It's February. And by the end of this month we will probably know the location of our next adventure in Armyland. I try not to think about our orders...that sheet of paper - probably already in the system, slowly making its way to us - that could literally wreak havoc on our family with whatever it decrees.
But. It. Is. Coming.
And, at least for this month, it's getting really hard to think about anything else. Even babies and promotions aren't providing me with much of a distraction.
If you remember back in Phase 1, we got to fill out a Wish list of Army bases that we preferred to be stationed at for Phase 2 (where we are right now). Well back in September we actually got to fill out a wish list for our choice of bases to be stationed at for Bryan's first duty station as a PA. I didn't say anything on here about that wish list because unlike the Phase 2 wish list - where Bryan was only competing against the other 50+ people in his class for a spot at one of 14 bases....really good odds when it comes to the military - we're pretty sure that this First Duty Station Wish list doesn't mean much more than a hill of beans.
This time, Bryan's assignment will depend on 1)where all the other PA's from his graduating class go, 2)where all the current practicing PA's that are up for reassignment go, and 3)what units within the Army currently need a PA.
So...basically a crap shoot.
Seriously, I think they just had us fill out a list to give us the Army equivalent of a placebo pill.
On the off-chance that it matters, this list included most of the 14 sites that were previously available for Phase 2, plus something like 6 more, which were all major Army Installations like Fort Drum (New York) and Fort Lewis (Washington).
It also had us rank OCONUS sites. OCONUS is Army shorthand for places that are not within the continental Unites States. This includes Hawaii and Alaska, as well as the obvious places like Germany and Korea. (There was a 5th Oconus choice on the list and for the life of me, I can't remember what it was right now. Maybe Italy.)
So we stared at this list for a few days and Bryan told me to make the rough draft of what we wanted, cause you know, it's generally best to make the wife/mom happy. He looked over my choices and made a few adjustments in the cases where he just really hated or loved a certain base.
The first thing we had to declare is if we preferred the be stationed in the US or go OCONUS.
Given the choice, we want to stay in the US. Say what you want about cultural experiences and all that, but we have 4 young children and OCONUS moves are always major moves. If you think it sucks to move across the country, go check out the process for moving out of the country with the Army....holy crap, it sounds awful.
Next, we had to rank our choices of the US installations on the list. I don't remember most of what we put down. Just like the last wish list, you are trying to rank a bunch of places that you've never seen or heard much about so most of it was just based off of things like the weather and how far away it was from our families in Texas.
I do remember that Fort Carson in Colorado was our #1 - cause why the hell not? We already know the area, have friends there, and compared to most bases, it's close to Texas.
We do not expect to actually get Carson.
Number 2 was Fort Hood. The base itself we have no excitement about, but if we are going to be somewhere for 3-5 years, might as well make it as close to family as possible.
Past that, things get fuzzy. I know Fort Riley in Kansas was pretty high, as well as Fort Lewis since we've always wanted to see that area of the US. I actually had Fort Drum in the top 5, but that was one that Bryan axed because "...you weren't the person having to do PT in 2 degree weather."
It is a possibility that we could stay at Fort Stewart.
We considered it, if only because it would mean we didn't have to move. But while I don't mind this place, I don't love it either. There's nothing to keep us here. Eight months of living here is enough to know that and I'd rather move on to a new place (ah-hem...within the US that is).
At the end of the wish list we ranked the five OCONUS installations. I don't remember what the rankings were...except for one - Korea. That was ranked dead last on our list.
And not just last on our OCONUS list, but last out of EVERYTHING on the entire list.
Now let's jump forward to 2013.
A few weeks ago I wrote this post about our tentative schedule for this year. Maybe you noticed that there was quite a bit of emphasis on the possibility that Bryan will be stationed outside of the United States.
There was a reason for that.
While, NO, we do not have orders yet or even unofficial word of what the orders will say, for several weeks now the people here that would be "in the know" have been dropping hints that the duty station coming our way is not one that we want.
Dropping less than subtle hints that it is going to be the very LAST choice on our list.
The Korea rotation is, for many soldiers, a year long. We found out after we got here that ALL of the PA's from Fort Stewart that graduated exactly one year before Bryan's class, were sent to Korea. All of them. This means that the Korea rotation is coming up exactly for when Bryan is getting orders. And for whatever reason, the Army seems to really love sending Stewart PA's there.
