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.

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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