The COVID-19 pandemic made an already stressful PCS (going OCONUS from a remote duty station after 3 years away from “normal” Army life) even more complicated! However, one good thing that came of this situation was, instead of spending weeks in a hotel while we secured housing, the Army assigned our housing before we left the States. This meant we could do the mandatory 2-week strict quarantine in our new house instead of a hotel room. And when I say “strict quarantine,” I mean it was strict. No leaving our houses or yards for any reason, not even for groceries. Anyone dropping off groceries (or delivering my kitty cat!) was required to ring the doorbell, drop the items on the porch, and walk away before opening the door.
I should add in here that, for months as I read about fellow military spouses’ experiences with their PCS to Germany, my worries grew exponentially. One of the biggest stress points for me was someone else picking our house for the next 3 years (out of only 2 options.) Y’all know I’m a picky person, and I was worried that our house wouldn’t meet our family’s needs (aka end up in a stairwell apartment.) Even though Andy and I picked out our rental house in Iowa, we essentially jumped at the first house we could get because we were essentially homeless (living in a borrowed camper.) While that house will remain fond in our memories as the home where we brought home our first baby, it was not ideal pre-baby and definitely not after he arrived. By the time we began packing up for the PCS, we were beyond ready to be out of that house for a few different reasons. Nonetheless, while picking our German house from a grainy iPhone video at 0300 wasn’t ideal, it worked out. We ended up in a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom townhouse with a large yard and basement. We love our new home, neighborhood, and village!
Our first few hours in Germany were spent on-post, having our military IDs processed in the computer system to prevent us from accessing base while in quarantine. It took over 2 hours, so it was 12:30 am by the time our sponsor dropped us off at our new house. It took another hour to figure out the radiators, set up Drew’s Pack & Play, and get settled in for bed. However, we didn’t do a great job at figuring out the radiators – in the middle of the night, it got uncomfortably cold, so much so that we brought Drew into our bed to sleep. It turns out our sponsor didn’t bleed the radiators for us – and of course, we had no tools with us – so we were stuck to freeze until the housing office could fix the issue. Thankfully, the next day I put out an SOS on the spouses’ page, and a neighbor loaned us her spare space heaters.
Our first day in Germany was spent catching up on lost sleep, for which I am very thankful because I was starving, and the sleep obviously distracted me from my hunger. Other than our midnight run through the McDonalds drive-thru before arriving at our house, we hadn’t had an actual meal (beyond snacks) in 2 days. Our sponsor* also didn’t have any groceries for us in our house before we arrived, so it was nearly 3 pm when another soldier brought us some food.
*Side note: A “sponsor” is someone from your spouse’s incoming unit that is supposed to help facilitate an easier OCONUS move. We did not have a great sponsor experience, and many improvements could be made to the sponsor process. That’s all I’ll say about that 😉
While we were in quarantine, our cat Gracie arrived at our new home! She had quite the adventure after we dropped her off in Chicago. She spent 4 nights at the kennel before her flight to Frankfurt. Unfortunately, upon her arrival in Germany, the customs officials discovered her original USDA-certified health certificate was missing. This form was absolutely required for her import, so the poor girl had to spend the night in customs. The airline searched for the original form in their Chicago office and sent it on the next flight overseas. After clearing customs, she had a 3-hour drive to Grafenwöhr, where she was finally dropped off at her new house. Drew was ecstatic to see his kitty again!! Gracie was glad to see her people again but mostly glad to be out of the crate!
Being imprisoned in our house for 14 days was a strange experience. There was so much to see and do in Germany, but we couldn’t leave our backyard! Since our unaccompanied baggage wasn’t permitted to be delivered until we were out of quarantine, all we had was 5 suitcases and a Pack & Play. Having played with our minimal selection of toys in the Baltimore hotel, Drew quickly tired of them. He’s an outdoor baby through-and-through, so I walked him in his stroller around the backyard and sat on the porch to watch the Army aviators fly past our house to the nearby airfield. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep him entertained – he’s incredibly social and loves people – so it was a tough 2 weeks for all of us. He ended up watching an insane amount of Baby Einstein, Barney, and Baby Signing Time, but I have no regrets because we were just trying to survive!
We worked on a few home improvement projects, but honestly, there wasn’t much that needed to be done in our house! Since it was the rainy season, we couldn’t do anything in the yard (like re-seeding) and not having our stuff meant we couldn’t organize and decorate. Instead, our two projects were covering a wardrobe with contact paper and faux shiplap on the living room walls. Time will tell how those projects turned out.
I knew the 2-week quarantine would be tough, but it was worse than I had expected. So much so that I decided to end my temporary leave of absence from my job early and return to work while still quarantined. At least I’d have something to do and a way to help the hours fly by, plus I’d be able to earn money again, which is always nice 😉 I think I’ve mentioned it on here before, but I LOVE my job and working in Human Resources. I’m so grateful to keep doing what I love from halfway around the world despite a 9-hour time difference from my supervisor/company. Many military spouses at overseas assignments aren’t able to find employment or legally cannot work due to SOFA issues (for example, Italy!) The ones who are lucky enough to find work usually work outside of their career field. But thanks to my awesome remote job, I can keep working in my career field doing the same thing I was doing before we moved. It’s sadly not the norm in military life, but I wish it were!
Finally, our quarantine ended on October 20. Even Drew was so excited to be where the people are that he woke us up at 0500, ready to start the day! I’ll share our “first” real impressions about Germany in a future post.
Lastly, I recognize the immense privilege we had that the only inconvenience we had during the pandemic was staying in our nice house as we moved to Europe. We are very grateful to have our jobs, our health, etc.