A Night in Brussels

Two years ago, while stationed in Germany, we took our first trip out of Bavaria and headed to France. I keep putting off writing about it because it was a two-week trip and so much happened that writing about it is going to be a massive effort. However, if I don’t write about it now I may never get around to it so it’s time to buckle down and get to typing!

The problem with writing about something two years after it happens are that things start to get fuzzy. I can’t remember what day of the week we left home – probably Friday or Saturday. I can’t remember if it was before or after my son’s second birthday – he was some age very close to two. I wanted to be really informative and describe how in the heck we fit all of our stuff into our car, but I can’t – we shoved it all in there somehow.

Anyway, sometime about two years ago, when I had a five-year-old and a twoish-year-old and I was not-too-hugely pregnant with our third child, we decided it would be a good time to take a summer vacation to France. We had the brilliant idea to try camping. It was a little bit because we’re adventurous. It was mostly because I’m cheap. Actually, camping was not absolutely horrible. It had its moments, but overall it was a good way to save money and I would do it again with a few tweaks.

We chose to start at the top of France and work our way down. We went through Belgium and stayed the night in Brussels on our way up to Normandy. We stayed in Normandy a few days and then headed down to Euro Disney in Paris. I also wanted to see the city of Paris so we stayed a few more nights in a campsite in Paris before heading down to Canes for a few nights. On our way back we drove up through the French Alps, through part of Italy and stopped for a night in Liechtenstein before finally arriving back home in Bavaria.

After all plans and reservations were made, the day finally came to load up the car and head out. Between the camping gear, suitcases and children our car was filled to max capacity (who really needs to see out the rear-view mirror anyway?) and we were on our way to our first destination: Brussels, Belgium.

We arrived in Brussels late afternoon and checked into our hotel (if I were a better blogger I would have a link to the hotel here. Sorry. I don’t remember the hotel we stayed at, but really it was nothing too fantastic, I promise). Even though we had our tent and everything, we didn’t want to camp since we knew we really were just stopping to sleep and walk around down town a little bit before getting up to drive the rest of the way to Normandy in the morning. I do remember that parking was difficult – remember to search for a hotel or room that has a parking spot included.


After getting settled in, our evening was spent walking past sights like the European Union headquarters, The Royal Palace of Brussels and The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. The streets

were pretty empty and quiet (oh, hey! It must have been a Saturday! Look at me! Memory like a steel trap!) and it was nice to walk around without crowds. After touring the cathedral we got our obligatory Belgian waffles from a street vendor and then headed over to a playground to let the boys get their energy out.

I do remember that Brussels seemed to me much more like an American city than anything we’d seen in Germany. Not only did it seem like many of the buildings were newer buildings, but it was a much more culturally diverse place than the places we’d seen in Germany. In our experiences of small-town Germany almost everybody looked German and spoke German, but in Brussels we saw people that looked like they were from all over the world and heard many different languages.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the first restaurant that looked appealing (pretty sure it was an Irish or British pub?) and then made our way back to the hotel for the night.

In the morning we woke up, got ready and started out to France. The rest of the short drive through Belgium was nice from what I remember. Lots of green, quaint villages and a castle here and there, and then we were in France! An evening really is not enough time to fully experience a city, let alone a country. To do it real justice, I’m sure we should have at least spent three or four days in Brussels alone. Instead of just walking past the palace, we could

have taken tours and instead of just settling for the first restaurant we came across we could have tried real local cuisine. If you are only staying in Belgium for a night, it might be nicer to go to a smaller village so you really could see the whole town rather than a big city like Brussels where you can only get a tiny taste before you have to leave. Either way, we had to stop for the night somewhere and we got to see a country we had never seen before in the process. That’s a win in my book.

If you want to know more fun activities to do in Brussels with kids check out this post from Mom Aboard or this post from Travel With 2 of Us. Check back in a few days for the story of the next leg of our trip – Normandy!

This Blog Almost Died

This blog almost died. Like every house plant I’ve ever owned, I have ignored it until it has become a sad, dehydrated shadow of its former self. But I like this blog more than any house plant and I’m not ready to let it die that easily.

It is amazing how quickly memories fade without writing things down. I try to write about my travels within a few weeks of a trip, but life got busy. I moved across the world and changed jobs and have neglected writing anything for months. I was tempted to let this whole thing fall by the wayside and just be something I used to do.  “Hey, you guys remember that one time when I had a blog? Yeah, good times.” But, no! I shall persevere! I still have places I’ve been about which I have not written! France! Croatia! Kansas (really, Kansas?)! Oh yeah, I’ve moved to Kansas.

This blog is my photo album. I can go back, look at pictures and read stories and remember. I want to be able to show my children the places they’ve been and tell them stories about their adventures. I don’t want to just know that I went somewhere, I want to be able to recall everything I did saw and felt.

