31 August 2010

Hiatus part two, Aloha edition.

hawaii[1].jpgSo, after those two actually decent blog posts, I'm off again! Like a herd of turtles!

All joking aside, this is my big trip to Hawaii with my bestest friend in the whole world Beth to visit her awesome sister Katie and her two baby boys (she blogs too- check her out!) with a bit of a stop in Seattle to visit Beth's family and her other sister Carolyn. These three gals are my adopted sisters, family by choice I like to say, so I'm super excited to be spending time with them all- especially Beth. Can you tell I miss her???

Also, its been fun to watch Swiss get ready for a week without me. I think it is cute that he's realizing how not fun it is to be the one left behind... even if it is only for a week! Yes, very sappy and newlywed of us. You can barf if you are overcome with the gushieness of it all. I won't blame you!

In any event, I'll be off the radar for another week or so. Hopefully all the downtime on the airplane and in the airport will stir up some more posts of substance and I'll come back ready to go. Hope you all have a great week and we will see you soon!

Later aligators! -Tucker xoxo

This is bananas. AKA the Retirement process.

Y'all, seriously, the whole retirement process really is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

I've been wanting to write about this process for some time now, but is is so long and drawn out that there has been no good time to to sit down and put it to paper screen. But I suppose now we are coming to a close and there really is no better time than the present. And before I get started, to all you Navy/Marine/Coastie/Air Force folks, sorry! I don't know how much of this is consistent across the board (I'd imagine the VA stuff is) but all I can speak to is the Army's process... in any event, I hope even this little bit can help you prepare for a future ETS or retirement!

So, the long and short of it is this: ACAP, VA, meetings, meetings, seminars, meetings, VA, ACAP, ACAP, retirement office, VA, housing, transportation, VA, VA physicals, retirement office, VA. Or something near that. What you need to know is that it is a long process with a lot of stops along the way, make sure you leave plenty of time to do it all. And a stash of beer or wine won't hurt!

ACAP is the Army's program for transitioning out of the service. Everything from interview skills, resumes, job searches, how to dress for interviews, job fairs, prospective employer meet and greets, generally just a whole lot of how to get your shit together for life outside the Army. It is a great program and, aside from the nutty schedules for the seminars and meetings, full of useful information. ACAP is awesome and be sure to take full advantage of it. And spouses! You can use ACAP too! Your spouse isn't the only one transitioning out of the Army so you can participate in their resume workshops and job fairs as well. Use it!

The VA stuff is insane. Insane because the sheer amount of information they throw at you, insane because of the mind-boggling loopholes and if-then scenarios they pose. And insane because when you are retiring, how you handle the VA stuff before you leave duty will have a MAJOR impact not only on your disability, but on how easily you will be able to navigate the VA system once you are in it. Suffice to say, the more you do, and the better/more thoroughly you do it, the easier your life will be in the future. But be prepared to have your mind blown by how the system works. BANANAS.

The retirement office on post handles lots of the paperwork. All the DD-214s and retirement orders and they are the ones who actually get you out of the Army. My 2 cents when working with them? Be Prepared. Have copies of all your necessary documents, have copies of all your awards and honors, and review what the system says you have (in terms of time in service, duty stations, ranks, awards) before you walk in the door. Double checking is your best friend. And play nice with your representative- they can make your life hell if you make their job difficult (that should be obvious, but this is one person you want on your good side!)

