American Southwest Family Vacation

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.

Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

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: A 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.
I really need to learn how to make my own graphics. Source
So here are the posts that detail what I went through during my separation from the Air Force, from start to finish. It was kind of rough at times, feeling like that kid who never got picked to play on a team in grade school gym class. But you know what? It turns out that I'm happier and healthier now that I'm out of the military than I ever was while I was in. No more constantly worrying about getting RIF'd or deployed or getting the right medal or OPR ranking. And yet, I still get to travel the world and have a new job every couple of years that will still give me the option to retire with benefits at a relatively young age. Win-win.

But there is one nagging detail: The VA Post 9/11 GI Bill Transfer of Education Benefits as currently written does not clearly extend to those service members separated from the military because they were passed over for promotion, even though it does extend to those who were forced out under different programs. I think this is unfair and drafted a petition that caught the eye of's staff who contacted me to help get the word out.

My Military to Civilian Transition Experience, in chronological order:
  1. Initial Warning Signs: Administrative Gremlins is about learning that my last OPR wasn't in the folder that met the promotion board (even though I was told that it was).
  2. Considering My Options: Foreign Service Officer is about looking for other ways to serve abroad and leverage all that federal service time towards retirement.
  3. One Last Chance: Up or Out is about when my appeal to the promotion board was denied.
  4. A talk with the Colonel about my Future, when the odds are stacked against your promotion above the zone.
  5. Considering My Options: USAID casts the net wide, and takes into consideration why you should stay until the end of your service commitment.
  6. The (Above the Zone) Promotion Board Meets behind closed doors. Don't stress about things beyond your control.
  7. The Promotion Board Field Message gives you a method to get a general sense of the promotion rates.
  8. Date of Separation Established This may happen to you. Stay positive.
  9. Final Out-Processing Lesson learned the hard way: Make absolutely sure that AFPC updates your active duty service commitment date in their system before you separate (during out-processing), as it will literally take months to correct through the Board of Military Records Correction. The VA can't do much for you if your branch of service gives them the wrong info.
  10. The Next Sortie: My New Career I made a successful transition and so can you. 
  11. I am a Veteran Your service is valued, and something to take pride in.
  12. Understanding your VA Disability Rating and Separation Pay
For more information on joining the Department of State from the military, check out:
Additional posts and updates related to making a Military-to-Civilian transition (updated occasionally).

If you're looking for books about transitioning out of the military, these are useful too:

Related Posts:

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.

Featured Post

End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

Honest Post Reports