn’t having it. I basically held her, kinda tight, so she couldn’t escape and would calm down. My son had to go to the bathroom at one point. They were like a half dozen rows ahead of me and I could see them, so I told him to go ahead. At one point, I thought I heard him yell Mama, but dismissed it. When I heard it again, I started to get up, but the flight attendant beat me there. Poor kid got himself locked in there and couldn’t get back out. We all eventually slept, but it sucked. I don’t recommend flying with small children by yourself if you can help it. I had to take her to the bathroom with me. While in line for the bathroom, I did meet a nice older gentleman who was flying to Okinawa to see his grandchild be born. He had been there before and already knew what was going on, while I was at a total loss.
Once we got to Tokyo, the gentleman I had met on the plane helped me out. We got to go through the shorter customs line (by shorter I mean there was no wait, while the other line had a good hundred people in it) because we had small children and a stroller. He went through with us, no problem. I then had to go get all our luggage (you can imagine how much it is when moving to another country) and our dog. I then had to take the dog to ensure he was cleared to enter the country. How am I supposed to handle 2 kids, one of which is in a stroller, a cart full of luggage, and a dog. Enter the previously mentioned gentleman. He watched the kids and our bags while I dealt with the dog. Bless that man. I never did get his name, but I am still thankful to him.
All was good, I got the dog and our luggage checked in and we waited to board the flight to Okinawa. It was a 3 hour flight and we all slept most of the way. Once we got to Okinawa, I had help getting the dog and luggage, and then there was my husband. After 3 months, we were all together again. It was not a fun experience, but I would do it all over again.