Great American Western Road Trip: Summer 2018

4 weeks, 3 kids, 1 van, 16 different lodgings, 5400+ miles, 12+ National or State Parks and Monuments adds up to 1 Epic Adventure.

American Southwest Family Vacation 2017

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lego Table Upgrade, Version 4

About 10 years ago, I built myself a Lego table that was comprised of three square sections that connected to each other. They were sized to each hold nine standard-size Lego base plates, which also means that I could have a full circle of Lego train track on there as well.

Well, eventually, my Lego collection grew and I needed more storage/display/working space. So, while I was in Germany, I got to work building some new, non-square additions to my Lego table. I built a suspended extension piece that could also double as a recessed river (and thereby allow me to make a bridge for the train to cross.) I also built two shelf-like extensions, that could be installed in a variety of ways. each of these extensions would hold an additional nine base plates.

After moving back to the US, we were trying to find room to place all of our furniture and I ended up with an extra shelf unit. So, this was the third configuration of my Lego table. Which is great and all, but in that house I had very little actual area to work/ it was really more of a display area.

While I'd basically doubled the available surface area from 27 to 54 base plates, but I never reached this full capacity because the room that stored my Lego collection couldn't accommodate it. Until now. Without further ado, I present to you my current Lego table in all of its glory:


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Breaking out the patterns

This morning was kind of cold and drizzling, remnants of the storm that delayed my post-holiday return flight by two hours. Since I got in late last night, I didn't really put any effort into figuring out what to work today. So, I figured that I might as well try out some new (as in, "recently acquired") clothing combinations if half the city was still out on holiday...and therefore unable to point a collective mocking finger at me.

One thing led to another and I found myself leaving the house wearing a two-tone plaid peacoat over a multi-tone houndstooth sportcoat on top of an argyle sweater. The only tie that qualified with this combination was a solid, slightly metallic tie. Sure, it seems like a crazy combination, but I think it just might work.

The pattern trifecta


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sold the Car!

One of the most annoying things about the northern Virgina / DC area is the traffic. I knew this before we came up here, which is why we found a place within walking distance to the Metro for my daily commute. But we moved up here with two cars, knowing from Day 1 that at least one of them wasn't going to go with us overseas.

So which would it be: Kacey's station wagon that is currently configured to seat two adults, two kids, the dog and a roof rack...or my 2010 VW Golf TDI that we got in Germany after my VW died on the Autobahn so that I could commute to work and now sits in the guest parking space down the road? The question kind of answers itself, doesn't it?

So we put up a listing on Craigslist & and had two interested calls before the weekend. I scheduled them both for Saturday morning, but one of them cancelled the night before the test drive. Fortunately, the guy who showed up Saturday morning was interested and by Monday night we'd established the price and plan to exchange money, keys, and title.

So I picked him up at the Metro and since we both are members of the same bank, we called them on the bluetooth speaker phone inside the car. I think it took longer to confirm our identities than it did to transfer the funds and see them appear in my account on my smart phone. Seriously, it was that fast. Almost surreal how easy it was, not to mention leaving my (now his) car in the parking lot with the keys in it and walking home.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mount Vernon

We visited George Washington's Mount Vernon between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so they were kind of in transition regarding decorations.

Mount Vernon at night lights up those lanterns.

Chillin' on the back porch

Beam me up!

Not a bad view, is it?

I believe these are Cobbler and Gobbler.

Look kids, turkeys!

Gobble! Gobble! Run away!!!!