This blog is my creative outlet. Some kids wanted to be firefighters or astronauts when they grew up. I wanted to be an artist. But then I realized I’m not really that great at art. I can’t paint my feelings or the places I’ve been, but I can write about them and somebody else might even want to read what I write. Maybe I even inspire somebody else to go see something new.

So I can’t quit. I just took a hiatus. I’m transitioning from my green period to my blue period. Or something else that an artist would do when their life changes.

Army, you may have taken Europe from me, but you can’t take my adventurous spirit! I can find something interesting here in my new home. I’m sure I’ve seen a poster in a dentist’s office somewhere that says “travel is a state of mind”. Maybe not, but it sounds like something I would have seen in a dentist’s office, and who can deny the authority of a dentist? Not someone with a smile like mine!

I’m back. And now that all the dust has settled from my move, I’m going to write. I’ll write about all the places I’ve been and all the new places I find and the way they looked and smelled and sounded and felt! I will sculpt my memories with words into something that I can go back and touch any time I want. When my kids get old enough to think that I’m just some dull, boring mom they can read my words and realize that, yes! I am a dull, boring mom, but I’ve been some really interesting places! And I think that’s something worth not giving up on.

Tropical Islands Water Park near Berlin

So this isn’t a particularly long post, but I’d be amiss if I forgot to tell you guys about a super-cool place our Unit Ministry Team took our Single Soldiers on a day trip last year. If you’re already headed toward Berlin and looking for a unique place to stay there is a gigantic former blimp hanger that has been converted to a water park/hotel.  If you are adventurous and don’t want to stay in a traditional hotel room, they also have little tents inside the hangar you can stay in!

If you aren’t staying overnight, Tropical Islands still serves as an awesome water park to go to for the day. They have a wave pool, indoor rain forest nature walk, water slides, a hot air balloon, huge playground area, hot tubs, kiddie pool, man-made sandy beaches, sauna and spa, shopping, food and, of course, alcohol in abundance. There are activities that go on throughout the day like dance classes and skits. They have showers and lockers there as well, so if you aren’t staying overnight you do not need to worry about where to put your stuff. My son, who was five at the time, loved it.

If you check out their website you can see the schedule for upcoming special events such as holiday parties and indoor beach soccer championships.

The only downsides were that it is not particularly cheap at €42, but kids up to age 5 are free. So, is it worth it? If you are already headed to/near Berlin I say yes. We had to drive a total of 10 hours in one day (5 there and 5 back) and that was a little much, especially since there are water parks – albeit not as big or in a blimp hangar – a lot closer to where I live. If you’re looking for a place similar but closer to the Graffenwoehr/Vilsek/Hohenfels area, I suggest the waterpark in Nuremberg (like I mention in this post) which has many of the same things, just smaller.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below! Have fun!There is a gigantic former blimp hanger outside of Berlin that they have converted to a water park/hotel. If you’re looking for a unique place to stay near Berlin, this may be the place for you. If you are adventurous and don’t want to stay in a traditional hotel room, they also have little tents inside the hangar you can stay in!


Hiking Kallmünz Castle

One of the things I love about Europe is that in every town you can find houses that are older than the United States of America. Your perspective of “old” totally changes. Even more fascinating is being able to hike up to the 800+ year-old remnants of a castle in which knights or royalty once lived only a short drive from your house.Just a 15 minute drive from Hohenfels is a town called Kallmünz, which is home to such a castle. People have lived in this little corner of the world since the Bronze Age. You guys, that’s like from 500 B.C.! People started building primitive outer walls of this castle possibly as early as the 900’s and by the 13th century the castle’s inner walls were fully constructed and its residents were being mentioned in early Bavarian chronicles.

Just a 15 minute drive from Hohenfels is a town called Kallmünz, which is home to such a castle. People have lived in this little corner of the world since the Bronze Age. You guys, that’s like since 500 B.C.! People started building primitive outer walls of this castle possibly as early as the 900’s and by the 13th century the castle’s inner walls were fully constructed and its residents were being mentioned in early Bavarian chronicles. From 1459 to 1641 the castle bounced back and forth between Bavarian and Palatine hands and then it was ransacked and burned during the Thirty Years War by the Swedes (dang it, Swedes!). Since then it’s been ruins and people pillaged the rocks from the castle to build other stuff until it was set up as a historical site.

I found MilliGFunk’s blog post and followed her directions to figure out where to park (thanks!). Once we got there I strapped our new-born to my front and my husband strapped our two year old to his back and we walked about a half a mile up a hill to Kallmünz castle. The path was a little rocky, but if you have a stroller with good tires you would definitely be able to push it up without any issues. There is no cost for parking or to get into the castle.view-from-kallmunz

When you get up to the castle you can take in a great view of Kallmünz and the river Naab below. It is also really neat to walk around and look at the ancient well, stone outlines of castle rooms, imagine being an archer looking through tiny windows, and try your best to read the German signs (or use an app to translate if you’re fancy) so you can learn a little history.

