(For those that don't know, a little back story: Adam and I have moved together (that is from a shared household to a shared household) only twice. The first move we made from Southern Virginia to Colorado ended up taking weeks longer than it should have due to me developing appendicitis, having surgery and subsequently delivering Elie seven weeks early. We then spent three weeks in the NICU at the National Naval Medical Center and at the end, finally got to head to our new home in Colorado Springs. Needless to say that move, or PCS as a relocation is called in the military, was extremely stressful. Then during our move from Colorado Springs to Northern Virginia, our second vehicle, Adam's well loved Jeep, dropped its transmission right as we crossed over the border from Colorado to Kansas. It was the end of January and bitter cold. I was pregnant with Talia and due in May. Elie and Isaac were very little. We had a dog and three cats with us. We cursed mightily as the Wallen Curse of the PCS happened again. I was hoping that we'd get out of it this time, but it seems that was not to be...though I am counting my chickens before they've hatched - because we haven't actually started the move yet - the trouble *seems* to be behind us.)
When we found out that Adam had been hand-picked for a position in England, we were thrilled. One of the main reasons I was okay with taking the position he took here in NOVA was that it was a job with strong connections overseas and we would have a better chance of getting a job there after this one. I didn't really want to live on the east coast, near DC, etc etc. So all the sacrifices we had made for the job here in VA had paid off. We were going to England!
We started hearing dribs and drabs, from other officers who had orders overseas or who had already been, about what exactly we would need to do in order to go over. But we never got "official" word about what was exactly was expected and when. We'd have to go through a medical board, to clear us for living overseas, we'd need passports and official passports and visas, we'd need orders, Adam would need to complete all sorts of training and classes; the list seemed endless. We all went ahead and got passports; we knew we'd need them to travel and none of us had a current one. (Some of us had never had one at all!) But when we started thinking about traveling over there, it occurred to us that it would be a fantastic opportunity to take a cruise. We could take a transatlantic cruise!!!
Adam and I had a cruise scheduled for our honeymoon, but due to my class schedule, we ended up having to cancel. We were both so excited to have the chance to try it again. We invited my parents along and they enthusiastically accepted. There were still no orders, but we knew Adam was going to get them...and so we put a down payment on the cruise.
In the beginning of April it started to become clear that there were more hurdles to get over than the normal amount. A co-worker of Adam's had compiled all the medical paperwork that we needed to gather so that we could go to our medical board and oh-so-nicely forwarded it on to us. Having had no official communication from ANYONE at this point, Adam assumed we could make our medical board appointment (for which we had to drive into DC to Bolling AFB to attend and we *all* had to be there) and then compile our paperwork. No dice, we had to compile all the paperwork, fax it to the office and once all that was in, then we could make our appointment. Not only did I have to get about 16 pages of medical and dental history, there were forms saying we hadn't used special education or early intervention, forms about asthma and forms about mental health. So I began running around and making all sorts of phone calls to get all the forms filled out perfectly.
By the time I got all the forms filled out and returned, it was the beginning of May. We were preparing to leave town for 10 days to attend my sister's wedding. It finally became clear, through much detective work on Adam's part, that we would all have to be cleared by the medical board in order for Adam to get orders. Adam faxes all 40 billion pages of paperwork to Bolling and calls the woman who makes the appointments. "We only do medical boards on Thursdays. Can you come in two weeks from now?" Since we were going to be out of town we had to take the Thursday three weeks from then! ARGHGH, more time was passing.
When we got back from the wedding it occurred to me that we didn't have current copies of ANY of our records, another item we *had* to have in hand, at our medical board. Monday, I called the civilian pediatrician, "It takes 21 days to get copies made of medical records." What the heck??!?!? I talked to the office manager and she very flexibly said they could have them ready for me on Wednesday afternoon. Tuesday I drove up to Bethesda, MD where my most current records were still sitting on the computer! I also realized that the kids had some records on the computer system up there. But in an amazing show of fantastic customer service, the lady at the records desk told me she would print not only my records, but all those of the kids'! (As an aside, typically the civilians who work at any military base - and this is horribly stereotypical, but mostly true in my experience - are testy, short and basically pretty unwilling to do anything that causes them to do more work. This woman totally went out of her way to do a ton more work that she really *had* to do. She could have told me to fill out the forms to release the information and that it would be two weeks. But she didn't. And yes, I went directly to "customer service" and filled out an appreciation form.) Unfortunately, in the middle of that time, I had to drive home to Ashburn (a 45 minute drive), get Isaac off the bus and then drive back up to Bethesda to pick up the records. Shew....But it all worked out, we would have everything we needed for the medical board.