A camel is part of the Mt. Vernon Christmas Tradition

Aladdin, the Christmas Camel


Saturday, December 08, 2012

A Parting of Ways: Choosing a post-military hairstyle

I think I mentioned earlier that one of the more unique challenges of separating from the military and joining the civilian workforce is trying to determine a suitable hairstyle. Sure, it sounds superficial (and it is to a degree), but imagine if you spent the last decade under regulations governing how you wore your hair and now find yourself in a completely unregulated world. You might be surprised how hard it is to get a sense of what's appropriate from your co-workers, especially if they to were once governed by the same regulations...You end up being a young guy with "Old man hair."
"#1 on the sides, taper the back"
Now, enter the professional arena with its own grooming standards. I'm talking full suit & tie. A "high and tight" isn't going to cut it. Yeah, bad pun, but totally appropriate in this sense. Anyways, after growing my hair out since August (with two trims since then), I finally felt I had enough hair to work with to get a style that looked good on me. The second trim actually set me back from this goal a bit, but it's my own fault for thinking that a 53-year-old man might know what looks good right now. So, there I was, trying to grow out a haircut that didn't look good from the beginning and trying my best not to look like a grad student awkwardly trying to dress up for his first job interview.

While it's probably some sort of a faux pas since some people might go here for a little escape from reality and we brought it right to their armchair, Kacey and I both went in to Jon David Salon in Springfield with the kids. Yeah,  I'm sure serveral of the patrons were a bit dismayed at hearing a 4-month-old occasionally crying while they also pretended to ignore an active and curious 3-yr old, but the staff were great about accommodating us. My stylist was Katy and based on her tattoos (one of which was done with black-light ink), I knew I was going to get the edgy style I was hoping for. She did a great job.

Katy also taught me a couple of things that I never had to learn when my hair was short. 1) The difference between 'paste' and 'putty', and how they need to be applied to dry hair to work correctly. Apparently, paste is a little creamier (like, uh, toothpaste) and putty/mud is more like drywall spackle...both of which you need to warm in your hand before applying. It doesn't work right if you try to change the consistency with water. 2) I've been parting my hair on the wrong side for a very, very long time. It turns out that my hair grows opposite to the direction that I've been parting it since 1990. Yes, I actually looked up pictures of myself to find when my part last shifted. Now it feels like I'm looking in a mirror when I look at old photos of myself post-1990. And I also have to re-learn the muscle-memory related to brushing my hair, since it now sticks straight up if I try to brush it in the old, familiar direction.

So now I can check off that box on my To-do list:
[x] Look like a professional.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

50 Shades of Gray

Ever since I've had to "suit up" to go to work, I've been paying more attention to the  'buy-one, get-x' deals at stores like Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A Banks. Today, I visited the latter for their buy-one, get-two sale on pants and sweaters.
After coming to terms with an industry sizing standard that makes me feel gargantuan, I still had to sort through several dozen pairs of pants running the gamut from medium gray to charcoal and in hues ranging  from gray-green to gray-brown. I settled on one gray, one green, and one brown pair of pants (grammar note: tough call on the agreement of multiple singular pairs of pants). I also ended up leaving with two argyle v-neck sweaters and a half-zip pull over.
The only part of my new look that still needs help is the hairstyle...the grown-out military haircut is not flattering. I probably look more like a grad student headed to an interview than a professional headed to work. But I have to give the barber something to work with, right?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Veteran's Day (Observed) at Arlington

Since Veteran's Day was on Sunday, the Federal Government observed the holiday the following Monday. It seemed fitting to visit Arlington National Cemetery on the first Veteran's Day weekend that I am officially a veteran.

The view of DC from Arlington National Cemetery


Saturday, November 03, 2012

HHE Delivery Bingo

Well, the movers arrived today with all of our HHE! And I got to play what I call "HHE Delivery Bingo", checking off the numbers of each box that comes off the truck.

After about 7 hours, the movers finally finished their delivery. Not that we had that much stuff, but after a few hours they really slowed down.

But it looks like everything we packed out made it here. Unfortunately, I think we forgot to pack out some things like the mixer, the BBQ grill, and perhaps most importantly: the nuts and bolts for the Ikea shelf system in our office. So we've got book boxes upon book boxes, and no where to unpack them.

Monday, October 29, 2012

HHE delivery during Hurricane Sandy

Today was the day I had scheduled for my Household Effects (HHE) to be delivered. While I don't think I'd mentioned it before on the blog, we sold our house back in June and were living with familiy and/or in temporary housing until October. For the last two weeks, I was sleeping on an air mattress and had no chairs in the entire house to sit on. Okay, that's not entirely accurate: I did receive some folding chairs in my unaccompanied baggage (UAB) last week...but that's a far cry from comfortable. So I was really looking forward to getting all of our stuff.

