Well, friends, Nick, Rosie (the dog) and I have arrived at the base lodge in Germany!
Before we left, people asked me a lot of questions about our travel. What kind of airplane would we fly on? Would it be a military airport or a civilian airport? How long is the flight? What’s the time difference?
We flew out of the international terminal of a civilian airport on the U.S. East Coast. Inside the terminal was an entire wing dedicated to military flights.
We flew a military charter flight, and it was my understanding that our pilot and copilot were Air Force airmen. Our stewards seemed to be civilian, but I’m not entirely sure about that.
There were both families and individual service members on board. Some were in uniform, and some were in civilian clothes. Some, like us, were PCSing to Germany. Others were going on to Italy, or to deployments elsewhere.
The plane had normal-style seats. There were small pillows and blankets on each seat, and there were 10 seats in each row. They served beverages, two small snacks, and a typical airplane dinner meal.
There were touchpad screens mounted on the back of each seat that offered TV shows, movies, games, and a real-time flight map. We left the East Coast at midnight, and we arrived in Ramstein approximately 7 hours later.
Once we landed at Ramstein Air Base, they de-boarded beginning with high-ranking leaders; colonels and CW5s and sergeants major. After that, they asked anyone continuing on to Italy to de-board. Finally (we’d been at our gate for 30 minutes or so by this time), they allowed the rest of us to leave the plane.
We were sorted by branch. All of the Army families were taken into a tile-floored, high-ceiling room that had storage shelves on all sides. Above each section of shelves was the name of an Army post in Germany, and we were instructed to put our bags (including pets, for those of us traveling with dogs or cats) on the shelves below our assigned duty stations.
We were then filed into a large waiting area, not dissimilar to the DMV or Social Security Administration office. There was row after row of waiting room chairs with a few desks near the front of the room. To the right was a USO concession area, and to the left were two laptops where you could wait in line to check email.
An hour or more into waiting there, they finally allowed us to walk our pets outside. We had to be accompanied by a Ramstein employee, and we were directed to a designated grassy area to walk our dogs on-leash. Our poor dog, Rosie, hates to travel, and she’s terrified of her carrier crate. If you put her in the belly of a plane inside a carrier for 10+ hours, she turns into a crazy-eyed, shaking, mess. By the time she was able to empty her tiny little bladder, she had to have been bursting at the seams. Thankfully, she survived the trip with trauma that appears to have been only temporary.
After pets were to relive themselves, smokers were escorted outside in groups of 5 while the rest of us waited. Nick and I read books and periodically exchanged comments about things around us. Mostly though, we were tired and a little fuzzy from the redeye flight and the new time zone.
Once all of the smokers were finished outside, a soldier stood at the front of the room calling out the last four digits of each soldier’s social security number. For each 4-digit number, a soldier would sound off and then walk to the front of the room to retrieve a sheet of paper that was part of his or her official orders. This went on until every single soldier had retrieved his or her document.
We’d been on the ground for nearly three hours at this point, and Nick and I began to wonder if we’d make it to Wiesbaden (a little over an hour away from Ramstein) in time to drop Rosie off at the kennel where she’d be staying for our first two nights in country.
All of the soldiers & families in the waiting area were PCSing to Germany. Some, including us, were being bussed to their new stations this afternoon, while others were being put up overnight in a hotel at Ramstein so that they could be transported to their duty assignments tomorrow. The staff called out duty stations one by one, and as they did, families would retrieve their luggage (and pets, where applicable) and leave the waiting area to board a bus to either their destination post or to their Ramstein hotel.
Late in the afternoon, we were finally place onboard a charter bus headed to Wiesbaden with two other families. Our driver was a 60-some German man who sang along with the polka-like German radio songs and made “brrrr” noises or buzzed his lips when he merged onto the Autobahn or accelerated. I wondered if they paid him extra to give us such an authentic German cultural experience on the bus ride to our post.
One of Nick’s new lieutenants met us at our hotel in Wiesbaden, briefing him informally on what his next two days hold. He helped us with our luggage, answered our questions, helped us check in, and gave us the great news that a pet-friendly room had become available for us so that Rosie wouldn’t need to be kenneled, after all. I don’t know much about this lieutenant yet, but that last bit of good news alone was enough to make me smile.
Our day ended with a walk to the Post Exchange to pick up a few toiletries and find dinner. It felt a little bit strange to eat Subway (me) and Popeye’s (him) as our first meals in Germany, but I guess that this is what it’s like to move abroad with the Army.
If you made it this far into this post, you’re either a total trooper or you’re wayyyy too fascinated by the details of a crazy-long travel day. Either way, thanks for taking this little journey with us, and I’ll be sure to keep the next post shorter and sweeter (and maybe even include some pictures!).