Monday, March 7, 2016

The Decision and the Transition.

Writing to you from England dear friends and family!  Happy to say we have successfully made it across the pond.  I am going to write a few posts to fill you in on this great big adventure we have embarked upon.

The Decision.

(BACK STORY) - After his first tour in Korea (2003) we selected, and were given, Shaw AFB in Sumter, SC.  He chose this base because when he drove me away from my momma, in September of 2001, he promised her he would do whatever he could to get me back closer to home.  He is a man of his word.  This was a sacrifice on his part.  When we met he told me one of the reasons he joined the Air Force was to see the world.  I made it very clear (after having just hopped around Europe for a month) that I had no desire to live overseas.  I was twenty-two years old and I had every intention of getting married and having children in the U.S. where my parents could be active in their lives.  So, for 16 years we have lived and served stateside.  During that time we got married, had three darling daughters, Nate completed his Bachelor and Master's degrees, and we have traveled a lot.

 (CURRENT) - When Nate received his Korea orders (which we were totally expecting) for his second tour, we were given about 72 hours to turn in a list of places that we would like to go once he finished his time in Korea.  For the Air Force, when you complete an overseas tour they try to give you your first choice of a follow-on base.  Due to the fact that we were expecting these orders we had already been discussing where we might like to go afterwards.  In one of our first conversations I asked him if he could go anywhere where he would go.  He immediately named some overseas bases.  I knew I was ready for this adventure with him, but this is one of those things you almost prefer happen to you instead of you putting into action.  I had to really work through my own feelings about moving our girls so far away from my parents.  I knew that this decision would crush them and that is a tough load to carry.  I am a people pleaser and this one wasn't going to please a lot of people.  By this time though I had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.  I had given birth to all of our children, created a firm and loving bond between them and our families, and I felt they were of an age that I could manage them alone in a foreign environment (he will deploy) and they could remember a life overseas.  Although this was always a dream of Nate's, we both knew and talked extensively about what a gift we could give our girls with this decision.  The benefits were endless and would last them for a lifetime.  As parents, we all try to constantly and consistently give our children the best we can, and we knew that this was our very best.  Not the easiest way or the safest way or the American way....but it is our way and more importantly it is the military way.  Service before self.  We knew that if God wanted this for us, it would happen.  And it did.  If  it was not meant to be, and there were definitely opportunities for it to fall through, then it would just not happen.  But it did.  I also felt that Nate had made an ultimate sacrifice for me and, frankly, it was his turn.  We completed our list with a set of overseas and stateside bases, within the given time frame, and then we waited.  Many months later we received news we would move to England, the second choice on our list.  That is when we told our girls.  The excitement was not unanimous. 

The Transition. 

When it came to transitioning the girls and our family to England, I knew I had an expert in my midst.  My mother.  This is a woman who can create, implement, and follow through with a plan like no one I know.  We are both analyzers.  We spent hours and hours looking at this from a thousand different directions.  Ultimately, Nate and I decided that I would remain in our Florida home until it sold or we left.  It never sold.  We then decided that he would return home to Florida and then take a month of leave.  We felt, for us, that our family needed time together.  Time to decompress and re-build the family relationship.  It is not easy, on either side, for the parent who has been away to re-engage with the family.  Everyone has a new set routine, he has no clue, the children tell him he has no clue, we all get frustrated.  By taking everyone out of their normal we would create a new normal for all of us.  Looking back, this is the best decision we could have made.

After returning home a day late, he had one full day with the girls before we loaded them up and met my parents in Atlanta. 

Helping Daddy prepare the car for transport.
 They took the girls back to N.C., gave us my mother's car, and we drove to the shipping facility in Atlanta and turned in the minivan.  They processed it and loaded it on a transport truck while we were there.  This was quite a process.  They take this very seriously.  If you are not prepared you will be very frustrated.  Nate was well prepared, but God decided to unload a rainstorm on us for our entire drive to Atlanta.  He had to dry the w.h.i.t.e van off, in the pouring rain, while the pre-inspector cleared it just to be pulled into the main bay for a formal inspection.  Then they dried it, verified it had less than 1/4 tank of gas, was completely empty on the interior, and accounted for all markings on the exterior.  Once cleared, we drove straight back to our home in Florida and began preparing for the movers to come the following Monday.

