Becoming Deployment Champs – June Series

Champions.

After this this month’s series, you’ll be exactly that – deployment champs. So without further ado, I’m excited to introduce the June Series at The Real Sweetheart: Becoming Deployment Champs!

Not only are we doing a new series, but we also have two guest bloggers this month – Kaitlin Haugen and Marjorie Santiago! Both are significant others of soldiers and have dealt with deployments and are here to share their wisdom to fellow newbie wives! I’m thrilled to have them on board!

*Little Photo Bios Below!*

deplotmentfeature

 So stay tuned every week! The bloggers here will be throwing deployment wisdom out to you left and right. You’ll be a champ before you know it! Be prepared to kick deployments in their butt! HOOAH! (okay, okay – I know the hooah was dorky, but I had too… 😉 )

Lauren

Becoming Deployment Champs! Posts:

Getting Ready to Make the Move – PCS Style!

Packing Up and Moving Out.

Try bulk packing hanging clothes by surrounding them with a clean trash bag! *Photo and Idea by

Try bulk packing hanging clothes by surrounding them with a clean trash bag! *Photo and Idea by The Wicker House blog.

This part of a PCS is probably the most calming for me, because I’m dealing with things I know. This is time to organize, throw away any junk and clean! So pop a DVD, or two, or three, into the player and get to packing!

Here are Some Packing Tips to Help You Out!

  1. Start packing the little stuff first. Knick-knacks, pictures, art on the wall – Dust it off and pack it up! *Head to U-Haul and pick up packing paper. Make sure to use it liberally!
  2. Pack well. *Remember you are not moving across town with a PCS. Boxes should be packed tightly, yet not overpacked. The right size box for the right stuff works wonders!
  3. Go to the Dollar Tree and get Color Coding Labels. *These colored dots make it easy to tell what boxes are for what room.
  4. Go tape happy when securing the boxes! *I promise you won’t be sorry! Even try using masking tape on mirrors or picture frame glass – this gives the fragile object a little more support during the move.
  5. If you have extra time, number the boxes and write the contents down on a Packing List. *This way you can make sure no boxes were lost during the move if the military is moving you. And if one was lost, what the contents inside them were.
  6. Leave the kitchen and bathroom for last. *Your family will be thankful they can still make something to eat!
  7. Plan ahead outfits to keep out and rotate washing. *This will keep you out of digging through your boxes a couple days later. Trust me – I was one of those box diggers and wished I had just planned out my outfits! Remember to wear moving clothes – not sundresses! *Guilty*
  8. Give yourself enough time to be able to clean your house/apartment before you leave. *Plan ahead!
boxlabel

Number your boxes to insure none were lost during a move. Great for those who are having the military move them or doing a partial DITY move!

Important Paperwork & Things to Keep On Hand

  • Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificate
  • Social Security Cards, Passports
  • IDs for anyone over the age of 10
  • Car information (registration, insurance, car title)
  • School, Employment, Pet and Bank Records
  • Medicine that is currently being taken and extras like Benadryl, ibuprofen, etc.
  • Checkbooks *To avoid any identity theft!
  • A Packing List *This is just for you to stay organized!

And probably the #1 thing to keep on hand during a move…

  • The Official Orders

Most of these are common sense, but dealing with a PCS can be stressful, so keep a check list for yourself to stay on track!

Lauren

Steam Cleaning: The Only Way to Clean a Fridge

The Fridge.

thenandnowjpg

I purposely made this photo smaller… Not only does the dirty spot gross me out, but it’s also just straight up embarrassing!

It was nasty. Something spilled and it was a terrible sticky mess to clean up. At first, I scrubbed with a sponge to get the residue picked up, but after having no success at doing so I pulled out my handy dandy Steamer.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be posting this for people to see unless I really truly believed in Steam Cleaning. It works wonders while sanitizing and I’m not too sure why it didn’t click until now to use it on and in my fridge. After all, I use it on everything else in the kitchen, bathroom and practically the whole rest of the apartment… I even use a Shark Steam Mop on our floors!

Anywho, the first thing you’ll need is a reliable steamer. I use a Scunci Steamer and I love it, but there are plenty of others on the market for less. Just make sure to read the ratings before you invest in one!

Some other supplies you’ll want are:

  • Old rag *Used to pick up the residue
  • Spray bottle filled with equal parts vinegar and warm water
  • Couple of clean rags *Used to wipe the vinegar & water cleaning solution up
  • Glad Press’n Seal *Optional – used to line any flat solid shelves for quick and easy clean-ups in the future!

Now, Let’s get started:

  1. Get your steamer filled with water and warming up.
  2. While the steamer is warming up, clear your fridge and get rid of any bad food.
  3. Remove any shelves and drawers that you are able to. *You essentially want a blank slate so you can get into every nook and cranny.
  4. Get to steaming! Steam any spills or touch residue first and wipe up with your old rag then get into the tight spots!