Aside from that piece of solid information, the rumors and hints Bryan has received would be useless for me to write out here. Suffice it to say that Bryan, and the other two guys he is graduating with, have been told point blank to expect that it will be Korea, and that if it turns out that it's not, then we can all jump up and down about that fact afterwards.
Cats and kittens, I don't know how you would feel about getting assigned to Korea, but no one in this family is excited about it. NO ONE. And even though we don't know if this is really going to happen, we've agreed that it would be wise to at least have a rough idea of what our family will do before the ax comes down. If Korea is on his orders, I don't know how much time we will have to make that decision afterwards.
So the point of this post is to 1)let me vent, because I need to, and 2) to get feedback from others. We would essentially have to decide if Bryan would go to Korea alone, or if he would take the rest of us with him. If it was an easy decision...I wouldn't have written this post in the first place.
Let me get some info out here for you.
Let me get some info out here for you.
If Bryan goes to Korea alone, it would be for one year, then he would come home and we would all go to the next duty station together. The one benefit of going to Korea (either with or without us) is that Bryan would pretty much get to chose exactly where we go after he gets back to the US. It's the only benefit that we can really see in this whole thing.
If Bryan brings us with him, the tour will be for three years (THREE YEARS!) It is much more expensive for the Army to move a whole family over there and you have to stay long enough to make it worth their while.
I will tell you right now that I have no desire to go to Korea. NONE. Since we got married we've never lived in one place for three years, and Korea ain't where I want to start. Bryan does not want to go either, but he doesn't get a choice. So for someone that doesn't want to be there, I'd go for the one year choice over the three years.
For a long time I have told Bryan that if he goes to Korea, he goes alone. However, there is one little tiny thing standing in the way of this being an obvious decision. Well...it's a tiny person. If Bryan goes alone he will miss a good portion of the first two years of Baby L's life. We are no stranger to this situation. A long time ago I wrote a post about the start of Anabelle's life and how emotionally heart wrenching that has been for me over the last five years.
I did not want to be in that position ever again. We've done as much as we could to make sure that we wouldn't be for this baby. It's the reason we decided to get pregnant during this Phase of the IPAP program - to make sure that Bryan would be here for the birth. But you can only plan so far ahead when you are involved with the military. And here we are...possibly facing an eerily familiar situation.
I am trying not to let those emotions make this decision for us - because even if we don't want Bryan to miss time with Baby L, that doesn't mean that going to Korea for three years is the best decision for our entire family. Plus, from the experience we have with Anabelle and his ridiculously long 15 month deployment, we know that Baby L will not only have no idea he was even gone, but that it's unlikely to affect their long term relationship.
There are other factors to consider in a decision like this. I spent a lot of time last week trying to research a Korea move online. It can actually be a rather difficult thing to research. Protocol and procedures seem to change constantly in the Army so the experience that someone had just a few years ago could be very different from what we would face. In addition to that, it's hard to find detailed specific information when you don't have actual orders, or for that matter, to even find people over here that have accurate facts and not just rumors. Still, several issues and questions were raised for us just by looking into the experiences of others:
- Any family members going to Korea must get Command Sponsorship - aka, permission for the rest of us to follow Bryan. Just because he has to go, doesn't mean that the rest of us will automatically get permission. Getting CS is vital - if you don't, you will have no access to medical care, the kids cannot attend DoD schools, you can't live on-base, the Army does not pay for your move, etc. Basically, the Army cannot help you because you weren't supposed to be there in the first place. Amazingly, some families ignore the advice of the government on this matter.
- Getting CS is not guaranteed. From what I read, it sounds like having four children is a strike against us. Why? Because there has to be room for us over there. Military housing that can house a family of 6 is not abundant. There also must be room in the schools for our kids. (You can get around that by declaring you will home school, or sending your kids to an international school. I do not want to home school, and please...like we have the money to send our kids to an international school.) In addition, we'd be adding six people from one family to the demands of their medical program.
- Getting CS is not a timetable we can control. Some people got it relatively quickly - a few weeks or months. Some people were waiting for a year and a half! Bryan could be completely done with a year rotation in that time! We would be starting the process from scratch for five people - none of us have passports or visas. I just don't see where that would happen quickly.