Now, back to the VA insanity. This is probably the single most important part to retiring (a little less so for ETSing) so I'm gonna focus here a bit. The things I think y'all need to know up front are these:
  • VA systems are based on a regional format. These regions DO NOT interface (as insane as this may be, it is the truth). If you move from one region to another, it is 100% on you to take your medical records with you and ensure that your records are transferred to your new region. 100% on you. Did you get that? Its all on you to make sure this stuff transfers the way it should.
  • The VA system is not one stop shopping. It is like the utility company, if you are having problems with the electric, you wouldn't call the water company, right? BE SURE WHO YOU ARE CALLING. If you aren't sure, ask or check online. Because if you call the wrong folks? They will not help you, you will get frustrated, and you will give up... loosing out on benefits and help. And this is probably the single most common mistake when dealing with the VA.
  • Have your medical records in tip-top shape. I mean it! You need to account for every bump and bruise going in to these VA appointments. The whole point is that someone will review the records and then set up medical appointments to corroborate and suss out any health issues. The more complete your records are, the more likely you will a) get an accurate disability rating and b) get these things on record for both future healthcare and future disability should the condition worsen. Very important stuff folks. And this could be thousands of dollars over a lifetime. (Did you know that tendonitis in and ankle or knee, if documented, is 10% straight away??? And that stuff adds up!)
  • ASK QUESTIONS! The whole thing is complicated and confusing... fro the Post 9-11 GI Bill down to how and when to register with the system (FYI- you register on the first day you are no longer an active duty soldier). If you aren't sure, ask, because sometimes finding the answer out yourself could take days. The more notes you take early in the process and the more questions you ask, the better you will understand the process... or at least where to start looking when you have issues. This will serve you well in the long run. I promise!

As for the rest of it? These tid-bits pertain to anyone getting out- ETS or Retirement. These are the nuggets of wisdom I've taken away from the process so far and I think they will help anyone going through this:
  • Schedule! This stuff takes time. And the meetings/presentations/specific hours that things are done are ridiculous and all over the place. Leave yourself enough time to get all this taken care of without rushing. Rushing leads to mistakes and mistakes lead to problems. If you have questions, talk to the ACAP folks and the people in the retirement office. They will know! Also, some of these meetings require your spouse to attend, so be prepared and have your calendars open!
  • Schedule! Part two! Make sure your unit is allowing you enough time to get through the retirement process. As I said, this takes time and if you are tasked with labor and time intensive duties when you should be ACAPing or doing your VA physicals, you will be scrambling at the last minute to get it all done. These appointments will dictate when you can PCS and when your terminal leave can start- the sooner you get done, the more enjoyable and stress-free the final stages will be. (Trust me, we are living this nightmare right now because Swiss got tasked with running EIB when he should have been working on retiring. NIGHTMARE!)
  • LISTEN! Pay close attention to the content of those meetings. As boring as they are (and I know they are, I've sat through them!) they are chock full of useful information that you will (WILL) need in the future. Take notes, ask questions, pay attention! They will cover everything from Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits, VA health care, insurance, claiming preference... it is all so important! So don't tune out, don't doodle, don't take naps. Suck it up and pay attention. Your bank account, sanity, and future health care will benefit in the long run.
  • Document. Have your paperwork in order. This means everything from medical records to NCOERs and promotion paperwork, honors and awards, re-enlistment contracts... the whole kit and caboodle. The better organized you are the easier the whole process will be. Take some time before you start the process to get this all in order. It will save you lots of headaches in the coming months. 
  • Be flexible. Both in schedule and attitude. Know that your dream PCS/terminal leave dates may or may not work. Know that the date you want to do a particular ACAP meeting might be booked, have alternates in the back of your mind. Be prepared to bounce around the offices and missing some of the silly hours they have set up for these things (because you have no way of knowing they only look at medical records from 8-11 on Mondays). As frustrating as it might be, it is necessary because they don't make it easy on you. Consider yourself warned.
  • Organize! Make yourself a big old file folder (or set aside a drawer, box, whatever) and keep all this stuff you'll be getting in one place. There will be more handouts and information than you can keep track of, so start some files for each item so you can find it again. I SO wish we would have done this early on. I am faced with doing this now and it is a HOT MESS. Also, this will serve you well in the future as you need to go back and reference this information.
  • BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE! The people helping you are just doing their job. As nice as they may be, its no skin off their back if you get screwed in the end. I don't mean to sound cynical, but it is in your best interest to pay attention to what is going on. Case in point, when Swiss's medical records were getting reviewed his (VERY) well documented history of a thyroid disorder, skin cancer and a gunshot wound from combat were missed. If he hadn't spoken up, not only would his medical care have suffered, but we would have missed out on something like 70% disability. Huge deal folks! HUGE! If you aren't going to pay attention and look out for yourself, you can't expect someone who sees you as just another case to do it for you. So, this might be the single most important pointer I can give you. Take ownership of this process and the information- double check, triple check and pay attention! Be your own advocate. Period!