    IMGP6234-001

    Reason 1,687,392,735,084 why you need to steam clean. This is nasty and it totally brought out the OCD in me. We rent our apartment so I can only imagine what this fridge has been through…

  5. Once most of the loose residue is steamed and picked up, spray your cleaning solution all around and let it sit for a minute. Wipe up with your clean rags.
  6. Since I had a solid shelf, I lined the top of it with Glad Press’n Seal to help quickly clean up spills in the future.

And you are done!

final

Nice clean fridge! P.S. Glad Press’n Seal is shown in the bottom right photo!

 

Now that I’ve cleaned my fridge this way I can’t imagine doing it any other way. This is a must do for anyone! It makes cleaning the fridge no longer a hassle, but rather quite therapeutic – now, I don’t know about everyone else, but that’s my type of cleaning!

Lauren

Taxes – Army Style

Taxes. 

Seeing as how Blair had staff duty (a 24 hour shift) yesterday, I had prepared a huge To Do list of things to accomplish. I wanted to get a blog post up, deep scrub the bathroom, reorganize our bedroom closet, maybe take Costello for a walk and get our taxes done. Since I’ve had busier days before, I thought I would be able to pound these things out without a doubt. However, as the day quickly came to an end, I found myself hitting my head against our dining room table out of frustration.

TurboTax Military Edition is free for E1-E5's!

TurboTax Military Edition is free for E1-E5’s!

The day had practically gone as planned until I sat down to do our taxes. Now I’m not too sure if this is embarrassing for me to say or not, but this was my first time actually filing taxes. Before I had always been claimed as a dependent or asked my Dad to file my taxes for me (BTW, thanks Dad!). I had not only watched him file taxes before, but also several other family members – and every time it seemed to be just as easy as “1 – 2 – 3”.

I’m not a number kind of person, but I figured that all I was essentially doing was “copy and pasting”. However, I didn’t take into account how much filing as a newly married military couple would confuse me – and it did just that and more. Again, embarrassingly, I felt like I was having a complete mental breakdown all thanks to filing taxes.

To give you a little bit more background info, I was using TurboTax’s Free Military Edition for (ranks) E-1 to E-5. After doing a little research, I found that there were several different places that would do our taxes for free or had a free diy tax filing program. At Fort Lewis, there is the Tax Center or the H&R Block At Home Online tax preparation is available too, but I found that most people find TurboTax’s edition to be better when it came to getting more tax refunds. And, hey, who doesn’t like more money?!

But here are some Important Things to Know Before Filing Your Military Taxes!

1. Know your Home of Record. In our case, it is actually Blair’s Home of Record because he is the active duty enlisted one. Typically, the Home of Record is going to be the state you lived in when you joined the military – a.k.a. state of residency. So despite currently living in Washington, Nevada is his Home of Record.

*If you aren’t sure, check his LES (Leave and Earning’s Statement) through mypay.gov.

2. Understand and decide whether you will use the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act. This relief act allows military spouses to claim their active duty spouse’s state of residency even if you have PCSed to another state. For me it made sense to keep my residency in Nevada – state taxes are considerably lower there!

3. Make sure you are keeping track of what you can write off!  While many of the tax write offs out there for military service members, veterans and their families may not apply to your life, sometimes they do! So always make sure to do your research to see what is out there! Currently there are tax write offs associated with PCSing costs, uniform costs and more.

*So, Army wives, start keeping all of your receipts associated with any personal military spending right now!!! Next year you’ll be able to add up what you spent out of pocket for things like uniforms. Just make sure you don’t include the uniforms they buy using their annual uniform allowance!

4. Take advantage of the free tax programs out there. Even though I had a difficult time doing ours to begin with, as long as you know and understand terms such as Home of Record and Military Spouses Residency Relief Act, you are set. Why pay when something free is available to you, right?

5. Do your research and be prepared. In the end, I wasn’t able to finish our taxes because I hadn’t done this step. While I had all of Blair’s W-2 information (Army makes this super easy to access through mypay), I didn’t have mine… Major Fail. 😦

*Just so you know, your employer actually has till the end of January to send out W-2’s! Also, 2013’s Tax Deadline is Monday, April 15th!

Despite not clicking the send button on our taxes yet, I still found myself having a productive day, even after all of the frustration and stressing. And to calm myself down after this fiasco, I  got a little crafty/organizational and created February’s Draper Family Newsletter. Now it may seem cheesy, but it is oh so helpful for me – and it was the perfect way to end my day filled with taxes!

Lauren

Our January and February Newsletter. I use templates in Apple's Pages program to create these!

Our January and February Newsletter. I use templates in Apple’s Pages program to create these!

Travel Tips: Fort Benning

Fort Benning.

At Blair's OSUT graduation (2nd trip to Fort Benning)

At Blair’s OSUT graduation (2nd trip to Fort Benning)

There are five key things to know before making a trip to Fort Benning, GA – especially if you are under the age of 25! Before Blair’s Family Weekend Pass from his BCT graduation I struggled with planning the trip from Nevada to Georgia. To me, buying a plane ticket, booking a hotel room and picking Blair up was simple. But after taking away the option of me renting a rental car, I might as well have run into a concrete barrier.