Emphasis on the word "was." This was also the week that Hurricane Sandy tore up the eastern seaboard. I got the day off because the federal government closed...but my HHE is stored in a federal warehouse. So the movers couldn't get access to the stuff they needed to move. I really should have scheduled delivery for last Friday, then I would have had a 4-day weekend to unpack.

Superstorm Sandy
Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012

As it is, I guess I'm glad our stuff isn't going to get soaked, but now we've rescheduled for Friday. Hopefully.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Now that's a job description

We're nearing the end of our pre-scheduled, in-house, on-the-job training at the office. Still plenty of other administrative things to take care of that all seem to inter-relate. But the best quote of the day came during one of the training sessions, where we were talking about the roles and responsibilities that foreign service construction project directors (PDs) have in the field. It was something along the lines of:

"Think of the project director as a symphony conductor, coordinating dozens of experts at their craft in order to produce a work of art."

What this implies is that it really is a team effort. Even so, I'm still several years away from being a PD. But still, doesn't that sound like a really fulfilling job?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Faith in Humanity: Restored

Last Thursday, I thought that my umbrella had been pick-pocketed from the broken-zippered pocket of my messenger bag while I was riding home on the Metro. It's one of those compact little black umbrellas with a silvery strap like you'd find on a "point and shoot" camera.

The last time I saw my umbrella was in the office, and the strap was peeking out of the zipper. But when I got home, the pocket was empty, so I figured that it had been stolen while I was standing on the platform. I hate losing things, especially when it's my own fault. It's only happened to me a handful of times, but each time has been burned into memory. And it's a completely different thing when it's taken right off my person.

You have to admit, the shiny silver wrist-strap dangling out of the broken zipper would make a tempting target for a thief. It probably looked like a camera (which I've also had stolen from a messenger bag in Santiago, Chile). All things considered, I liked that umbrella. It folded flat and was small enough to slip into my suit jacket. It was my own fault for leaving it accessible in the gaping maw of the open zipper, but this also means that the messenger bag is probably going to get donated. Because, really, what's the point of having a bag that can't carry stuff from point A to point B? If only I'd kept the umbrella on a lanyard.

That said, you can imagine my surprise and delight this morning, when I put everything back into my messenger bag, only to find my umbrella had lodged itself deep inside the flap. That's right, it wasn't stolen after all (but I swear that I emptied that bag out on the floor). The bag's black and the umbrella's black, small, and it really was an easy mistake to make.

But I have to ask: how many times have you been unable to find something and the first thing that comes to mind is "somebody stole it!"? Why do we do that?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Lots of Lanyards

Do you have an identification badge that must be visible at all times? Then you're familiar with the lanyard. If you don't think that you know what a lanyard is, you probably have seen one and just didn't know that's what it's called. It's a glorified "thing that goes around your neck to hold stuff." Most people put either keys or ID cards on them (but some people put both).

Anyways, over the last four weeks, my lanyard collection has grown at the rate of one per week. I showed up for orientation about a month ago with two black lanyards left over from my last job. On the first day of orientation, I got my new ID card along with a silver ball-chain lanyard like the ones that you'd keep dog tags on. I promptly swapped it out for one of the lanyards that I brought with me. 

The next week, we received a blue lanyard emblazoned with AFSA from the American Foreign Service Association as they made their marketing pitch to get us to become members. One week later, my Foreign Service Specialist orientation class social committee provided us all with blue lanyards that had 127TH FSS and the State Department seal on them. After orientation ended, I showed up at work and was given yet another blue lanyard that has OVERSEAS BUILDING OPERATIONS and CONSTRUCTION, FACILITY, AND SECURITY MANAGEMENT printed on it. 