Okay, so that is the nitty gritty cliff notes version of this process so far. As more things come to light, I will pass on whatever nuggets of wisdom I glean. And also, please, please, please don't hesitate to ask questions either by e-mail or in the comments if you have them. I'm by no means an expert in this, but I'd be glad to pass on whatever information I have!

Stay tuned for more information! Ooh, and let me know if there are aspects of this process you specifically want more information on... I'll do my best to help out however I can.

30 August 2010

His career and my 2 cents.

You've read those blog posts and heard/overheard those conversations, right? The ones where the spouse of the soldier (etc.) bravely and calmly says that her husband's career choices in the military really are just up to him since it is HIS career after all. Please tell me you have (though if you haven't just search around the blog-o-sphere, you'll find them, I don't want to post links as I don't want to hurt anyone's feelers)... because I need to suss some things out in regards to this topic.

First, I get it. I mean, I understand the whole mentality of not putting your foot down and DEMANDING that your spouse ETS or Retire or switch MOS, because generally demands don't play so nice with marriages. And I'd be willing to bet that around 90% of us knew we were marrying the military type, so there is a certain amount of latitude that must be given. I get that. I really do. There is a part of you that feels incredibly selfish and demanding and not all that wonderful when you start to think about putting in your 2 cents (or 5 dollars) when it comes to these topics.

Second, I sort of understand the parallels I see some spouses trying to make between their civilian career and his. You know, the whole I wouldn't want him telling me what jobs to take and not to take or when to move or quit, so I shouldn't do it to him. Because, on some level that is totally spot on. I wouldn't want Swiss demanding or telling me in no uncertain terms what I could and could not do with my career, to turn down opportunities or a big promotion for whatever reason. I am an independent lady after all, with a strong will to boot. I think we can all imagine how well that would go over, right? So it is, on the surface of things, understandable to draw the same conclusions about your say and his career.

However... for me, that parallel doesn't really work unless your civilian job is that of a Blackwater contractor or maybe a MD with Doctors Without Borders (or you are in the military yourself). Because my job as a cytotechnologist or teacher or nurse or advertising executive generally only comes with ancillary requirements like occasional overtime or working weekends, maybe a pay cut or the rare travel to some safe garden spot for a short conference. No job I've ever had put my life in jeopardy, sent me away from home for a year or more every 15 moths or so or left my family to deal with the very real possibility of me not coming home- ever. And no job I've ever had came with contracts that couldn't be broken or guaranteed moves every few years under penalty of jail time. And last I checked, most civilian jobs can or could be left at the office so to speak. None of those things can be said for a job in the military. Not a one.

Also, isn't all we ever talk about how this career our spouses choose is really a lifestyle for the whole family, sacrifices and bonuses and all? So how does this whole Hands Off! mentality when it comes to his career jibe with our general thesis on military life? How can we, on one hand say that these deployments effect us all, but on the other say that decisions regarding the career that causes these deployments is no place for my opinion?

I guess my questions/issues on this topic arise because when it came time for Swiss to PCS the last time, when talks of retirement or staying in started to surface, it was a family decision. We talked about it together. I made me feelings and opinions known, politely of course, but Swiss always knew what my feelings on these topics were. We, as a family, talked about the benefits and cons of each of the duty stations and the job assignments and expectations that would come with each place (you know, light infantry versus mechanized units, 1SGT time or staff duty, etc.). We talked about wether or not this was the right time to retire, what the benefits would be to staying in and what impact that would have on our lives, my career, his career and all that jazz. At the end of the day, we made decisions based on what was best for our family. If Swiss was single, he'd probably stay in for another 3-6 years, but those extra deployments and PCSs just weren't what made sense for us.

Now, with all that said, I really do want to open up a dialogue about this topic even though I haven't shielded my views even a smidge (hey, I'm just being honest!). How do you feel about this? How much input do you give (or are allowed) on your spouse's military career? Where is the line between being selfish and doing what is best for your family? How have you and your spouses dealt with these issues in the past? And are you a subscriber to the "Its his career" mentality? If so, why?

Okay Ladies, have at it in the comments! Just play nice with each other, okay?