If you’re up for a hike and you want to get in touch with your inner princess (or medieval wench – whatever, no judgement), I highly suggest taking an hour to go check out Kallmunz Castle. Let me know how you like it! 

Berlin on a Budget

I think those who travel the world with children are a special breed of crazy. We are the rare few who have vision in abundance (I’m going to see the world! If we just pack this stroller, and this carrier, then we can make it to this city in this amount of time and for only this little amount of money!), persistence to the point of self-harm (I don’t care if baby is teething and toddler is potty training, we’re going to see Greece, dangit!), passion that exceeds natural human caution (oops, we’re pregnant again), and a lack of patience and discipline (sure, I could see Europe when I’m financially secure and don’t have 3 small kids in tow, but I’m here NOW and therefore need to see it NOW).

I also think this crazy is genetic. My mother is this breed of crazy. The last time I was in Berlin I was a baby and my mother took my brother and I on so many trips around the city that she “wore the wheels off” of the umbrella stroller she pushed me in. So that’s where I get this from. And that’s why I wanted to go to Berlin again – to see if I could find some thirty-year-old stroller tires.

I think the hardest thing about planning our trip to Berlin was deciding what to take the kids to see. There were so many child-friendly options! We were only going on a trip for a long weekend, so we knew we could only see two or three things.I think the hardest thing about planning our trip to Berlin was deciding what to take the kids to see. There were so many child-friendly options! We were only going on a trip for a long weekend, so we knew we could only see two or three things. My parents suggested the zoo and this blog post by Not a Ballerina had a great list of museums. We decided on the natural history museum because my boys love dinosaur skeletons. We also decided on a free walking tour of Berlin through Sandeman’s (we also went through this company in Amsterdam and attempted to use them in Prague).

We left on a Friday after school and battled through the traffic to arrive at the hostel we were staying at before nightfall. This was our first experience with a youth hostel and honestly, it wasn’t bad. We had a family room which meant we were not sharing our room with any other people and we had our own bathroom. Breakfast was served buffet style in a small cafeteria, there was free Wi-Fi, and plenty of vending machines and Foosball tables.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was in a good location (near the subway and free parking), affordable and quiet. We were able to park our car near the hostel and then just buy day passes on the subway to get around the city, which worked out really well.

Saturday morning we got up and ready and headed to the Berlin zoo by subway. First of all, let me just take a second to mention how great the subway system was in Berlin. The trains and stations were clean, timely and not at all crowded. I remember when we went to Paris trying to get on a train was nerve-wracking because there was hardly enough room to shove your way in and never any room to sit down. Later on our tour of Berlin we learned that the city had been expected to grow to a population of 10 million people by 1950 but due to war and then the division of East and West Germany, the population dwindled and to this day is only at about 4 million people. This means that although it is a big city with great facilities, transportation, and lots to do, to me it never felt crowded or too busy which I liked a lot.

Anyway, back to the zoo. It was AWESOME! Seriously, the Berlin zoo is one of the bestzoo
we’ve ever been to (definitely better than the Zurich zoo). It is beautifully landscaped, you are close to the animals, they have a great playground for the kids and of course great German restaurants on site. My oldest especially liked the nocturnal animals exhibit where you get to go underground in a dark room and see lots of animals that are only active at night. I enjoyed the exhibit too. I remember going to the Honolulu zoo and seeing the anteater, which was always just lying there, and wondering if he ever moved. Turns out they’re nocturnal so I actually got to see an anteater moving in Berlin. So cool! (I know, I know. I’m a nerd.)

We spent the morning and lunchtime in the zoo and then headed back to the subway toward the Brandenburg Gate to catch our afternoon walking tour. The tour was a nice way to get around and learn a little something about the major sites of Berlin. We got to see things like the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Concert House and the place where Hitler supposedly committed suicide. Our guide was very informative and interesting. After the tour we got some Döners (mmmm…) and headed back to our room for the night.

jarsSunday morning we went over to the Berlin Museum of Natural History. They have the largest fully assembled dinosaur skeleton in the world displayed in this museum. They also have a T-Rex skeleton, displays on how taxidermy is done, all kinds of weird creepy jars of things in formaldehyde, models of the solar system and all kinds of rocks and crystals. The building itself is not that big. It only took us maybe two hours to see the whole place so it is a nice thing if you only have a little while to spare. After the museum we went back to the hostel, packed up and checked out and headed home.

All together I found Berlin to be a very child friendly place with a lot of fascinating history. With all the things to do and see in the area I think we could have easily spent a wholet-rex week there, but I was pleased with how we planned our weekend and think that our whole family really enjoyed it. Check out the city for yourself and let me know how you like it!

