Hi everyone, my name is Laurie and I’m going to be your overseas guru. First, I have a confession to make- my husband and I are not overseas yet. However, I’m going to be blogging my adventure as it happens, so I hope to provide all of you with the most current information as I live it.
Preparing to Move Overseas
When the time comes for PCS orders, it can be exhilarating, scary and, most of all, nerve-wracking. Then, learning that you will be PCSing OCONUS (Outside Continental United States) opens up a whole new world of emotions. Just the acronym alone looks scary! Reading the words Germany, Korea, Italy, Japan, Hawaii, or Alaska on your spouse’s Enlisted Record Brief (ERB) can send you into a panic. My husband recently received OCONUS PCS orders. We had talked about Germany when he enlisted, and suddenly our dream became a reality. And I became overwhelmed. After the initial panic wore off, it didn’t take long to become excited about living in another country and about all the opportunities it brings.
The first thing I did was go to the library to check out one of those language learning CDs. Looking back, I don’t think I would recommend that as the first step to moving overseas with the military, but as a new Army wife sorting my way through my first PCS, it was a nice departure from the real “to do list.”
Command Sponsorship Basics
I was anxious to start knocking out my list, but before we could do anything, my husband attended a Preparation for Overseas Replacement (POR) meeting for all AIT soldiers moving overseas with dependents. From talking to other Army wives, I get the feeling not every solider has these meetings; which could leave you pretty much in the dark. Have no fear, I’m here to help! Read on, but let me warn you – every soldier’s situation is different, and every unit has different rules. What I will share with you is based on my experience at Fort Gordon PCSing to Germany. If your soldier’s CO tells them something different, go by their word, not mine, of course.
At some point, you’re going to hear the phrase “command sponsorship.” What this means is that the Army is aware that you will be accompanying your spouse on their tour overseas. If you don’t go through the proper channels, you’ll have to set up many of the logistics yourself and pay out of pocket for expenses that would otherwise have been reimbursed by the military.
The first thing I had to complete was an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) screening. Some people think this is a physical to make sure you are healthy enough to travel, but actually this is the Army’s way of making sure that you have adequate health care where you are located if you need specialists or long-term care. Make sure you have DD Form 5888 and DD Form 7246 for them to fill out. If you see a doctor not on a military base, also bring DD Form 5888-R. If you or your children have any EFMP conditions, make sure to bring a completed DD Form 2792 with you to the appointment.
The next step is applying for your no-fee passport. I was certain that I wouldn’t need one because I had a passport already. I scoffed at this step, reveling in my travel-savvy ways. I had a passport. However I was being overconfident in my traveling know-how and quickly learned that in order to travel on official orders, a civilian needs a special passport. In fact, the travel office won’t issue plane tickets without proof of a no-fee passport.
A no-fee passport is also called a Department of Defense (DoD) passport, and the passport you used on your last Mexican vacation is a regular tourist passport. People might tell you that you don’t need a no-fee passport, but get one to avoid headaches later. There’s plenty of information on the Internet about no-fee passports. You must apply for a no-fee passport at a military installation – contact the travel office where your spouse is currently stationed to find out where to apply.
Be prepared for a photo at this appointment. I literally rolled out of bed half an hour before my no-fee passport appointment, and then learned that I had to have my passport photos taken. (I figure I’ll take this opportunity for you to learn through my mistakes… bed head and all.) Make sure you bring the following papers to your appointment:
1. Passport Application– Fill out as much as you can; you’ll complete the rest at the appointment.
2. Marriage license
3. Birth certificate- Make sure it’s an official copy. In fact, they made a big deal about mine because it was so old that the raised seal was almost gone. The state department may reject it if they can’t tell its official.
4. Tourist passport- If you have one. It’s not required.
5. Social Security Card
6. Power of Attorney (POA)- If your spouse cannot be at this meeting, make sure you obtain a POA that is specific to passport matters.
Expect for it to take about six weeks to process the no-fee passport. The U.S. Department of State, which issues no-fee passports, will send it to the military installation, rather than to your house directly. However, you can request that the military installation send it to you after they have received it. Also be warned they may not call you when it comes in, so make sure you contact them around the time it is supposed to arrive.
Family Travel Message
If everything has been approved, a Family Travel Message will be sent to your soldier’s command. Ours was an e-mail stating that I will be accompanying my husband to Germany, and we will be granted shipping of our household goods and plane tickets for me. This document is basically stating that command sponsorship has been approved. The timeline for this message depends on the commander of your gaining unit, so expect it to take anywhere from a week to a month. The sooner your spouse can contact his sponsor or gaining unit, the sooner they can get to work sending you this message. Also note, this e-mail was never sent directly to my husband, but received a hard copy of it from his unit’s operations office.
To Do List While Waiting
Depending on your situation, your spouse may have orders before you get command sponsorship. As I write this, we are waiting for my husband’s orders. Setting up your car shipment, appointments for the movers, etc. can’t be done until you have orders. If you are in our situation, there’s some things you may want to do while you wait.
The military allows free shipment of one Privately Owned Vehicle (POV) to certain OCONUS locations. If you have a lien or lease on your car, you’ll need to get a written statement from the lien/lease grantor. The above link explains what needs to be included in this letter. Also, you’ll want to take care of any repairs your car needs. After $900, we no longer have four warning lights on our Pontiac Sunfire’s dash, but I have a feeling this cost much less in the U.S. than if we repaired it in Germany.
In my next article, I’ll discuss what to do after getting orders and completing the actual move. Preparing to move OCONUS can seem overwhelming, but I always tell myself that if other people have done this before me, then certainly I can do it as well.