We ended up leaving Thursday afternoon in quite a hurry. I really didn't anticipate leaving that soon because of our dogs and how slow the flights out had been, but it turned out that once the momentum built up, they sure weren't messing around getting people out! I had been mostly packed for days, but being the procrastinator I am, I wasn't truly ready to leave on Thursday… but oh well!
Here's the kiddos posing in front of our glorious base housing. It was really strange leaving the house since we won't be going back! I have been ready to move, but it was weird leaving so suddenly the way we did.
Alex wanted to help pull the luggage to our meeting point...
but quickly delegated the job to Lance
The chitlins (as daddy and I like to call them…or sometimes shitlins) posing with the doggies before their flight!
We all had to meet up at the movie theater to initially check in and make sure we had the appropriate paperwork, then head over to another meeting point to talk to many departments and officially check in, and FINALLY head over to the hangar and sit around and wait for our flight. We had to wait a few hours since they were a little backed up from the previous flight, but despite how incredibly cold it got in those few hours, the base really did a great job putting all of this together.
(Forgive the yellow-ness of the pics… its the lighting of the hangar). They had areas set up for the kids to play, cots set up to rest on, snacks set up, and we could even meet up with our dogs one more time for a final walking.
Which… in hindsight I regret doing. As it turns out, walking your dog in the dark where lots of other dogs were just walking leaves a plethora of land mines. Which means that when you sit on your cot Indian style (oooo… how un-PC of me), smear dog poopoo on your jeans, and not realize that the atrocious smell is actually you. Right before you board an international flight. With nowhere to clean yourself up because all they have there are portapotties and Purel. Crap.
Lance had a blast on these mats intended for the movie viewing area, which ended up being the 2nd-4th grade boys' wrestling ring.
He sorta got his butt kicked.
Poor Alex had been sick for days, and just when I thought she was starting to get over it, being stuck in the cold for hours just reignited her terrible cough.
The kids were so excited to get going! The kids realized that this was the last time they would be standing on Japanese soil for possibly the rest of their lives, and we all had our "wow…" moment.
Our flight was long, but pretty uneventful. Initially we thought we were flying to Seattle, but it turned out we landed in Anchorage to refuel, then flew straight to Travis Air Force Base for our stateside processing. It was really cool to see the "welcome" sign… what a way to come back home!
I honestly cannot say enough good things about how the amazing people at Travis handled us. They went way, way above and beyond their duties and I am still speechless over how wonderful they all were. We arrived at about 7pm, and they had nearly as many volunteers there as there were of us. They had tons of food, play areas for kids, toiletries, calling cards, and any other comforts or conveniences we could use while we waited. We had to do a whole 'nother round of processing (geez!), but I understand that the military needs to keep track of its people and all of the things that goes along with it (such as our housing, medical benefits, etc.)
We were one of the last families called, and it actually worked out in our favor. They had been working long before our arrival to have our connecting commercial flights booked for us, as well as our hotels according to which airport we would be going to. Remembering what a gigantic ordeal it was getting Zeus (the Great Dane) TO Japan, I knew I had to talk to the travel people regarding out tickets. I had listed that I wanted to go back to Virginia Beach (therefore the Norfolk airport), however they do not have planes at that airport big enough to accommodate Zeus's crate. To get Zeus to Japan, my mother had to drive 3.5 hours up to D.C. to get him on a flight at Dulles. I was sure I would encounter this same problem.
The travel agent worked her tail off trying to figure out if we could in fact fly into Norfolk, avoiding going to D.C. and having to drive myself down to my mom's. After lots of trial and error, she finally got our flight, but no luck on Norfolk. The entire time, a slew of people kept an eye on the kids, offering us snacks and drinks, helped the kids to the restrooms (since I was busy with paperwork stuff), and just being so sympathetic and helpful in every regard. Zeus's flight hassle ended up taking so long that every family had already been bussed to their respective hotels, and we were the only ones left. So what happened? They had our own special bus with a handicap lift (for the huge crate), as well as a 4 airmen escort, all the way to my hotel which was an hour and a half away! We were being flown out of San Francisco, and so those awesome Air Force members drove us that long way, walked our dogs at the hotel, then brought all of our luggage and crates up to our sixth floor room!! Talk about first class service! I felt so honored that these guys were so gracious, generous, and sincere about their caring for what they were doing.
By the time we were in our room and settled, it was 2am and we pretty much crashed right away (after my 15 minute panic attack where I thought I left my folder with every shred of importance and identity on the bus…turns out I brilliantly tucked it in Alex's backpack.)
The next day I waited for the airport shuttle early (in the event that there was a problem with getting Zeus there), and guess who happened to be there? One of the guys from the night before who helped me with Zeus! He was escorting another bus of new arrivals to the hotel, and he remembered me and rushed over and helped load him in the shuttle!! That really made my day.
Our flight from San Francisco to D.C. was overnight, and we arrived on the east coast at 6am… and I didn't sleep a wink. I had to rent a big ole' vehicle that would hopefully fit Zeus's crate and our luggage, and since it didn't, I just ditched his crate. I was too tired and didn't care (plus it was slightly damaged, so I didn't feel as guilty). I got to relearn how to drive in the States with a rental on the interstate in D.C. with a giant dog trying to give me kisses from behind my seat. Yes, you could say I was slightly nervous. It actually was a great way to get back on the road because the traffic wasn't bad, and all I had to do was drive straight on, so after three hours of driving, I felt confident enough to get on smaller streets. Before we made the bulk of the trip, however, I had to stop and get breakfast at Chik-Fil-A! Oh, boy was it glorious!! There is so much food that I have been missing, and that was definitely high on my list.
We drove to my mom's house and have been hanging out since! It was great to see the people I have seen so far, but its so strange to see how much people have changed! Its easy for the years to slip by, and sometimes I think that four years isn't that long. It really is though… its been nearly half a decade since I've seen my family and been here in the States. Alex just finished kindergarten when we moved, and now she's almost ten years old. Lance Jr still wore diapers at night, and now he has almost all of his front permanent teeth. If I see how much the people I love have changed, I can only imagine what is running through their minds when they see me, but especially my kids.
I have really enjoyed my time in Japan, but it was time for our family to finally come home after all these years. We are waiting for Lance to be reunited with us in a few short months, and in the meantime, the kids and I will enjoy our time with the grandparents before we move on to Washington state. Once Lance is back home in our arms, we are going to soak up every moment we can with him, after these rough couple of years of having him away so much. I'm excited to start this new adventure in our lives, and it will be interesting to reflect three years from now, when we transfer again (not evacuate!!), how much has changed in those quick few years.