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Thursday, February 22, 2007

TT #42

Thirteen Things about Military Life in Europe

By which I mean U.S. military, and Germany. And my own personal experiences. YMMV.

  1. MLE. "Military Life in Europe." I probably shouldn't include this, since it's not around anymore, but since it was the inspiration for the post, I will. MLE was a comic in the Stars & Stripes about the quirks and absurdities of military life in Europe. It was irreverent, and we could all relate. Until some pin-headed general decided it wasn't good for morale.

  2. SOFA. Not just living room furniture. It's the Status of Forces Agreement. If you listen to the AFN commercials, it's about when and how local laws apply to servicemembers and their families. But it's also about why you can't get baking potatoes in the commissary and other esoteric things like that.

  3. COLA. Cost of living allowance. Go ahead. Click on the link and read the page about how it's computed. It's really amusing. Live here long enough and you'll come to the same conclusion I did: COLA = however much money is left in the pot at the end of the month. Seriously. It varies from month to month regardless of how much other factors (like the exchange rate) stays the same. However it's computed, though, it's generous.

  4. VAT. Value-added tax. Sales tax, essentially. Now that Germany's is 19%, those VAT forms that get us out of paying it come in very handy. They've become much easier to use. Time was when you had to go to a store, get a bill, take it to the VAT office, pay the VAT office for a check that you take to the store, and then you get the item. Now it's a pain for the stores, because they've got to fill out the forms, but it's easier for us.

  5. USAREUR driver's license. If you're a civilian vacationing in Germany, you can get an international driver's license for $10 or thereabouts, and you can drive. It's just a translation of your stateside license. If you're here with the military, though, you need a US ARmy EURope license. Used to be, the failure rate for the test was 75%. Now you have to take a 4 hour class before taking the test--not that that would help at all if you haven't studied the manual. The link takes you to the manual, by the way. Check it out. The signs test is a pain--not because the signs are hard to understand, but because you have to distinguish between different names for signs that have essentially the same meaning. And the right-of-way questions will make you nuts if you start second-guessing yourself.

  6. OHA. Overseas housing allowance. Go ahead. Play around with it a bit. It's a mess. Granted, our house sucks. But we're 600 euro under our ceiling. That's about $800 less than the maximum amount they'll give us for rent. They figure the ceilings by surveying what people actually pay. Unsurprisingly, the ceilings go up every year. Ours has gone up 250 euro, or about $340 in the 2.5 years we've been here. I seriously think the system needs a drastic overhaul, and that's only partly sour grapes.

  7. Stars & Stripes. Our "hometown" paper. Kind of news lite, a cross between a local small town paper and USA Today. It's got a bit of a bias, but sometimes it'll surprise you.

  8. AAFES. Army and Air Force Exchange Service. Granted, AAFES, as the commercial we see every time we go to the theater, "goes everywhere you go," but overseas, it's your ticket to Americana. It's PXs & BXs (post exchange or base exchange--depends on if it's an army post or an air base), but it's also gas stations, movie theaters, beauty shops, fast food (including Burger King, Popeyes, Taco Bell, & Baskin Robbins), optometry shops (you do not want to pay German prices for glasses!), DVD rental, car dealerships, etc., etc. Contrary to popular civilian opinion, however, AAFES isn't like Wal-Mart. It's not necessarily cheaper. Take movies. I can always get DVDs cheaper online, but it's hard to beat the AAFES theater prices of $3.50 for adults, or $4 for a first-run movie.

  9. APO. Army/AirForce Post Office. A blessing, and a PIA. It's worlds better than it used to be, back when it was APO, NY. Six weeks was a not unusual amount of time to wait for a package to arrive; letters took around two. So if you were ordering something from a catalog, you had to figure at least two months to give time for mailing the order form to the company and then for the package to arrive. I'm not sure why the name changed to APO, AE (Armed Forces Europe), but it tends to confuse people who aren't familiar with it. The USPS delivers the mail to New York (in the case of AE, anyway), and then the military postal service takes it from there.

    Public service announcement: Sending something to an APO address is just like sending it to New York. The only difference is that you'll need one of those little green customs stickers.

  10. Mailroom. This is where you pick up your U.S. mail. It doesn't go to your house, not even if you live on base.

  11. Gas Coupons. You can buy gas at the AAFES stations on post, but especially with the decrease in the number of bases in Europe and the increased security at the ones that are left, a lot of times it's just easier to buy gas at a civilian station. You'll want the coupons. AAFES charges a little more than the average stateside price for gas, but in Germany, gas costs over $5/gallon (it's priced in euro/liter, but that's what it works out to). You take the coupons to any Esso station (or a BP or Aral on the Autobahn). Fortunately, these days, it's easier to find one that's open than it used to be.

  12. AFN. Armed Forces Network. Also, sometimes, AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Service). I'm not sure what the distinction is. AFN TV has one broadcast station, and a handful of premium stations that you can get if you're willing to shell out upwards of $600 for a satellite dish and decoder. (I wasn't. We got a civilian dish instead so we could get German programming.) The good thing about AFN TV is that they'll show a series straight through, from start to finish, with no reruns or weeks off, and no switching the schedule around in the middle of a season. The bad thing is it's a crap shoot what shows you get, and the best ones, of course, go to the premium stations. There aren't any commercials, and this used to be very cool, because you'd get an extra couple of shows a day squeezed in there. Then some pinhead decided it was too confusing for shows not to start on the hour or half hour, so now we're innundated with PSAs and "Pentagon Channel Updates." AFN radio tries to be everything, so depending on the time of day, it's a country/rock/rap/talk radio station. The good thing about AFN radio is that's where you'll find out if there's a snow day for the kids.