That's roughly seven feet of new lanyards. Seriously. I connected them together and the combined length ran from the floor to somewhere above my head. And that's without the ball-chain one (which could arguably be called a necklace). I'm trying to find a good use for them all. Like connecting all the stuff in my pockets to them. Anyone got any good ideas?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

My Military to Civilian Transition Summary

Since my military to civilian transition spanned the better part of 18 months, I thought it might be convenient to recap everything on one post now that I've made the transition. If I can impress only one thing on you active duty folks who might read this: Make absolutely certain that you apply for your VA disability benefits before you separate. It's worth the effort, and proving service connection for "what's wrong with you" only gets more difficult the longer you've been out of the military.

Monday, October 01, 2012

My Air Force Experience: I am a Veteran (11 of 11)

That's odd, I don't feel any different. But today is the first day in over a decade that I can no longer say "I am in the military." Now all I can say is "I was in the military" or "I am a veteran." My official date of separation was yesterday, but I'm not sure if that counted as the first day of my 'new' life. While my efforts at demilitarization over the last several months have been largely successful, they've still been governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). And now, as of today, I'm not.

Free and Clear!
In plain English: "I'm officially out of the Air Force." But I took the time to mark the occasion last Friday, my last weekday on active duty. In the morning, I was sworn in to the US Foreign Service at the Department of State main building. In the afternoon, I went over to the Pentagon to turn in my active duty ID card and get a different one that allows me limited base access for a while (one of the benefits of the way I separated from the Air Force). It took about two hours of waiting in the military personnel section to get my cards taken care of because it was the end of the fiscal year and all the contractors had to renew their badges too.

Even so, before the duty day ended, I was able to swing by and briefly say hello to a friend of mine in the Building that I haven't seen in person since we deployed together over four years ago. I also stopped by the gift shop to pick up a memento of this day of transition: a small globe that is composed of various stones cut into the shape of the country they came from. I'd first seen them in Germany, but didn't get one then. Since that might be the last time I go into the Pentagon, I figured that it was now or never. And you have to admit, a globe is pretty symbolic of the Foreign Service.

To read my Military to Civilian Transition mini-series in chronological order, Click Here.
To read my Entering into the Foreign Service mini-series in chronological order, Click Here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Flag Day!

Perhaps one of the most significant days for members of the Foreign Service is Flag Day. It is the day that we and our families find out what our first post will be. Both specialists and generalists go through a Flag Day ceremony during their orientation, and everyone is hoping that they get their first choice while everyone else gets theirs.  Families attended and there was lots of cheering. Many of us knew where the people on our left and right wanted to be assigned, so when that nation's flag popped up on the big screen at the front of the auditorium, we had that half-second rush of anticipation while the post was read before getting to cheer when their name was called.

Up until today, all we had were wish lists. As of today, the members of the 127th Specialist Class have destinations.

Some are headed to China, some to Russia. Others are headed to Chad, Congo, or Djibouti. We even have one headed to Barbados. As for me and my fellow engineers, we knew from the first day of orientation that we were headed for a domestic assignment and fully expected to get the Virginia state flag. So here's what we were expecting to see:
Virginia State flag: A deep blue field contains the seal of Virginia with the Latin motto " Sic Semper Tyrannis" - "Thus Always to Tyrants". Adopted in 1776. The two figures are acting out the meaning of the motto. Both are dressed as warriors. The woman, Virtue, represents Virginia. The man holding a scourge and chain shows that he is a tyrant. His fallen crown is nearby.

However, we did not get the state flag of Virginia. And for me, this was especially startling, as I was the first name called out. I don't know why (I'm not alphabetically first in the class), but getting called into the pole position totally screwed up my plan to watch what other people were doing when they went up, shook hands with the class mentor, took the flag, smiled for the camera (also known as the "Shake & Take"), before receiving the packet of additional assignment information.

Anyways, the flag showing on the big screen when they called my name was:

The District of Columbia: The flag of Washington, D.C. consists of three red stars above two red bars on a white background. It is based on the design of the coat of arms of George Washington, first used to identify the family in the twelfth century, when one of George Washington's ancestors took possession of Washington Old Hall, then in County Durham, north-east England. As elements in heraldry, the stars are properly called mullets.

Admittedly, it's basically the same thing (as in, not an overseas assignment) and it doesn't really change our initial assignment. And other folks did, in fact, get assigned to Virginia.