28 August 2010


So we juuuuust got home from our whirlwind 2 week trek from Maine to Washington and most places in between. And can I tell you that I have NEVER been so happy to see the main gates here at Fort X? Anyway, there are stories and photos and whatnot, but first there must be a long awaited reunion with me and my bed. But just so you know, I'm back and the blogging will commence shortly!!!

14 August 2010


The next two weeks are going to be bananas here so posting will be infrequent (as if it hasn't already been so- ha!). If I can, I will do some posting from Maine and our hare-brained trip to the PNW for a job interview. Wish us luck if you are so inclined!

I hope you all have great weeks!!!

13 August 2010

Pride and punishment.


For the past few months Swiss has been in charge of planning, organizing and running his battalion's Expert Infantryman Badge testing. It's been countless weeks of late hours, planning and prepping for a week's worth of testing... brutal testing and brutal hours and brutal standards, all in the name of the coveted EIB.

This morning was the final test... after over 300 started, there were less than 40 something soldiers embarking on the 12 mile road march in full battle rattle. Three hours of marching, running, slugging it out to make this week's worth of punishment worth it. And you know what? By the time they were coming on into the homestretch? It was already 82 degrees.

I drove Swiss in to work not a half hour ago, and when I dropped him off, I was held at the intersection by a guard to let these EIB soldiers cross the road on their way to the finish. The driver's seat in our sedan suddenly became a front row seat to one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever witnessed.

To my right, near headquarters, every unit was in formation in their PTs, with flags flying, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the EIB soldiers from their unit. They were joined by the proud wives and kids of these troops... all waiting to see the familiar face they came to cheer on. And every time a new soldier crested the hill, bogged down by their helmet and body armor, hands tired from carrying their M4 for three hours, feet dragging from the relentless 12 mile march.... the crowds roared and that troop's unit broke formation. The cheers and clapping were almost deafening. Those soldiers ran, no, sprinted to their soldier and started running/marching with him shouting and clapping the entire way. They cheered him on, motivated him in those last brutal 200 yards, encouraged him and urged him on to the finish. You could literally see the candidate's morale soar, their cadence quicken, their shoulders straighten. You could see it working. It was beautiful and it made my heart soar. I wish you all could have seen it.

The pride and the Esprit de Corps was nearly overwhelming... the joy and exuberance these soldiers had when their soldier came into the home stretch was palpable and they weren't afraid to show it to anyone who was watching. It actually made me a bit misty, to see these battle-hardened men cheering and running like kids again, all to support a member of the unit in attaining the EIB.

There is no telling how many of these men made the required time. Im sure Swiss will have the update when he gets home. But I suppose, in this story and for me, that isn't the point. It was the unity and the pride and the unconditional, unabashed support. Really, truly, it was magical. And I feel so lucky to have seen it.

Here's hoping every last one of them passed. And to those who did? Congratulations... and enjoy the hell out of your weekend. Hooah.

12 August 2010


Well folks, we got some good news! Swiss got an interview for a JROTC position out on the left coast! (Can I get a "Hells yeah!"?)

Now, since we leave for our much anticipated vacation to Maine this weekend, it will have to wait until we get back, but can I tell you how much this news bolstered my spirits? I mean, no, I don't want to be THAT far away from my friends and family, but it is a nice town with a nice community and great home-grown businesses, mountain views and a major city a couple of hours away, so I can't complain too much. Swiss is cautiously optimistic, I can tell he's worried about blowing it (even though I have 100% confidence that no such thing could/will happen) so his excitement level is lower than mine. But I know one thing, we are both pretty stoked about getting a hit and having a real prospect in front of us.

In any event, this now gives me license to do all the research I (hopefully) will need to do if we end up PCSing there. Homes to rent, cultural activities, jobs, neighborhoods, all that jazz. And you know what? Thank God for the Internet!

09 August 2010

Monday, Monday.

There is something y'all should know about me: I'm terrible at goodbyes. Like blubbering mess, snotty nose, weepy, melancholy, herky-jerky speech and everything. I mean, you would think after college and living in places other than my home town, doing long-distance dating for over a year, a big, fat deployment and moving across the country to play Army wife, I'd be a bit more practiced and skilled at this. Alas, no.