P.S. Still didn’t find those stroller wheels. Guess I’ll have to go back again someday…

Ultimate Oktoberfest Roundup

Guys! Oktoberfest starts THIS WEEKEND! Eeek! I’m so excited! I’ve been to other fests, but this year will be the first time I hit up Oktoberfest. In honor of this momentous event, I’ve rounded up posts on everything to do with Oktoberfest so you (and I) can be ready. Here we go!Ultimate Oktoberfest Roundup

General Overviews of Oktoberfest:

Insider’s Survival Guide to Oktoberfest

5 Honest Tips for Oktoberfest from Someone who has Actually Been

Oktoberfest, Munich – A Beginner’s Guide

Dates and Times:

Dates and General FAQ’s

For fests all over the area check out #6 in my post 10 family activities for under 10 Euro near Hohenfels



Taking the Train

Bus trips Through Graffenwoehr MWR or Hohenfels MWR

How to find Last Minute Oktoberfest Accomodation and Transportation

What to Wear:

Understanding the Lederhosen Culture

How to buy a Dirndl

Guide to Buying and Wearing Lederhosen

Guide to Buying and Wearing a Dirndl

What to Eat and Drink:

What to eat at Oktoberfest in Munich

7 Badass Bavarian Foods you Must Try

Best Oktoberfest Beer Tents

Festing with Kids:

Just click the picture… you know you want to!

Give the kids something to do while you have a beer – download my Oktoberfest Scavenger
Hunt! >>>>>>

Munich’s Oktoberfest – fun for Kids too!

Children at Oktoberfest, for sure

Travel Stories: Oktoberfest with Baby ist Wunderbar!

Can’t make it to Oktoberfest this year? Throw your own party:

Oktoberfest Party Fun

Prost! Here’s Everything You Need to Throw an Epic Oktoberfest Party

I hope you find this useful! If you want more info, check out my Oktoberfest Pinterest board.

See you Saturday!

Getting in on Strong Bonds Marriage Retreats

If you’ve been married and in the Army or have been an Army spouse for a little while you may have heard of the elusive Strong Bonds marriage retreat. A magical event where you get to stay at a resort for free in exchange for giving the chaplain a few hours of your life to work on your relationship skills. No work for a few days, great locations, free childcare, perhaps breakfast and dinner are thrown in… It’s kinda like a unicorn – we’ve all heard of it but nobody’s actually seen it.

Guess what, guys? They’re real. I know because I’ve been on dozens of them because I plan, organize and execute these events because I am a chaplain assistant (yes, it’s a real MOS. Don’t hate). Today is your lucky day because I’m about to explain to you how these things work, how to sign up, and how to increase your likelihood of getting on one of these events.

If you’ve been married and in the Army or have been an Army spouse for a little while you may have heard of the elusive Strong Bonds marriage retreat. A magical event where you get to stay at a resort for free in exchange for giving the chaplain a few hours of your life to work on your relationship skills. No work for a few days, great locations, free childcare, perhaps breakfast and dinner are thrown in… It’s kinda like a unicorn – we’ve all heard of it but nobody’s actually seen it.How these things work

Once upon a time Soldiers deployed every other year, usually for 12-18 months at a time for their entire enlistments. It pretty much sucked. Wives weren’t happy. The Chief of Chaplain (among other people) recognized that this kind of schedule was taking a toll on families and for marriages to survive they needed to invest in teaching Army families some basic relationship skills. Thus, the Chief of Chaplains set up funding for the Strong Bonds program.

Strong Bonds events traditionally last three days and two nights. They are usually at a nice hotel and meals and childcare are usually provided. This is a training event so there are a number of pre-determined curricula a Chaplain can choose from (he or she must be certified in whichever curriculum he/she chooses to teach) and they teach at least 12 hours out of this 3-day span.

In recent years deployments and funding have slowed down significantly. Each unit used to do multiple Strong Bonds events per year. Now they may be lucky to get one. Similarly, not all events are three days anymore, some are only single-day events, or events that are multiple days but near post so that hotel rooms are not necessary. It is harder and harder to get funding for childcare and meals. Even in units that still do overnight events the number of rooms available may have dropped down from 30 to 15.

How to sign up

This may sound discouraging but retreats do still happen, and somebody has to be on them, so why not you? You can at least try to register and the worst thing that will happen is that you don’t make it.
So let’s learn how to register.

• Go to http://www.strongbonds.org
• Click on “Events”
• Click on “Find an Event”
• Click on either “Active”, “National Guard” or “Reserves” depending on your unit
• Click on “Strong Bonds Families” or “Couples” (your unit chaplain should have told you which type of retreat this is, but if you are just browsing you can try looking at both to see what is available. Family retreats generally involve kids in the curriculum and have childcare, couples retreats may or may not have childcare available)
• Now you can browse by dates, unit or event number (if you know it) to try to find a retreat that will suit you
• Click on desired event
• Click “Register” and fill out the form
• Click “Submit”

Once you are registered you should get a system-generated email saying that you have registered. At that point the chaplain assistant will be able to see you in the system. They then have to go through all the people registered online and either approve or deny them.