Apparently, rental car companies restrict people under the age of 25 from renting a car… And I was 19 at the time so I was in some serious trip planning trouble. While there might have been a few that would rent out to someone younger than that, the extra charges on top of the base rental fee was not worth it. So, I simply just had to do a little bit more planning.

Being three months into being an Army wife at this point, I was wishing that there was some magical site that would tell me all the answers to solving my dilemma.  There wasn’t. And everyday after getting off of work, I searched for the best bargains, military friendly deals and tips to making this trip easy going and stress free. Below are the five key things to keep in mind while planning this trip. The extra planning is well worth it in the end – trust me! Just make sure to follow these steps and truly enjoy your time with your loved one and the Family Weekend Pass will be a success!

1. Getting There

If a rental car from the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport isn’t an option, call Groome Transport.

Truth be told, it is a shuttle, you are on it for a good hour and a half/two hours and it isn’t the most comfortable or best smelling when it comes to traveling with others in the hot and humid Georgian heat.

However, it’s only $39 one way or $72 for the round-trip. Pretty stinkin’ affordable by my standards…

There is a military discount if you take the shuttle to the base, but in my case, since we stayed at a hotel in Columbus, GA (the city surrounding Fort Benning), I was not able to receive it.

*Something to keep in mind is that Army “girlfriends” do not have access to military discounts! You have to be a spouse/family member and have a military identification card to receive most military discounts.

A little unrelated, but Costello stayed with some family members while I was gone! He certainly lived up to his name while I was away...

A little unrelated, but Costello stayed with some family members while I was gone! He certainly lived up to his trouble maker name while I was away…

2. Taxi

No car = Taxi Cab.

I took American Taxi Cab Co. back and forth from our hotel to Benning and I loved them. Their rates were fair and super friendly. Plus, if you call the same driver for your pick-ups, they tend to give you a discount for your “loyalty”!

Please note that not all taxi companies have the ability to go onto base! Each one has to pass a security process to be able to drive on base, so if you decide to use another taxi cab company, just make sure they have access. You are going to need it!

3. Victory Drive

All I really need to say with this tip is stay off and away from Victory Drive. With this road being less than a mile away from Fort Benning’s main gate, it’s easy to pick a hotel right there.

However, most Drill Sergeants tell the boys to stay away from that area due to it not being the best of places (crime, shootings, etc.).

If you do end up picking a hotel there, keep your soldier in the hotel with you and order food in. The Drill Sergeants aren’t joking when they tell you to stay away from that area and they do patrol. Again, trust me! I learned this on my second trip to Fort Benning… 😉

4. Hotel

For me, exit 10 off of Interstate 185 in Columbus is the best spot to stay. We stayed at the Wyndham Garden Columbus, which ended up being about twenty miles away from Harmony Church where Blair was at Basic Training. While it does seem a little costly to be 20 miles away from the base (taxi rides were about $40 to the base), it was well worth it because you end up being close to good food stops (IHOP, Hooters for those certain boys, etc.) and a huge movie theater.

Another thing to keep in mind is that most of the boys will want to be as far away from Benning as possible. They’ve been there for the past three months or so and want to enjoy their break – not wake up to look out the window and see the place they likely dread the most! 

*A good rule of thumb is to stay within 30 miles of the base. Driving and visiting Atlanta is super against the rules. Do it at your own risk!

Sad to say goodbye

Sad to say goodbye…

5. Leave Time

In the Army, “on time” is late, yet too early is obnoxious. Just plan on leaving reasonably early for wherever you go.

I planned on arriving to Georgia the day before the BCT graduation ceremony. This was the perfect amount of time for me to relax, calm my nerves (I was literally uncontrollably excited and nervous – it was a huge moment in my personal and married life!) and iron my outfits for the next few days.

When it came to the actual graduation, I ended up being four hours too early… All I can say is that I was a tad bit confused on when the ceremony was. Luckily, Blair’s battle buddy’s wife had done the same! So we walked and talked and tried to calm each other down from our excitement the best we could.

When it is time for them to report back, half an hour prior was a good amount of time to say your goodbyes and once again leave them. This was the hardest part about this trip, but what I’ve come to realize is that it is a huge part of being an Army wife. Just stay strong, say your prayers and start writing him letters again as soon as he starts walking back to his troop.

Now this last bit isn’t quite a tip, but rather just common sense. Make sure as a spouse or a family member, that your soldier stays in his uniform if out in public, stays in his pt clothes if walking around the hotel and that he always says sir or ma’am. And if they do run into a Drill Sergeant, they should always stand at parade rest. Nothing too hard for any of them considering they have done all of these things every day for the past three months.

Remember that Drill Sergeants give out rules for a reason. If your soldier decides not to follow them, it is their choice. But as a loved one, push them to do the right thing! Because they really won’t want to mess up the last three months of training they have already had and start again from Day 0 if caught – and yes, that does happen!

I hope that this is helpful to someone out there – I know I sure would have loved to have this for direction!

Lauren