Moving overseas is no joke.  Thankfully, the military has done this a time or two.  So have all of the moving companies.  We simply supplied the dates that we wanted the movers to come and the military office set this up.  Apparently they send out the information to the moving companies, they bid on your move, and then are selected.  This is the military...lowest bidder wins.  We had three different companies involved in our move and were allowed 13,000 free pounds.  This means that they add the weight of Nate's shipment from Korea and the three U.S. shipments together.  Anything over 13,000 we pay at a rate determined my the military.  Don't forget that when we move back they can charge us again if we exceed the limit.  We then chose the order that they would come to our home....another analyzed decision.  Ultimately, I chose for the unaccompanied baggage to come first, the long ship second, and the storage shipment third.  The unaccompanied baggage must be under 1,000 pounds.  These items are what you will receive first, via air transport, and should allow you to live for up to six weeks until your remaining goods arrive.  I chose to pack kitchen essentials, the remaining cold weather clothing for everyone, sheets, towels, bedding, two small boxes of toys, scooters, shower curtains, trash cans, and our school books.  To prepare for these people I put everything, except our clothing, on our dining room table.  For room specific items I placed the items on the bed, in that room, and then sectioned the clothes off, in each closet, by wrapping a yellow piece of yarn around the section.  This way the packer did not need me with them at all times.  I walked them through and explained that they would only take what was on the bed and the clothes that had the yellow string. 

This is the shipment by air.  It had to fit in the smaller plywood box you see in the truck.  Ours barely fit.  It will probably burst like Jack-in-the-Box when they open it on our end.
 As soon as they finished up, around lunch, we began preparing for the long ship packers arriving the following morning at 8.  All items were taken from walls and placed on the floor in the room they were hung in.  We spent time taking pictures of items, doing inventory, and organizing.  Our goal was for them to not have to go into any cabinet, drawer, etc.  We accomplished this.  They arrived the following morning and worked hard for two solid days. 

Fun Fact: The UK does not allow knives, guns, or anything resembling a weapon.  Because the military doesn't store our items in a climate controlled warehouse all of Nate's collection was hand carried in two trips to be stored at my parents.
 They thanked us more than once for the organization.  That was time well spent and it paid off for everyone.  I have done moves where I didn't go through everything and clean out and it is horrible on the other end.  I was determined to make this move different.  On the their third day they brought the moving men.  These guys are expert Tetris players for sure.  Unlike a stateside move, an overseas move requires your items to be crated.  This does happen stateside, but is not always a requirement.  The mover men must pack as efficiently as possible because every square inch matters.  This was quite impressive to watch.  When one crate is completely packed they raise the fourth side and nail it shut.  The service member then signs a large sticker (security seal) and it is placed around one of the corners that has been sealed.  This will tell anyone (especially the service member) if their container has been compromised.  The container is not to be opened until it is delivered to us at our next home.

Fun Fact: All of our items have to clear customs.  Every item or box has a detailed description of what it contains for customs agents.  When you ship to the UK you never label a box or description line with stuffed animals.  They interpret this as once alive, now stuffed animals.  That is a no-no.  Those boxes and lines must be labeled toys.

  The fifth day of packing was reserved for our items that we would leave behind in the U.S.  The military will pay to store these items for us.  Our storage shipment contained large pieces of furniture, lots of fine china, and garage equipment.  I must confess that we were sound asleep when these men rang the doorbell at 8 a.m. sharp.  We were exhausted.  They got straight to work and were done shortly after lunch.  For them, I had gathered all of the interior items into one room (done previously in the week and shut off to the other two companies) and the garage items had already been separated onto one side of the garage earlier in the week as well.  We learned that these items would be stored in Alabama.  They do provide the specific location for the service member, but that should obviously remain private.

Once we survived the packing process our neighbors provided us with a blow up air mattress.  We kept an old set of sheets, towels, and a few cooking essentials for the remainder of our time.  Once we left for good these items would be trashed or donated.  We began the cleaning process of our home that was now rental property...with a renter on the way!  Praise the Lord!  There is nothing like cleaning your home and making it look brand new to make you fall in love with it all over again.  We worked very hard the first two days because we knew that we wanted to attend our church for the final time that Sunday, see the beach once more, and give ourselves space for the unexpected to pop up. 

Many trips to Lowes were made.  Nate always takes a picture of the girls on the tractors.  It broke his heart not to have one last picture.  I dutifully stepped in.  ;)

We did get to enjoy a final beach sunrise...

This was our favorite go-to beach spot.  Not many tourists, picnic tables for many, showers, bathrooms, and a great cold treat stand in the hot summers.

 followed by breakfast at a favorite tourist spot...

 and then a last church service. 

Crosspoint United Methodist Church - This church will always hold a special place in our hearts.  This is where Olivia was saved.

 We even had time to go on a special date

See our last day in action!