If you get approved the system is supposed to send you another email. Sometimes it doesn’t. This is because it is an Army website and the last time it was updated was 2009 so it is terrible and I loathe it. Also, if the chaplain assistant denies your registration or just leaves it as “pending” you will never know. If you haven’t heard anything by two weeks before the event you should just call your chaplain assistant to see if you are on the confirmed list. They have to have the final list to the hotel two weeks before the event so they should know who is confirmed by then.

How to increase your likelihood of getting on one of these events

The last retreat I did we only had 15 rooms available. The Chaplain needed a room and so did his assistant (me), so now we were down to 13 rooms. We had a large family on the retreat that required two rooms. So we had 12 families on this retreat. The day I opened registration, the list was full. I had over 30 families on the wait list. I got a few angry emails from people who just could not believe that even though they signed up the week the retreat was announced they didn’t make the final list.

If you want to get on a retreat, you need to either have incredible luck and just so happen to log on to strongbonds.org the day your desired retreat registration opens or talk to the Chaplain or Chaplain Assistant so you are absolutely sure when registration starts. Then register as early as you can on the day registration starts.

Note: If you don’t know who the Chaplain Assistant is, look at the retreat you want to go to on the strongbonds.org website and it will have a POC. Start by calling them and they should be able to lead you in the right direction.

When you do go online and fill out the registration form, make sure you put in correct information. In the “Special Needs” category, type in the name of your unit. I give priority to families that belong to my unit, but there is no way I can know every family in my unit. I usually try to call or email to make sure the person registered is in the unit, but if telephone numbers or email aren’t correct I would be likely to just move on to the next registrant who I know is in my unit. Or, you can always just go talk to the chaplain assistant to let them know you will be registering so they know not to skip over your name.

Don’t have too many issues. Okay, I know this may be a little touchy and I get that a lot of these things maybe you can’t help, but I’m trying to be honest here. If you are difficult to deal with I might be less likely to put you on the retreat. Things that constitute issues are: insisting you get on this retreat even though you just went on one last month, insisting your dog stay in the pet-free hotel, insisting your un-vaccinated child stay in childcare provided by Army Child and Youth Services, trying to bring along relatives (granny, grandpa, cousins, etc.) who are not sponsored in DEERS, having 12 kids, not having any transportation to or from the hotel, telling me that you think the training is stupid and you don’t want to participate, etc. If you have special circumstances and are willing to come to a compromise, usually I will work with you and do my best to accommodate you. Again, go talk to the chaplain assistant.

Even if you doubt you will get on a retreat, still register online for every retreat you can once you get to a unit. When I have a waitlist, I send the people on my waitlist an email the next time a retreat comes around so they can register before I announce registration to the public. Not every chaplain assistant does this, but at least if they keep seeing your name they will know you really want to go and may try to help you out. Also, people do drop off of retreats last minute so if you are flexible you may be able to get a spot last minute.
Bottom line, go talk to the Chaplain Assistant ahead of time. Then you can know when these things are happening and make sure they know you want to participate.

I hope this was helpful and wish you the best of luck trying to get on a marriage retreat!
Have you been on a Strong Bonds retreat? How was it? Let me know in the comments below!

Where to next?

This one has little to do with where I’ve been and everything to do with where I’m going. I’m very behind on posting about our adventures around Europe, but hopefully this will help you understand why and where my mind has been lately. Plus, I really just need to process some stuff and writing helps me with that. If you’re not interested, I totally understand. Feel free to go check out any of my other posts instead!

I set my dominoes up in a nice, neat row. I did everything I was supposed to and I got selected for a job that would not only provide me with the opportunity to promote within the military, but it would set me up for success outside. I was ready to work in an environment where I would be respected, where my education would be valued, and where the things I thought I was good at would get put to use.

And then because somebody overlooked my DEROS (Date of Expected Return from Overseas) it got taken from me. After I had already reenlisted for the required five years. After I had been given a spot in school. After I had told my family what (I thought) my future held. After my work submitted my PCS award and my final NCOER. After I had my heart set on doing the job I though was perfect for me the Army told me to “reapply next year”.

Just so you understand why I’m so frustrated, let me give you a little timeline:

August 2015 – I found out about the 51C (acquisition, logistics and technology NCO) MOS, Started putting a packet together

October 2015 – Submitted my packet

December 2015 – A board was held to decide who would be accepted into the 51C MOS

February 2016 – I got a letter of acceptance! Out of 135 applicants, I was one of the 8 they selected

February 2016 – I got slotted for a spot in school in August

April 2016 – I reenlist for the 5 years time that is required to transfer to my new MOS

March – June 2016 – With no assignment orders for where I am supposed to go after school I start making phone calls and emails. I need orders to start out-processing and to make preparations for my family to move.

