Stars and Stripes Scene, Sunday, November 8, 2009

Our first four moves as a military family were transoceanic, so I learned early on that moving overseas requires thorough planning and good advice.

Official channels will provide the regulations, guidelines and paperwork for an overseas move, most of which are vital. However, these may not provide complete preparation for life in a foreign location.

I asked some military spouses to offer a few pages from their volumes of overseas moving experience. The focus of last week’s column was making the most of life overseas. This week, it’s all about getting there.

Before the move, talk to someone who lives in your future location, said Amy Blehm, who moved from Germany to Japan this year.

"They gave us realistic expectations, information and advice," she said.

Donna Burrill, who lives in Germany, agreed.

"I think it’s all well and good to have Web sites, but they really don’t have a personal touch," she said, suggesting a sponsorship program for spouses.

"Can’t you just imagine how fantastic it would be as a spouse to actually be in contact with someone real you can ask about what to bring or store, where to get your hair done, what’s a great town to live in, where the dentist is?" Donna asked.

Actively seek personal connections before and after a move, said Elisabeth Ridderhoff, who recently returned to the U.S. from Germany.

"Find someone through your unit, a support group like (chapel) … and start e-mailing them," she said, especially when looking for housing.

"When you get there," said Elisabeth, "ask people when you are out and about — at the BX, commissary, coffee shop or playground — how long they have lived there and to suggest good towns to live in or good places to go see."

Preparing for an overseas move usually involves dividing one’s worldly goods into three categories: Storage (expendable for three years or so), an express shipment (necessary to set up housekeeping) and household goods (everything else.)

Begin this big job by finding out any pertinent regulations, Amy said.

"For example, Japan now has (an Air Force) reg that says everyone has to live on base, unless base housing is full," she said. "If we had to live on base, there would be no way all our furniture would fit. It’s important to know that ahead of time."

There is no one-size-fits-all wisdom about what to take and what to store. For each family, the priorities are different.

Tamra Honchul, now living in Germany, said furniture was an issue when her family moved to Japan.

She said her family followed official guidelines on their move to Japan and stored all their personal furniture.

"We missed our own bed so much during the three years there," she said. "If I went there again, our bed would be the first thing on the truck."

Donna said she would have left more behind to make the most of limited space in her home in Germany.

"I wish we would have left half the Christmas decorations — Christmas junk — currently taking up valuable storage space," she said.

Elisabeth, on the other hand, said she wished she had taken her china on her family’s overseas tour.

"I left it to save space and ended up there for five years without my nice (dishes)," she said. "You need to live life to its fullest while you are there … Take anything you will miss if you are there for three or more years."

For more information or to add your own advice, see the Spouse Calls blog post "Over There."

Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany, her fourth overseas assignment. Contact her at and see the Spouse Calls blog at

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