  The following morning we drove out and headed to the mountains of North Carolina to begin putting our family back together again.  While it was very hard on our kids to leave their daddy so quickly after his arrival, it was great for our marriage.  We have learned that the family comes back together much easier, for us, if the marriage gets a head start.  Obviously, we were very fortunate to be close enough to my parents for them to take the kids for the week.  We have certainly packed with kids.  Without kids is so much easier. 


 Part of our decision making included Nate taking about thirty days of leave in transit (after leaving one base and before checking in at the next base).  He would be given seven days to travel from Korea to the states.  Anything after that, prior to him checking in in England, would count against his leave (paid time off).  This is where we planned strategically.  We accumulated enough days for him to take the twenty-five days in July, to come home, and then these thirty days before we left for England.  I don't want to give the details of how the troops are moved and at what times, but I will say that we would have had to take leave, no matter what, given the way they move you from one assignment to the next, in our type of situation.  Given that our goal was to let our shipped goods get a head start, allow time for family that wanted to visit with us, and, most importantly, to reconnect as a family, there was only one place we wanted to go.  The mountains.  My parents were very generous to open their home to us.  While this is in no way roughing it, it is secluded and requires a bit of planning to stay for an extended time (like you don't want to forget an item at the grocery store).  This place is my Heaven on Earth.  We spent our mornings completing school assignments, got a one month YMCA membership and went almost daily (to include swimming), made day trips to Boone, NC, and spent lots of time outdoors.  There is nothing like a little seclusion, fresh air, and a healthy dose of routine to bring a family back together.  We did not take one moment of this for granted and feel so grateful that this was an option for us.

The final weekend brought us down the mountain to stay with my parents at their home.  We spent this time washing clothes and organizing all of the suitcases.  Nate was sure to stay very clear of this work.  #LaughingCryingEmoji  The final baggage count (after the unexpected purchase of one more suitcase via Goodwill for all of the hair products and toiletries) was 9 carry on bags, 7 checked suitcases, 5 neck pillows, 3 American Girl dolls, 3 princess blankets, and 1 folding stroller.  Because we chose not to fly from Florida (our assigned base location) we were responsible for getting ourselves to an official port of call to fly to England.  The military office provided us Washington D.C. as the closest option to where we were staying.  For official travel, not every airport serves as an official port of call.  This required us to rent a van and drive to D.C.  We acquired the van on a Sunday afternoon, spent the afternoon and evening figuring out how to get everything in it, and then pulled out the next morning for a red eye flight on the same night.  We arrived in a timely manner, hired the gentleman at the curb to help us get all of our bags into the main check-in area, and our journey began. 

British Airways was our carrier for this trip.  I was simply amazed at how prepared and smooth this process was.  I assume this is the benefit of an official port of call.  They are trained and familiar with the process and working with military families.  We spent some time watching the planes arrive and depart, made our way through TSA, and went for a sit down dinner.  We then had about an hour and a half to wait prior to boarding.  Just before boarding began, the gentleman who checked us in much earlier in the day came to us and asked that we gather our things and head to the gate entry.  He had arranged for our family to board first.  This airline went above and beyond to make this day seamless for our family. 

It wasn't long before the dark night sky surrounded us and we (eventually) fell asleep.  Six short hours later and our feet were on the ground in London, England.  Thankfully, a friend already based here suggested we hire the driver they had used when they arrived.  This allowed for private transportation opposed to the shuttle bus commonly used.  I cannot say enough good about this!  I am so glad we acted on this advice.  We were exhausted when we arrived.  The driver met us inside the airport, handled our luggage, loaded us up, and drove us two hours north to RAF Lakenheath.  He waited until our lodging was all worked out (there were issues) and then unloaded all of our luggage into our room.  This is when you give major thanks that the time jumped ahead five hours....bedtime came very soon!  We are so thankful for a safe arrival and look forward to sharing more about the days since our arrival, the process of finding a home here, and eventually our England adventures. 

Our trip in action!

Thank you to everyone who has supported us this past year.  While I could not spend time talking on the phone and responding to every message, please know we got them and were so grateful for each and every thoughtful gesture.  Military families need support that we will never ask for, but are always appreciative to receive.

My dear girls,

While this decision to move you so far away may not make a lot of sense right now, we promise you one day it will.  Change is hard, but change grows you.  All three of you are strong, adaptable, and resilient girls; in large part because we have stretched you.  If we thought that this would, in any way, do more harm than good we would never make this choice for you.  You have handled this transition so well.  You have had to learn how to work through hard moments, that crying is ok, that the sun always shines after the storm, and that life is so much fun!  We hope to teach you that while we may never know where the military will send us, you are always home.  A building is not a home.  WE are the home.  As long as we are together, as long as we are a will always be home.  We love you so very much and look forward to our many adventures to come and are so excited we get to do them with you!


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