June 2016 – I get told “Oops! We didn’t notice your DEROS was December 2017! Your reclass is now annulled. You can reapply in December”. I panic. I cry. I wonder what the hell I’m supposed to do for the next five years if I don’t get reselected?!

I was heartbroken, outraged, frustrated, disappointed and I felt helpless. At least my chain of command supported me and tried to help me get a new school date before my letter of acceptance expired. Paperwork for a curtailment (to make my DEROS closer) went through in record time. I was elated. Things were starting to work in my favor, at least now I knew I would be leaving Germany sooner rather than later.  Now we just needed to find a school date close to my new DEROS.

I sent emails, I talked to my schools NCO, I talked to my branch manager, I talked to retention and I waited… and waited… and waited. I sent more emails and made more calls and was told to wait some more.

I prayed to God that if it was his will, he give me a school date, or at least let me know if this just wasn’t meant to be. You guys. I’m exhausted. For a year now I’ve been wondering where I will go next. For a year I have been waiting to find out what will happen to me. I get super excited when things look like they’re progressing and then come crashing down because my dreams just keep seeming to get taken away right when they were so close.

At least once a week friends, family, coworkers are asking me if I know where I’ll be going next or if I know anything else about my next assignment, or when I will know, or can’t I call so-and-so to ask? I. Don’t. Know. I’ve asked everybody. I feel like I literally have no control over my destiny. All I can do is continue to pray for a school date.

Finally we arrive at yesterday morning. I have two emails in my inbox. One from the 51C branch that basically boils down to “there aren’t any available school dates near your new DEROS, better luck next year!” and one from the Department of the Army saying I do have a school date… in February… to Drill Sergeant School!? What. The actual. F***.

So on one hand, I got an answer to prayer. On the other, I repeat, what the actual f***.

Should I keep trying to get a new school date for 51C school? Should I just accept that this is my destiny whether I like it or not? I don’t know. Drill Sergeant Stokes sounds pretty bad-ass and I’d look really good in that bushmaster hat, but have they met me? I’d be the worst drill sergeant ever!

I really, really want to be a 51C, but I also really, really just want to know what I’m doing next. I don’t know. There’s a comment section below. Seriously, if you know what I should do, please tell me.

I do have faith that whatever is meant to be will happen. I know God will take care of me and send me where I am most needed. I know that I can accomplish what I need to and succeed if I do have to go to Drill Sergeant School. I just really hadn’t planned on this one. I think I need a hug.

37 thoughts you have when you return to the USA from Germany

It is amazing how much you forget about your own culture after you’ve lived abroad for a year! Things that I used to take for granted blew my mind when I visited home for a few weeks this summer. Here are some of the things I thought when first arriving back in my amazing homeland. USA! USA!It is amazing how much you forget about your own culture after you've lived abroad for a year! Things that I used to take for granted blew my mind when I visited home for a few weeks this summer.1. I’m so excited to be here!
2. Yay, everybody’s speaking English!
3. People are so friendly!
4. The roads are so BIG!
5. The cars are so BIG!
6. The parking lots are so BIG!
7. The parking spaces are so BIG!
8. The yards are so BIG!
9. The trashcans are so BIG!
10. Ugh, why is everybody driving so slowly?
11. I can pay for my gas at the pump!
12. There are so many television channels and they’re all in English!
13. But why do they have so many commercials?
14. That’s okay, American Netflix is awesome!
15. People really are kinda chubby here…
16. Mexican food!
17. Chinese food!
18. Sushi!
19. Pancakes!
20. Buffalo wings!
21. I’m gonna get kinda chubby here…
22. Yes! Everything is open on Sunday!
23. And everything is open after 8pm!
24. Walmart, how I missed you!
25. Target, I missed you even more!
26. Everything is so cheap!
27. I don’t have to pay in cash!
28. I don’t have to pay to use a shopping cart!
29. I don’t have to pay to go to the bathroom!
30. I don’t have to pay for my grocery bags!
31. Or meticulously sort all of my trash and recyclables!
32. Is that grown woman really wearing her pajamas to go shopping?
33. Oh well, at least I know I won’t be judged for wearing my flip-flops around town!
34. Why is there so much trash on the side of the roads?
35. I think I actually miss Germany?
36. Oh! Is that a drive through Starbucks?!
37. Never mind, there’s no place like home!

I flew space-a and survived!

This summer I found myself with three weeks of use or lose leave and no plans. My boys had a few weeks of school left and we had just done back to back to back vacations on four-day weekends so our bank account was looking a little skimpy. My 6-month old daughter had not met my dad yet and it had been almost 2 years since I’d visited my home. I thought it would be nice for me and my daughter to go on a trip to Ohio together. With a tiny budget but quite a bit of time I decided to give a space-a flight from Germany to the USA a shot.