But all things considered, I like the look of the DC's flag much more than Virginia's. Also, it has "mullets." Awesome.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Organization is key!

Our Foreign Service Orientation class keeps sending us home with new folders of information every day. I almost feel like I need a folder for my folders. I've got one for medical insurance, several for education and additional training, one for transitioning between posts, one for paperwork on how to properly prepare paperwork, and probably a dozen pages that don't fit anywhere else that I keep shuffling through random folders while hoping that they will magically assemble themselves into a coherently themed folder.

Most of my classmates submitted their bid lists earlier in the week. However, my specialty normally doesn't go overseas until the second tour, so we didn't get a bid list. I like to think that we're the "special specialists" because of that. Even though a domestic assignment in the Foreign Service sounds a bit odd, it does give us the opportunity to learn how the State Department operates in D.C. before going overseas. So we got that going for us, which is nice. However, it also means that we have to scramble to find housing immediately after orientation so that we have a roof over our heads before our per diem runs out. Which I can't help but find a bit ironic, since construction engineers are responsible for (among other things) putting roofs over other peoples' heads.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

End Of Tour Summary: My Air Force Career

Since I'm officially on terminal leave and my Air Force career has effective ended, it's as good of a time as any to recap my decade of service.

They call this the "I Love Me Wall"

Monday, September 10, 2012

Orienteering at the State Department

Last night, there was a happy hour coordinated by the previous specialist class and they provided some insights to us. Oh, and if you remember my post from the oral assessment, the guy I nicknamed "Senegal" was at the happy hour, too. Apparently, he had his security clearance from another agency, which is why he didn't stick around with us to get processed.

Anyways, today was the first day of the 127th Foreign Service Specialist Orientation, and we shared a room at Main State with the 169th Foreign Service Generalist class also on Day 1 of their orientation. Double the lines, double the fun! Also, everyone attending orientation was excited. Since the nice folks at Diplomatic Security made it clear what we could and could not post, here are my observations about the day:
0) If you can, get a good night sleep. Most folks I talked with woke up early just because they were so eager to get started with the day.
1) Eat a good breakfast. If you're staying at Oakwood, remember to buy your breakfast supplies the night before. Oh, and their knives really are as dull as you may have heard.
2) There were shuttles from Oakwood to Main State just for the first day. It's wise to be on the first one. I say this not just because you are less likely to feel like the bus is leaving you behind on the first day, but also because I was able to knock out some of the ID badge requirements before the formal start time. This turned out to be a good move because instead of standing in line during the scheduled ID time, I was able to take a super long lunch and look at some of the various brochures instead.
3) Lunch at the cafeteria is a tad expensive, but very convenient. Also, there's a State Department logo store in the building that you can get some mementos from your first day or gifts for friends. I saw one coffee mug that said "Someone at the State Department loves me" which could be applicable in a number of situations.
4) Have a pen and something to write on with you, you'll probably want to take notes about something.
5) If you haven't sent in all of your paperwork, the registrar will get you to fill it out today (even if the paperwork you'd originally got said you didn't have to fill it out for whatever reason). The only exceptions were for
  a) Life Insurance: You're automatically enrolled in Basic, so if you're cool with that, no paperwork is needed.
  b) Health Plan: You have 60 days to elect it, and the brief the first day goes into a good bit of detail about what questions to ask that you probably haven't even thought of yet. Also, there are several representatives from various health plans here handing out those brochures I mentioned earlier.
6) After the day ends, you're on your own for getting home. Make sure you have that MetroCard you should have already purchased earlier. There are various shuttles from the station to the Oakwood apartments, but you might have to wait a couple of minutes for them if you don't feel like walking back from the station.
7) Once you're back at home, relax. Exercise. Get your stuff ready for tomorrow & go to the store to get whatever it was you realized during the orientation that you had forgotten to buy yesterday (and wrote down with that pen and paper you brought).

All in all, a good day as first days go, but the paperwork and procedural information did quell folks' excitement as the day went on. I think tomorrow is "how to file a travel voucher." Now, where are those hotel receipts...

