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.

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.

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