  13. DoDDS. Oh, okay. It's DODEA (Department of Defense Education Activity, not Department of Defense Dependents Schools). Everybody still calls it DoDDS. It's the schools for servicemembers' kids overseas. We've had pretty good experiences with it. The school budget comes from the defense budget, so it's not quite as strapped for cash as most stateside public school districts, although there are quirks. Ramstein American High School is chronically short of printer paper, frex. And discipline, including serious things like gangs, drugs, and violence, is not much of a problem at all. That's because it's the DoD, and they've got regulations making parents responsible for their kids. They can also attract some darn good teachers who want a working vacation in Europe.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!

  1. Ms.George: books
  2. ChelleY: celebrities
  3. Raggedy: who's working?
  4. Wacky Mommy: Wacky Dog
  5. Friday's Child: wisdom
  6. Susan Helene Gottfried: the end of TT
  7. Melody: Booking Through Thursday
  8. Kristarella: Evangelicalism
  9. Julia's niece Trish
  10. JohnH985: conspiracy theories
  11. Gattina: annoying friends
  12. Retta: continuing TT
  13. Nancy: the end of TT
  14. Sparky Duck: what's in a name
  15. Annie: stuff to touch
  16. Caryle: books TBB
  17. Carmen: Pooh Bear's secrets
  18. Thomma Lyn: random
  19. Christine's progress on her goals
  20. Amy Ruttan's RWA chapter
  21. pictures of Tink
  22. Candy Minx: hungry?
  23. Frances: summer
  24. Gabriella Hewitt: authors
  25. SpyScribbler: Jack Bauer jokes
  26. Doug: Keith Olbermann
  27. what's on Alyssa Goodnight's mind
  28. You're next!

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!




Very informative post. I had no idea about most of this, so I thank you. I notice that you like to read as much as I do.
Be safe (and thank you to whomever in your life is in the military; if it's you, thank you!).
Military life is so interesting to me. I do not think I would love the "moving" too much. My dad worked for IBM when we were younger and we moved every four years. I thought that was bad! :)

Thursday Thirteen has come to an end!
I have enjoyed my visits and consider us friends.
Thank you for sharing your thirteens with me.
The comments you left me filled me with glee.
It is hard to believe it is really true.
I am trying very hard to not be blue.
Happy TT'ing!
(")_ (")Š
That was a most informative list. I remember reading novels about military families when I was a kid and being fascinated by them. Take care, everyone.
That was nice to know. At least when someone says sofa, I should think twice first before thinking that it is something to sit on.
Mine is up too.
Happy final TT!

I don't think I could survive military life... too many acronyms!
Wow, that's a very informative post, Darla! Thanks for sharing.
Wow! Sounds complicated. I guess after 2 and a half years you know it all by now though. Glad the COLA is generous! Be a big bummer if it was silly *and* stingy.
Hey Darla - I know you have been in military, but learning all this information is interesting. I guess I should learn the meaning of SOFA and COLA the next time I hear these words :)

It too bad that TTs is going to retirement. But I know that you and I going to continue to chat with each other here ;)

Happy last day TTs to you and everyone here! Gonna miss this chatting!

Here is Mine!
Very cool list. My Dad was in the military and we moved around a bit when I was growing up but never overseas.

My 13 are up.
I read it all, it was so interesting to know a little more about american soldiers in Germany. In Germany the gas prices are not that high, it's worse in Italy, France and the UK. Here in Belgium we pay about 1.40/liter.
Informative to all us civilians ;) I knew a few of those my dad was stationed in Germany for several years too. Lots of interesting things there.
OK, I am totally clueless about the Military. Thanks for informing us.

I can't tell if all these allowances mean you are doing OK financially or not.
sounds like some great stuff -rolls eyes- We have trouble getting our mail from the box 10 feet away, I would have big trouble going to another building to get it
I left one comment but I think Blogger ate it :(

What an incredible list. I don't think I'd do well getting my head wrapped around all of that.

Also want to add that if you don't continue with TT (since this is supposedly the last official week), I just want to say that I've really enjoyed your lists every week and looked forward to seeing you stop by mine. So thank you!!
These are the sort of things that would drive me absolutely batty. I have a hard enough time picking up my mail, ordering things on time, and dealing with the department of motor vehicles as it is. :)

I have a list up today, and it's about books! Stop on over and say hello.
my sister married military, so she'll have all this to look forward to.
Fascinating post! Thanks for sharing. :)

My TT is up -- Thirteen Random Thoughts. I hate TT is coming to an end, but I'm glad to have met so many great folks.

Happy Thursday!
My sister-in-law lived all over as her husband got transfered. It's amazing to see how everything works.

Happy last TT and thanks for visiting my site! Keep in touch. :)
Very interesting to read! I didn't know all of that.
I hope someone takes over TT, so we can continue doing this!
Thanks for visiting my picture TT today.
Very interesting list. I was unaware of all that. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for dropping by mine!
This waas very cool and gave me many memories of my past.

I hope we can stay in contact even if TT is truly gone away...I love reading your blog, your reading recommendations and all the feelings and ideas you share.

I hope you have time to drop by my blog and I will also link your blog to mine. I think you might find todays list of mine kind of fun...

here it is:

What an interesting post. I feel so in the know lol.
Thanks for visiting.
I'm so sad that the site is closing.
A most interesting insight into military life.

I feel educated today:)
Fascinating! So much I didn't know. I wish we had the AFN. That is totally awesome!

(Except for the PSAs and updates. Commercial-free television is the best!)

Happy TT!
You forgot FUBAR :)
I learn so much when I visit you! And your lists are so creative.

Happy T13!
Thanks for the memories! Almost 30 yrs as a military spouse for me, 3 in Giessen and 1 in Berlin.
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