Air Force families on the move

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, MO., -- Have you ever noticed that there is a certain life cycle about assignments?

We all start out at square one when we find out the answer to the "where" question. Maps are pulled out, calendars consulted, friends are called. "Have you ever been to North Fogbound Air Force Base? What was it like? Do you know anybody there? Would you want to go there again?"

After a flurry of orders, red tape and cardboard ... poof ! ... you are now at your new assignment. In-processing, orientation and double checking that the checkers have checked everything. A lot of smiles, handshakes and names pile up but are not readily remembered just yet. A new address and phone has to be written down. Maybe there are signs and voices in an as yet unintelligible language. Hey, there's the BX! At least now I recognize something familiar ...

Toward the middle of a tour, things are pretty stable. We fly at cruising altitude in the job. We know people. We have the answers. We've done everything at least once and big surprises, if any, are pretty rare. We know the forms. We have copies of the Air Force Instructions. We know who the subject matter experts are. "Yes, sir, I have that right here!" Stable, cruising, flying in the green.

Later in the tour, we are noticing a lot of "new guys" and there are few others who have been there as long. We go home and speculate about how nice it might be in a Hawaiian paradise, how the hunting would be on a tour in Alaska, or how cool it would be to have the kids in Virginia, with Washington, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and Williamsburg all within easy reach. We feel really competent at work, have been there and done that, but maybe something a little different would be fun. Hmmmm. What about a little special duty or a short tour? What if I worked out of my Air Force Specialty Code, but just for a little while? How hard would it be to speak a little Japanese? I can already say "Subaru."

The phone rings. "I'm going where?"

There are some things you can do to make this all a little bit easier. Here are a few ideas:

Keep your goals flexible

Try to think of a region or a country in general terms. If you have your heart set on Spangdahlem, you may wait a long, long time. Maybe you will never get there. But if you think in terms of "Germany," you multiply your chances of being satisfied. If you expand your goal still further to "Europe," you now have many chances in hand, not just one.

Research

The Internet gives a multitude of information about culture, weather, geography, travel, history and educational opportunities. If you know nothing at all about South Carolina, thirty minutes on an Internet search engine can give you a lot in the way of a starting point. Searching a state name followed by ".gov" is often useful. Pull up a map online. Look for some of the major towns near the base. Often there are links to a local chamber of commerce, a state travel information bureau, church listings or local realtors. Any of these may be able to assist with more detail and most are friendly folks who are happy to help a soon to be newcomer. 

Network

You know somebody. They know somebody else. Surely somebody knows somebody who has served a tour at North Fogbound and they can tell you some things. Chances are if you ask enough people, you can not only talk with someone who has been there, but they might know someone who is currently there. Now you have a point of contact and maybe even an "unofficial sponsor" of sorts who can clue you in on the territory. Look up the base website and see what it says. You may find a wealth of information, plus some handy phone numbers you might need, perhaps for booking a room for temporary lodging or calling the gaining unit to ask for some details about your new assignment.

Communicate with family

Let your spouse, kids and relatives know what is going on. It will keep them informed, help them to plan ahead and they can help you too. While you are busy turning aircraft, seeing patients or providing base security, perhaps your spouse can be making a few calls, doing some of the Internet research, or possibly contacting a realtor or a chamber of commerce office. Looks like time to think about lightening the ship too, with a yard sale, doing some aggressive spring cleaning or some bags of unused clothes going to a charity or church donation box. Remember in "Star Wars" when the star destroyer jettisoned trash just before the jump to hyperspace? Now it is your turn!

Practice stress management

We hear a lot about stress management. Often it is put in terms of only negative things. But stress management is not just about what to do when the roof caves in. It is also about managing stress that comes as a natural by-product of positive events. Weddings, graduations and promotions can all be examples of positive stress. Maybe you tried to get to Hawaii for ten years and...oh, excuse me, there's the phone ... where? Hawaii!!! OK, the dream comes true, put it still has stress. Positive stress this time, which is inherently a better deal, but it is still stressful in its own way. New job, new house, new boss and new neighbors. Change of address forms. Switching the mail. Making sure the bank knows where we are. Changes in distance from close friends and from other family. Even with a dream assignment, there is still the geography that changes and so now we are way closer to Grandpa and Grandma, or maybe now we are really far away. Hawaii is great but it is a heck of a long drive from there to Connecticut. So, plans change and new ways of doing business emerge. Maybe now Grandpa and Grandma can come to our house for Christmas instead of the other way around. Don't forget the basic building blocks of any good stress management effort: getting sleep, eating right, getting exercise, staying current on your medical and dental care and always, always do a little something recreational for yourself and your loved ones. We spend lots of time and effort on aircraft maintenance, weapons maintenance, records maintenance and vehicle maintenance ... don't forget about personal maintenance!

If you have a lot of time to prepare or just a little, there is still much of the above that can be accomplished in fairly short order. Knowledge is your friend. Research, plan, communicate ... and by the way, friend, good luck at North Fogbound!

Editor's Note: Dr. Tom Patterson is a retired Army Social Work Officer with 35 years of practice, specializing in marital counseling and military mental health. He can be reached at the Mental Health Clinic at (660) 687-4341.