My Air Force Experience: The Next Sortie (10 of 11)

It’s go time. Tomorrow is the first day of my new career.

There is an indescribable feeling that comes over you when you jump out of a plane. Your brain hasn't fully grasped the gravity of the situation, but you can feel your heart pounding all the same. At the same time, the chaos that surrounds you vanishes just as everything seems to enter slow motion. You gradually become more aware of the wind in your face, the plane flying away from you, and (perhaps most importantly) the ground below you is coming into focus. This is where having faith that everything will work out is crucial to not freaking out.

I'm jumping from military service into the State Department and timing is everything. I mean, literally down to the day I started terminal leave. Because 5 U.S.C. 5534a that states "Military personnel on terminal leave are authorized to accept a civilian position in the U.S. Government and receive the pay and allowances of that position as well as their military pay and allowances," I must be on terminal leave before I can be an employee of State. That employment begins with training, which was a two day drive away. So to be on the safe side, I needed to be on terminal leave the day I rolled out of my driveway on the way to DC in order to avoid a paperwork headache later.
Static lines are kind of like administrative details...
Even if I get everything covered on my end, I'll still have to wait until my offical date of separation to get the DD 214 that documents my military service and adds a decade of federal service credit to my State Dept records.

But as for the transition from military to State, I found this video on line that pretty much captures how I feel right now:

Ok, so it's only accurate up until the guy throws the pilot out of the white jet...that's probably not the best way to start a new job. But you get the idea. Lots of things that could go wrong with lots of stuff hanging in the balance.

To read my Military to Civilian Transition mini-series in chronological order, Click Here.
To read my Entering the Foreign Service mini-series in chronological order, Click Here.

Friday, September 07, 2012

An extra-ordinary life

I have known since adolescence that I didn't want what I think of as an ordinary american life: spouse, house, job, kids... going to work in an office everyday, weekends at the soccer field. It doesn't sound that bad, in fact it could be very fulfilling. But in that life something would be missing for me. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly what, but it boils down to adventure, change of scenery, risk. I want something extra-ordinary. And so, this has led me, and my family, to the Foreign Service.

Ok, I am not in the Foreign Service, at least not yet. But I am tagging along for the ride. I do have some trepidation about this new life; I worry that it will not actually be extra-ordinary. One of the reasons I didn't sit for the Foreign Service Officer Test, other than being in the early weeks of pregnancy and not wanting to vomit throughout the exam, is that in reviewing the various tracks and options, a lot of it sounded pretty run of the mill... in terms of going and sitting in an office reading and writing memos all day. Having done something similar for ten years, I know that is not fulfilling for me.

In reality, a run of the mill day in the Foreign Service could be worse than not fulfilling. I could be doing a boring office job in a place with far fewer amenities than in the U.S. A place where the power isn't reliable, the water doesn't run all the time and the air is a potpourri of toxins. In other words, I could have an ordinary life in a really crappy place to live. But that, I suppose, is not an ordinary life.

Tomorrow Greg leaves for initial training and the new adventure begins. The pages of this blog will be the evidence of our life and my hope is that they will be extraordinary.


Monday, September 03, 2012

One week to go!

It's Labor Day, and in less than seven days, I will be reporting in for the first day of work at my new career with the US Department of State. That still sounds a little surreal to say out loud.
I've already received several tips, like:

1) Wear comfortable shoes. Since my last job involved wearing combat boots, I had to go out and get some more formal footwear. Even though Florida is always in sandal season, I've been wearing the new dress shoes while doing chores around the house...with shorts and a T-shirt. Be on the lookout for this look on the runway in Paris next year.

2) Bring a bag lunch. Having come from a veritable food desert, I'd already been planning on doing this until I get more familiar with the local oases. The plural of oasis looks weird, doesn't it?

3) Get excited. Oh, I am...but normally, I try to visualize what's about to happen and right now I just don't have a good frame of reference. And there are still a number of known unknowns out there which make any visualization hypothetical at best.