- I have a lot of questions about doing this with a newborn. Would she have to reach a certain age before she could go? Would we have to wait until she has a certain level of immunizations to move? Do I really want to do that move with a young baby? (Hint: the answer is NO.)
- Even getting CS, many families had to move at a different time from their soldier. Move to Korea by myself with four young children? Please tell me the Army is joking.
- Many places online cited the stipulation that you are only authorized to move 50% of your household goods. Yowza. Over 8 military moves, I've pretty much gotten rid of anything we would consider extraneous....don't really want to put our crap in storage for 3 years.
- We already know that most of our extended family would not be able to make a trip like that to visit us. The very few that could, would likely only be able to do it once. On the flip side, it is not likely that we could afford to come home more than once, maybe twice in three years. Flying commercial airlines would cost something like $10,000 for our family. There's always the possibility of flying Space A (taking open seats on non-mission military flights), but that is not something that is easy to access or predict - and predictability is kind of necessary for a family of 6 with young kids. This situation is absolutely a concern for us. We are pretty much the most distant branch in all of our families. As the kids get older, it is more and more important to us that we give them as much opportunity to be around extended family as possible. That is already exceedingly difficult just living in Georgia. It would be almost impossible from Korea.
- Safety absolutely comes to mind. I'm sure you're aware that South Korea is awfully close to North Korea. Over and over again you read that "the Army wouldn't let families go over there if it wasn't considered safe". Okay, maybe. The thing is, many a politically charged area of the world is considered safe...until it isn't. Sure, North Korea has been posturing and preening for years with no serious threat to the South, but it only takes one event to change that and I don't want to be over there if that happens. Just today I found this article about North Korea on CNN. I don't see how people can keep up with world events and yet not have reservations about moving their family to the neighborhood next door.
And because things are always just a bit more complicated...
We've had to discuss what the kids and I will do IF we decide to send Bryan to Korea alone.
Do we stay here in Georgia? We wouldn't have to deal with the stress of a move, the kids could stay in the same school and same activities for another 1-2 years. I'd feel as safe as I'm going to living alone on an Army base. But we have no family here, and admittedly, only a handful of friends.
Do we move somewhere else? And if so, where? Our families would love for us to move back to Texas, but that's not as stress free as it sounds. I doubt the Army would pay for that move. It would be another temporary move, requiring us to pick up and go again when Bryan got home. And something we are really having to consider now that Braden is older, how would he deal with it? The move to Georgia went well, but for the first time, I could see that Braden took longer than normal to adjust. I don't feel like having his dad leave for a year AND moving to a new place would benefit him much, even if it's near family.
So this is where we are...trying to lay out a plan where all of the options leave us unhappy in one way or another. Do we all go to Korea for three years? Do we send Bryan alone and stay in Georgia? Do we send Bryan alone and move somewhere else by yourselves?
I welcome hearing about the choice you would make in the same circumstances.
One thing though....When you pose this type of question to others, you inevitably get backlash from quite a few of them in the form of criticism that you are not being open-minded enough about the opportunity to experience and live among other cultures. If I could address that for a minute....this is not a vacation, people. It's three years of our lives. If I wanted to live in South Korea, we could have long ago put in a request with the Army to do so. But I don't want to live there, and no amount of hearing about "cultural experience" makes me feel like it would be a good trade-off for the possibility of being miserable for three years.
In addition to that, I am a homebody. I always have been. It is mentally very difficult for me to move around the United States the way we have over the last 7 years, but I can admit that the Army has, in many ways, been very good for me in terms of forcing me to deal with things beyond my comfort zone. However, I think it would be a very dangerous thing not to admit to my own personality traits when trying to make a decision like this. Moving to Korea would be incredibly stressful for me. There's no getting around that. So if you're trying to think of this from my perspective, don't forget that little quirk!
That picture above...it's not from the internet. It's a sign on the counter in my kitchen. I walk by that little sign a hundred times a day. This month, it speaks way more truth than I want it to.
In just a few more weeks, we'll know if this Korea decision is one we'll be forced to make. But if our conversations about this have done nothing else - conversations that always end with me crying - they've put us in a place where we would welcome getting orders that say anything BUT Korea.
Fort Polk sounds just fine right about now.