Of course it doesn't help that I'm definitely the overly-sentimental type. I'm a total softie deep down and no matter how tough I appear/try to be, I'm really just a gushy mess. It isn't ever pretty when Swiss or my parents have to leave (which they did today after an awesome visit that totally makes me want to get back to Wisconsin), or when I leave my home/hometown. I just don't do goodbyes gracefully. And you know what else doesn't help? I'm a little bit weary. 

Now, I'm not complaining per se. I've got it good great. Healthy family, a husband who is none the worse for the wear after multiple deployments, we are financially sound, I get to go on two (2!) vacations in the next month, we have family and friends who love us... life is good and we are blessed. It's just that Holy Hannah- this retirement/leaving the Army thing is annoying frustrating hard scary intimidating difficult challenging. No, it doesn't help that we are leaving a secure, steady job and diving head-long into a terrible economy with ABYSMAL job markets. And no, it doesn't make things easier when deep down I really wish in my heart of hearts that we could find a way to make it back to the Midwest regardless of the consequences. And no, it doesn't help when neither Swiss nor I can come to grips with the situation as it really is rather than the situation as we are seeing it is and therefore panicking about.

Mostly, I think we are frustrated with the job options ahead of us. (Us and everyone else, right?) We were planning for so long to go the JROTC route for Swiss, then once that was settled, I would decide what road to head down on the quest for a new career. Then, after calling all of our Top 10 assignments, and the Second 10, finding only a handful of sub-prime openings... the picture starts to get muddy and deflating. There is the one in a shady town in a nice state. There is one in a nice town in a nice state (near lots of wine!) but ridiculously far from family. There is the one in the big city rife with crime. There is the one in the middle of nowhere with zero prospects for me and my career. Gone are the assignments that made perfect sense for our family. I don't know if it was bad timing, Karma or fate. But what we are left with looks more like the detritus at the end of Lollapalooza than anything. Oh okay- that's a bit of an overstatement, but after loosing out (or being mislead) on great cities like Denver and Omaha and sweet towns in Maine and Kentucky... we are feeling like somewhere we went wrong. Only we can't figure out how, where or why.

So now we are in recovery mode. Applying for jobs that neither of us really want in locations we think we want. Going to plans B through W trying to find something that will work, even though we both know it means jobs we would likely loathe. Trying to game plan a ridiculous scenario where a JROTC job will be opening up next year (we can apply in April) in a city we like and is close to home, so I find a job and we move there on the blind faith that Swiss can make buddies with the JROTC guys there and get that job in a year.  Because that is a great plan, right?

In any event, I think Swiss and I both need to remember that since he is retiring, there will be money, even if somehow neither of us end up working immediately. There will be checks every month, and though I hate that he will likely be given a high disability percentage, that too will help grow our bank account even more. We aren't going to be living in a van down by the river (see the clip just for kicks). 

We aren't going to be suffering and miserable. And worst case scenario, we wait it out and keep our fingers crossed for that JROTC job next year. (Do I love the idea of being 'homeless', mooching off our families- again- for 8 months? All I can say is UGH. But it certainly is better than the alternative? Right???)

But I guess the moral of the story is that things never really go how you think they will. Not to be pessimistic, because that isn't my nature. But optimism- when leaving the armed forces- won't serve you well. The big government jobs are a bitch to get even if you are qualified (and can take up to a year to finalize), the JROTC listings are 'updated' every 3 days but are really weeks months out of date, and the career market for lots of military folks are either based on who you know or sucking it up and taking some sort of contracting job. Isn't that the rosiest picture you ever did see?

In any event, I think I (and we) just want a solution to the Post-Army question that is haunting us. We want a job, and we want to have direction. We want to be close to home, but we understand (begrudgingly) that it might not be in the cards just yet. We want to get settled and stop playing the I Don't Know game. We want to get our foot in the door so that maybe one day we can get the job/location we really want. And we are mostly just ready to have a plan... that doesn't involve a van down by the river.

05 August 2010

Checking in...

Just checking in. All is fine here, there is lots to update y'all on but my family is here for a bit longer so things will be quiet around this here blog for another couple of days. Hope you all are having a great week!