But first things first: right now, I am still trying to get my travel orders. And it's a federal holiday, so that ain't happening today. We can't get the movers to pack us up until we have the orders...but we took a risk early on and scheduled them for October, which is after my orientation ends and I have a better sense of what we really should pack up. It's risky because it makes things more complicated logistically. It's definitely not the recommended way to do things, but should work best for us.

Friday, August 24, 2012

SeaWorld Orlando

We took the kids to SeaWorld Orlando today. Okay, there is the issue of animal captivity vs. awareness and education about animals, but I'm going to side-step that discussion and focus on kids enjoying animals.

And who doesn't remember the terror of their first roller coaster ride?

Note the front right flipper is missing

Sea Turtles!


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Legoland Florida

Today we visited Legoland Florida in Winterhaven, Florida. What I realized as I was walking around the park is that it's built on the old Cypress Gardens, which I remembering several times as a kid. This is also our second trip to a Legoland, our first was to the one in Billund, Denmark

This was not the droid she was looking for

She's like a caged tiger

On safari
Navigating the river

Blending in with the locals
This roller coaster is more her style
Is it hump day already?
Who knew hippos roared?
And giraffes? What noise do they make anyways?

That's one way to keep the birds from landing on your head.
River otters
A detailed salvage operation
One last spin on the Lego Carousel

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

End of Tour Summary: Air Force Special Operations Command

I finished a two-year assignment to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) staff working in the Plans, Programs, & Requirements Directorate. While there's not much I can tell you about that side of the Quiet Professionals organization, I can say that the Air Park at Hurlburt Field has some of my favorite planes that just so happen to have Medal of Honor stories associated with them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Air Force Experience: Final Out-Processing (9 of 11)

So today I went through final out-processing from the military. While I'm technically on the books until the end of September, today is the last day that I'll wear the uniform. It's also almost 10 years to the day that I first put it on for Officer Training School. Four assignments on three continents with two deployments over the course of one decade...not a bad run.

I'd like to say that I'll miss it, and I'm sure there will be aspects about it that I do miss, especially my friends who are still serving in uniform. But they are my friends, and I'd be keeping touch with them regardless of where we happen to work. What I won't miss are all those learning experiences that--while making me better in the long run--really weren't that enjoyable.

Would I have done some things differently? Of course, but that's coming from a perspective that enjoys several more years of maturity and a greater understanding of what I want out of life. I'm taking those hard-fought lessons with me, good and bad. Would I have done some things the same? Yes, even knowing how things would turn out, you always have to do the right thing when you have the option.

The song in my head as I write this is Paul Simon's "The Boxer":
"In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminder of every glove that laid him down or cut him
'Til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains"
So, I am leaving the uniformed service, but I will continue to fight the good fight in the Foreign Service. Off I go, into the "wild blue yonder"...again.

To read my Military to Civilian Transition mini-series in chronological order, Click Here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Closing up shop

I spent today clearing out my desk, writing farewell emails to my coworkers, shredding old documents and packing my personal gear into a backpack to take home with me. There is still a grocery bag full of papers destined for the shredder under my desk, and for some reason my brain's picked that as the symbolic "not coming back" act for me. Forget the out-processing checklist, badge turn-in, or any other minutia associated with leaving your current place of employment. The act of shredding is a very visual and physical reminder of everything that's accrued in the bag that won't be around anymore after today.

But I'll tell you one thing that will be a very visual and physical reminder that I'm no longer in the military: my hairstyle. You'd be surprised at how difficult it is to decide on how you want your hair to be cut after a decade of saying "Number one on the sides, a number eight on top, and taper in the back." You can see from the picture of the first haircut I got on Day 1 of military training below that I looked like an extra from the opening scene from Full Metal Jacket...and not by choice.

The only time I've ever had my head shaved.

As part of my farewell tour, I stopped by one of my favorite restaurants, a little Chinese place called Jin Jin in Fort Walton Beach. It was a rainy day, so only one of the five tables was occupied. The owner struck up a conversation with me, just like he does roughly every other time I go in there. He opened Jin Jin in 2001, and I started eating there in 2002. That's a ten-year gastronomical relationship! His kid's in middle school now, and I've basically watched him grown up, playing at his dad's restaurant. Sadly, I don't know either the owner's name or the kid's name, even after all that time. So, I've go to work on improving that interpersonal interaction. But the fortune cookie did make me think that I've got the right idea:
"Example is not the main thing in influencing others.
It is the only thing."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Back to work...for a week.