If you aren’t familiar with space-a, the premise is that the Air Force has missions flying all around the world every day and if they have extra space available in their planes they would rather give it away to eligible passengers than just let it go to waste. If you are in the military you can compete for these seats.If you aren’t familiar with space-a, the premise is that the Air Force has missions flying all around the world every day and if they have extra space available in their planes they would rather give it away to eligible passengers than just let it go to waste. If you are in the military you can compete for these seats.

While these seats are virtually free ($34/person for taxes), it can be incredibly frustrating to actually get one. There is no way to know more than 3 days out what flights will be going where, how many seats will be available, and how many other people you are competing against for potential seats. Even within the 3 day window you can see the flights available, but they are subject to change at any time and you still don’t know how many other people are trying to compete for the same flight as you are.

I knew all of this, but I determined the stress of unpredictability was worth more than the $1,000 or more per person it would cost for me and my daughter to go visit my home town. So off we went on our space-a adventure!

We did make it on a flight, but I found it really difficult to get all the information I wanted before I flew. Fortunately for all of you, I’m a little bit of a bossy know-it-all, so I would love to save you from having to scour the internet for relevant space-a information as I did and tell you exactly what you should do if you want to get on a space-a flight!

Step 1: Determine where you want to go and make a list of passenger terminals

When I flew I knew we wanted to go from Germany to the USA. However, maybe you’re flexible and want to go on an adventure wherever a plane will take you. To find out where space-a passenger terminals are, check out the AMC web page. They have a list of all passenger terminals and when you click on a specific terminal it will take you to the link for their Facebook page or contact information.

If you have a specific area of the USA you are trying to get to but don’t see a passenger terminal listed, look up what the closest Air Force Base or Air National Guard base is to your home town and then go to spacea.net to see if they have contact information for the passenger terminal there.

For example, my parents live like 2 minutes from Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, but they didn’t have a passenger terminal listed on the AMC website. After some research, it turns out that the passenger terminal there is run by civilians, not AMC, but you can still take space-a flights from there. It is not as user-friendly since they don’t have a Facebook page to check the flight schedules, but spacea.net will provide you with the number you can call and get a prerecorded message on their upcoming flights.

Odds of you getting to a specific passenger terminal on the specific day you want are very slim, so a good strategy is to make a list of terminals you wouldn’t mind flying out of (if you’re leaving Germany, it’s pretty easy. You’re only options are Ramstein and Spangdahlem) and a list of terminals you wouldn’t mind flying into. I went with anything on the east coast or Midwest, which gave me a solid list of over a dozen possible places to which I was willing to take a flight or leave from on my way back. On your list make sure to include their Facebook page (if they have one), email address, and phone numbers to the passenger terminal so you can monitor flight information.

Step 2: Get an idea for flight trends and determine when you’re going to fly

Once you have a good list put together, start checking to see the flight trends. I knew I wanted to leave out of Ramstein, so I went to their Facebook page and looked not only at the 72 hour upcoming flight schedule, but their weekly report of what flights actually flew and how many seats they gave away. This gave me a good idea of how likely it would be for me to get to any area of the country. For example, flights to rinky-dink Air National Guard bases on the west coast on cargo planes never seemed to fill up, but those to Baltimore-Washington International on passenger planes filled up instantly. If I wanted to get on one of the later types of flights, I now knew that it might take several days of waiting.

Look for what days of the week seem to leave the most open seats and what flights happen the most often to get a better idea of the flight you might want to shoot for. This is not an exact science and any of these trends can change at any moment, but it does give you a better idea of how early you need to sign up to try to get to a certain location.

Step 3: Sign up for flights

Signing up for flights is actually pretty easy. All you do is send the terminal an email with the following information:

  • Email address
  • Start/end dates of your leave
  • Rank
  • Full Name
  • The country to which you are flying
  • Service branch (Army, Navy, Airforce, etc.)
  • Status (Active, Guard, Reserve, Retired)
  • Passenger names
  • Travel category (Category I: Civilian or Military on Emergency Leave Category II: Environmental Morale Leave (EML) Category III: Active Duty on Ordinary Leave/PCS House Hunting Category IV:  Unaccompanied Dependents (EML) Category V: Permissive TDY/TAD or Command Sponsored Dependents Category VI: Retired Military)
  • Total seats required

I also attached my leave form to the email.

I composed two emails; one to the airports I was trying to fly out of to leave Germany and one to the airports I was trying to fly out of to leave the US and get back home. Send all you emails at the same time! Don’t wait to send the emails for your flights home!

Since space-a seats are given away first by category and then by time you sign up, you want to send your emails as soon as possible. Even if you have to wait a while to get a flight out, you at least should have pretty good luck catching a flight back if you make sure to send all your emails as soon as your leave starts.

Step 4: Go to the terminal on the day you want to fly

I had been watching the 72 hour flight schedules of both Ramstein and Spangdahlem religiously and finally a flight to Wright-Patterson AFB popped up. I decided this was my time to go try and catch a flight.

