It's been a long time since I've posted - mostly I've been busy. Then again, I've heard that "being busy" is never a good excuse; the reality is that you make time for things that are important. So... I guess that means that recording the trials and tribulations of the last year have not been as important as "other stuff".
One of the benefits afforded to us based on our overseas duty is that we get a free ticket home once every two years (or two times over the course of three years). It just so happened that we were in the US taking advantage of these tickets home when a truly unthinkable event took place. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_2016_Dhaka_attack This was a location close to our homes, within the "safe zone" and a restaurant often frequented by embassy members. Witnessing the news reports from afar was bad enough, but what quickly followed was the realization that as family members, we were not going to be allowed to return.
We were "stuck out", left with only what we had packed in our suitcases for summer vacation in a location that actually had four seasons. We got less than one week notice that J would be doing his next (and final) year in Dhaka unaccompanied. There was always a chance that things would improve to a point where we could return, but based on our own observations over the past few years there, we found that to be unlikely.
Being in the military and being assigned to an embassy is not that unusual, but when compared to the number of people doing "other things" in the Army, there's not a lot of knowledge out there on what happens in a situation like ours. Tracking down the people who have the answers and then convincing everyone else that they're actually supposed to help you has been... difficult.
Our first six months stateside, we're supposed to receive a living stipend to help offset expenses. We chose to live with family because we had no idea what our future assignment might be, and - let's face it - unaccompanied tours with kids are tough. Sometimes just having an extra set of hands is a godsend. This meant we were not eligible to receive a housing stipend, but were still entitled to a meal allowance. Our evacuation lasted from July until January (at which point the post became officially unaccompanied and all evacuation allowances stopped). Our point of contact in Hawaii who was handling the financial piece of this often went weeks or months without responding, so our reimbursement for expenses was significantly delayed. It didn't help of course that our evacuation spanned a change in fiscal year (which required an entirely new set of orders with new fiscal year data in order to allow for payment). Sometime around mid-March I finally got our settlement for accrued payments due from October-January.
Once those payments were taken care of, we started our process of trying to work out the other financial kinks:
The Basic Allowance for Housing was supposed to kick in at the end of the evacuation (January).
The Separation Allowance was supposed to start after the first 30 days (February).
J had to have other allowances he had been receiving in Dhaka stopped based on the fact that we are no longer with him.
As of mid-May, we are still waiting for any of these actions to process. Things slip through the cracks, email boxes get filled to overflowing every single day, and stuff happens. I get this.
The other piece of the evacuation involves our "stuff". Without us there, J has little need for all of our clothes, toys, and assorted items. He was able to get approval for a small shipment shortly after the evacuation was announced that allowed him to send home basic essentials, but we were restricted on weight. After it was determined the evacuation would become permanent, he had to request a new set of orders to allow him to ship home all of our other household goods. These orders took from January until the end of March to generate. Again, it becomes an issue of tracking down the right person in the right office to figure these things out since they're just not done very often.
Initially, Hawaii thought we would need to have an Early Return of Dependents approved, since that's generally the process to have family members (and their things) returned stateside. However, we were ALREADY stateside, so the final determination was that an ERD was not required. A new set of orders was cut granting approval for J to ship our HHG home in accordance with evacuation regulations.
Having purchased a home in the meantime (with a power of attorney), I began preparations to get our furniture out of storage and delivered to us in the DC area. Generally, this is handled by the nearest military installation, so I called Ft. Belvoir. After three days of no response, they called to tell me they couldn't help me - I needed to call the military installation that had put my items in storage. Now, I know this to be false. I know that in fact Ft. Belvoir is supposed to help me. But as much as it sometimes pains me to use the path of least resistance instead of pushing for things to be done the "right" way, I offered to try things their way. I called Eglin AFB and explained my situation. Naturally, the first thing they told me was that my nearest military installation is supposed to handle this for me. When I explained that I had already contacted my nearest installation, he offered to call instead on my behalf. He called me back 5 minutes later and said Belvoir was not going to help. He asked me to send all of the orders I had to him and he would take care of everything.
After receiving the papers, I got the dreaded (yet somehow expected) phone call that there was no funding in any of the orders I sent him to authorize payment to bring my items out of storage - nor was I as a the dependent authorized to do any of this without a power of attorney. Now, luckily I have one, but I was highly entertained when he commented that "normally" in these situations, an Early Return of Dependents order is cut to authorize all of these things. Right... Back to the ERD that Hawaii decided we did not need. His final words to me on he phone today were, "We'll get through this, ma'am." Sometimes it's these little things - hearing that someone else has an interest in making things right - that helps me make sense of the madness.
And so now I wait - again. For someone to start my housing allowance, for someone to authorize me to get my furniture out of storage, for someone to decide yet again that they "know" what really needs to be done.
I remain thankful that I have family here to help with the day to day things. I remain thankful that we have a home we will be moving in to (once we get our furniture) and a car to easily accommodate all of our day-to-day commitments. Eventually J will get orders to come home and we will be together again. On the practical side, I remain thankful that we have been fortunate enough to have the financial assets to "flex" and cover all of our expenses while we wait for the reimbursement to catch up with us.