Ok, so I've fallen off of my plan to update this blog at least weekly. But I've got a pretty good excuse: I was busy watching the London Olympics while on paternity leave. So much so, that I think that our baby will consider "Fanfare for the Common Man" as more of a lullaby than an Olympic theme song. Our toddler was doing her best to recite "God Save the Queen" during the closing ceremonies, so I can only guess at how many times she must have heard the British national anthem during the Games.

Back at the office, I've handed the reins over to my replacement and have started my out-processing. It occurred to me during the finance briefing that there's a scene from Office Space that is very similar to how I'm feeling at this moment as I put in for 39 days of leave and transition to a new job:
Peter Gibbons: I sit in a cubicle and I update bank software for the 2000 switch.
Joanna: What's that?
Peter Gibbons: Well see, they wrote all this bank software, and, uh, to save space, they used two digits for the date instead of four. So, like, 98 instead of 1998? Uh, so I go through these thousands of lines of code and, uh... it doesn't really matter. I uh, I don't like my job, and, uh, I don't think I'm gonna go anymore.
Joanna: You're just not gonna go?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah.
Joanna: Won't you get fired?
Peter Gibbons: I don't know, but I really don't like it, and, uh, I'm not gonna go.
Joanna: So you're gonna quit?
Peter Gibbons: Nuh-uh. Not really. Uh... I'm just gonna stop going.

So it's not exactly my situation, but it's a great scene and it feels the same.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Getting in Step

Ok, so today I submitted my official agreement to join the Foreign Service. I'd been putting it off for a couple of days until I got a few administrative things sorted out. First, our second daughter was born after I received my offer, so I wanted to make sure she'd be on all the travel orders, etc. First step here is to get her DS-1622 completed for medical clearance...hoping to do that at the next well-baby check-up.

Secondly, there was a discrepancy in the offer I received from the State Department, but after talking with my registrar, it looks like it was more of a typo than anything. Going by the book, I sent in  a request to the State Department to review my entry grade and step. I hate talking about money, but for all of you who might have found this post while looking for information on the Foreign Service salary determination process, I thought it might be helpful from the point of view of someone going through it.

Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that you have to request a review BEFORE you accept the appointment. There's nothing you can do after you accept the appointment, so you might as well ask. The worst they can say is "no," right? Anyways, the request for review might sound like a counter-offer, but trust me, it's not. There's a formula for determining what grade and step you enter into the Foreign Service, based solely on your education and years of experience. Sounds fair, right?

Well, yes, it is. And administratively, it's very cut and dried so that it's easy to administer. Basically, the formula works out that for each year of experience, you go up one step, from 1 to 14. An increase in step comes with an increase in salary. However, the biggest "catch" is that you don't get credit for experiences under one year. So, if you had a total 5 years and 11 months, you only get credit for 5 whole years.

But the devil's in the details. As far as I could tell, your credited experience is aggregated before rounding if you had two jobs that each lasted 1.6 years, they would sum to 3.2 years, and round down to 3.0 years (rather than 2.0 years if they were rounded down first and then added together). I thought this was my case, as it initially appeared that I wasn't getting credit for a job I before I joined the military.

Turns out, I did get credit for it, but the Foreign Service job also required some years of experience to even be considered. So, I received all the experience credit that I was due (by both my and their calculations), then the years of experience required to be considered were deducted, and the remaining years were applied to my entry grade and step.
Hoppin' up the steps
I still have like an inch-thick packet of information to pour over to determine what sort of health plan and life insurance to get. Apparently, you can get hostage insurance. Good to know? Also reviewing the moving/shipping weight allowances...turns out that any household goods destroyed by military action won't be charged to my total allowance if it's considered a total loss. That's good, I guess.

Anyways, I need to get back to the paperwork.

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