The flight schedule will say what time roll call for each flight is. Get to the terminal at least an hour before roll call for the flight you want to take.

When you get to the terminal look for long term parking. At Ramstein, this was pretty obvious as there were signs everywhere, but it is a good idea to look up where the parking is ahead of time so you can put it in your GPS. Also, the parking was free (yay!).

Take all your bags and passengers and head into the terminal and look for the “space-a” counter. This is where you check in and say you want to compete for flights. They will get all your information and put a time stamp on your leave form. Now you are checked in for 24 hours

I had wondered if I needed to call ahead of time to let them know I was going to compete for a flight or to make sure they got my email, but you don’t. If you’re worried that they did not get your email, make sure to print it out and take it with you. When you get to the terminal and check in, even if they did not have you in their system they will honor the time that your email was sent.

Step 5: Roll Call

Now things get stressful. Sometime around the time roll call is scheduled they will start announcing the names of people who have made it on the flight. At Ramstein they will call your name twice and if you do not respond, you go to the bottom of the list, so be sure to be where you can hear the announcement and pay attention!

You have to be ready to fly at the time your name is called or your name will go to the bottom of the list. This means have your ID, passenger’s passports, passengers present and ready to go, and bags in hand and ready to be checked. Also, don’t wear your open-toed, open-healed, or high-healed shoes or they can keep you from getting on the plane.

If they call your name, awesome! Go on to the next step! If they don’t call your name, it can be a real bummer. I didn’t make that flight to Wright-Patt that first day and was really frustrated. Decide ahead of time how long you are willing to wait for a flight (my limit was three days) and stick to it. Have a plan B that you can live with just in case you don’t make a flight in your time limit. I waited two days and finally caught a flight to Baltimore on my third day at Ramstein. As soon as I found out I wouldn’t be flying for the day, I went over to the hotel and tried to book a room. If they are full (like they were on my second day of waiting) you can ask for a list of hotels available on the economy and start making some calls.

Step 6: Getting to the plane

After roll call I waited in line for over an hour (I am not exaggerating) to get my boarding ticket. One nice thing about traveling space-a is that on most planes you can check two 70lb bags and take a carry on for free! Also, car seats and strollers do not count against your baggage allowance and you can gate check them so you can keep your kids restrained until you actually get on the flight. Although the baggage allowance is nice, if you can avoid checking bags I highly recommend it. At the end of the flight it took people who checked their bags forever to get them back.

Once you finally make it up to the boarding ticket counter, check your bags, and get a seat assignment it is time to pay. It’s about $34/person for a space-a flight because you are paying the taxes. They took credit/debit cards at Ramstein, but check ahead on the terminal’s website or just bring cash if you aren’t sure. Once you pay you get your boarding ticket and then it’s off to another line to get through security!

The security line was just as long as the ticketing line. It is the same security rules as at a civilian airport. After security a customs officer will glance at your passport or ID card and then you go wait in another line (surprise, surprise) to actually get on the plane. This is the point at which you gate check your strollers if you have them.

Step 7: The flight

They will usually let families with small children get on the flight first. Once you’re on the plane settle in and get comfy! The plane we were on was an actual passenger plane, so it was the same as any other flight I’ve ever been on. However, you could be on less comfortable military aircraft so be sure to come prepared with blankets, pillows, headphones, or whatever you think you’ll need to be comfortable.

Step 8: Arrival

Congrats! You just finished your first space-a flight! But you aren’t done yet! If you just crossed an ocean now you get to wait in…hold on, let the suspense build a minute ‘cause I bet you’ll never guess… another line! This time it’s for customs.

Once you finally make it through customs it’s on to baggage claim. Even if you have a follow on flight you have to get your bags and then re-check them with your next airline. By this point you are probably sick of waiting which is why I suggested to only do carry-ons if at all possible.

Step 9: Getting where you actually want to go

Odds are you did not fly directly into your home town (or wherever your final destination actually is). Since you weren’t sure you would actually get a flight and/or where a flight you could catch would land, now you need to go to a ticket counter and buy a ticket home. If you landed at an Airforce base instead of an airport, ask at the counter for the number for an airport shuttle, and then take the shuttle to an airport and buy a flight to your home town. At the ticket counter be sure to show them your military ID because they probably have a military discount.

Another strategy (which I tried but my stupid iPod wouldn’t connect to the internet) is once your name is called during roll call and you are waiting for hours in a line to get your ticket, get on the internet and book a flight. I would have saved $35 had I been able to do this since they charge you extra for booking flights at the ticket counter.

Step 10: Do a happy dance

OMG, you endured days of waiting, but you saved literally thousands of dollars! Time to celebrate!

Even with all the stress and time spent, I would do space-a again. I mean, it’s a $34 flight! At least now I know what I’m in for and hopefully after reading this, you do too!

Have you ever taken a space-a flight? Let me know about it in the comments below!

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