(Photos at the bottom)
One month ago today the family of five departed Korea and made the trek to our third active duty station in Alaska. We lived in AK from 2002-2009 and requested to be stationed here. It is not often military families get to move somewhere familiar, so we jumped at the opportunity even though it is known to be a harsh environment. Korea seemed determined to keep us (and many others) as moving in the military during the COVID madness resulted in additional hoops to jump through. We were originally scheduled to complete our tour in mid-June but got delayed nearly a month. That doesn't sound too bad but it was the unknown that proved most difficult for me. Since around springtime, I did not know for sure that we would actually be allowed to leave after our two-years were completed. High levels had discussed various options concerning those in the summer move cycle and I believed it was highly possible we would get extended for six months to a year. It was an ever-changing situation and an emotional roller coaster. All of us felt more than ready to get back to the States. However, in the last couple months we did find a very meaningful cause to spearhead. I will write a future post about that but it concerned creating a community-wide support system for military affiliated people coming into Korea and being quarantined. That initiative exploded and easily became the most effective thing we have done to meet very real needs in such a short period of time. But more on that soon.
Finally, we received all the signatures and stamps authorizing us to leave. However, Korea gave it one final attempt to stop us. Moving overseas with kids and pets is a mountain of a challenge and can result in unanticipated complications. I began to refer to these troubles as sniper fire. No matter how much focus and planning we put into it, inevitably a problem will arise from somewhere unexpected. A few days before travel a miserable cold began circulating through our family. Levi spiked a fever but thankfully he did not have it on flight day since they conducted temperature checks on us three times before getting on the plane. Most of us were less than 100% on fly-day, but there was no way on earth we were not getting on a plane if I could help it. At Incheon International we gave the desk worker our paperwork and the all-important pet clearance paperwork. This was the moment of truth since the airlines have very strict rules about pet travel and the paperwork has no margin for error. Everything checked out and I looked behind me at Amanda with a promising expression. But it was too good to be true. The next thing the worker said as she looked at her computer screen was, "Um, well, the thing is..." I thought, "Here comes the sniper fire." She proceeded to explain that Delta had overbooked pet space on our flight. Our two cats were one too many (only totaling about 5 pets on the plane) and that meant we could not fly. (Heart rate and blood pressure spiking.) Even with military orders and sensible argument, they would not make an exception even though it was Delta's mistake. She called supervisors multiple times trying to find a solution and Amanda got on the phone with reservations as well. After 2-3 hours, no success. Apparently having one more cat on a 747 would risk taking the plane into the Pacific. Like many large corporations, policies are put before people. I found it unbelievably ridiculous that they would not make an exception given their mistake. Long story short, we were re-booked for a flight 8 hours after our scheduled departure. I had often wondered how it would feel to be on the plane back home. I envisioned feelings of relief and joy for completing my overseas time. But as we taxied down the runway and took off, physically and emotionally drained, I felt somewhat numb but also angry about the previous months of confusion, frustration, and uncertainty culminating with our pet crisis. The Chinese Coronavirus had changed the world as we know it in such a short time. A small part of that fallout resulted in unbelievably challenging situations for many military service members and families preparing for or already in transit. (More about that soon.) Due to the flight change we had the privilege of riding one extra plane on the journey to Alaska. By the time we got to San Francisco our poor kitties had been in their little carriers for 20 hours. Amanda found a bathroom area and let the stretch their legs and then we continued our trip.
At long last we arrived in Fairbanks near midnight local time; sun still out and that did not bother me a bit. The first thing I noticed when I stepped outside was the air. It felt clear and wonderful to breathe. Korea air is often polluted and after living with that for two years, just breathing in natural, clean air felt heavenly. Thanks to the COVID craziness, we were required to self-quarantine for 14 days before transitioning into Ft. Wainwright. No argument from me. It was like two weeks of free leave with some loose restrictions in place. We had a sweet cabin style hotel type of setup off post. The past 25 months, and particularly the previous six, proved quite demanding and we felt so happy to be...home.