Thursday morning we all got up and dragged ourselves to Bolling, an hour drive away, to go to our medical board appointment. We were scheduled to go in at 8:30 and did not head upstairs to the room until 9:30. Thankfully the natives weren't restless as they zoned out on crappy children's' TV some of the time and then played with the playdough I keep in my purse for the rest of the time. Upstairs we all had to sit while a Dr. talked through our records, asking questions and making notes. Somethings he asked about were a surprise to me; some idiot Dr had, at some point, written that Isaac has an allergy to bee stings (false). When he got to me he said that he had reviewed my chart online (THEN WHY DID I NEED TO BRING A PRINTED COPY OF THE DAMN THING) and that even though I am in "remission" (weird to call it that because it hardly seemed like a big deal) and my thyroid levels are balanced, that our paperwork would have to be reviewed by the next medical board up. The review process could take up to 14 days, but we would just have to wait.
Suddenly it became clear, we could be denied the opportunity to be stationed overseas because I had thyroid cancer five years ago. All that we had sacrificed and struggled with during this assignment, so we could go overseas, could get thrown away. And then we would be at the complete whim of the Air Force, being forced to go wherever they needed a body. The ride home was fairly quiet.
We were now in a panic. During May, Adam had done more detecting and learned that we (the kids and I) needed "official" passports, so that we could get Visas from the British Embassy, enabling us to live in England. We had been told, through word of mouth, that these passports and Visas cost around $400 a piece. This gets reimbursed once you are at your new assignment, but if orders never come (let's say, because you fail the medical board) then you just would eat the cost of those Visas. Not cool. We were also in a panic because we had been told that it was taking 5 and 1/2 weeks to get the "official" passports back and another 3 weeks to get the Visas. Doing the math from the end of May, that did NOT give us enough time to get our passports and Visas done, so that we can get on the boat on the 6th of July.
This whole process had been incredibly painful. There was no central office giving Adam a list of what needed doing and who he needed to contact to get those things done. Most of the time he ended up calling random numbers of people who might or might not answer their phones or return their voice mails. It had been exceedingly frustrating and there was a ton of wasted time.
Adam did yet more ferreting out and finally got a phone number for the passport office. He got in touch with someone who told him that there was no fee for the passport. Shew. This meant we could start the passport process with no penalty if we didn't get orders. So we did. We all trooped down to Crystal City (near the Pentagon) and visited a bizarre military fortress inside a regular office building. The kids had to be there, but the passport people barely looked at them. Adam was told that the process *could* be expedited, but he had to get a letter. He went back to work and did huge amounts of leg work to get an expedite letter written and signed. He did some other paperwork and drove back to Crystal City and finished up with the passport office. They told him that they didn't know when it would be done. They didn't know if the expedite would work. He found out from the passport office where he works that they weren't able to get anyone expedited.
We panicked some more.
During all this we finally got word back that we had been approved to live overseas by the medical board! YAY! This was a huge relief. Adam called the Pentagon and faxed over the last paperwork, so we could finally get orders "cut".
They called him back a day later and tell him he was missing 18 pages of paperwork. He ran around, trying to figure out who dropped the ball, re-faxed the 18 pages of paperwork one by one, to the Pentagon. They assured him they'll get right on it. Days later we still didn't have paperwork.
It was the second week in June. We had no orders, no information on passports and we had discovered that our less-than stellar travel agent did not, as we requested, get insurance for our cruise tickets! However, through the magic of good karma, star alignment and once in a lifetime amazing luck, good stuff began to happen. A friend who works in the FBI used his connection at the State office to get Adam a number to call. Adam called the number and discovered that our passports were on their way to Crystal City! They were even possibly already IN Crystal City! We rejoiced! Adam drove to Crystal City to pick up the passports, did a ton of confusing paperwork, made a ton more phone calls and the next day delivered our Visa paperwork and our "offical" passports to Crystal City.
Orders came in! Things were starting to align. Passports were on their way to get Visas, we had orders, life seemed good. Until, Adam turned over the orders and read that we were only allowed to travel to the UK on government sponsored/organized travel. ARGHGHGHGH.
After more phone calls and more investigating and more signatures, Adam got stuff turned in so there could be an addendum to the orders.
And that's where we are now....still waiting for the orders to be fixed, although everyone assures Adam it's a "done deal". Today, he spoke to the brainless nincompoop at the Pentagon who is taking care of this stuff for him and she asked him to refresh her about what he was needing from them. We have gotten confirmation that the British Embassy in LA??!? (of all places) has recieved our passport/Visa applications and that they'll be reviewing them.
So we wait. The whole process has been incredibly, amazingly, horribly stressful and obtuse. Adam reports to me daily about the myriad phone calls he makes where no one answers the phone or returns voice mails or emails. It's been frustrating for me and I've hardly had to do anything, I can't imagine how hard it's been for him!
The movers are coming next Wednesday. We still haven't got any renters. And we are still planning on getting on that cruise ship on 6 July.