OUTCAN: The good, the bad and the challenges

When a military family is posted out of the country (OUTCAN), it is a blessing in many ways, yet can also be tough on many levels. We found out about our posting OUTCAN a mere 5 weeks before my husband had to be in the new country for the new job. With three kids in tow, we had to get all the kids through the hoops to get ready to go. What is normally a 3-4 month process had to be condensed in a couple of weeks (as you have to be cleared to go before you can do your House Hunting Trip (find a place to live)).  Ready, aim! An impossible task you would say? Working full time as a teacher and part-time as a reservist, with my husband physically working in a city a few hours away, I still managed to get the kids HIV tests, TB x-rays, and a full medical screening done in 2 days. Then, for education, we needed to have all report cards for the past 3 years as well as transcripts sent to Ottawa for education evaluations. Passport pictures taken for the special passport (and applications done), and Social Worker meeting with the whole family for her screening requirements. Inoculations had to be reviewed,  and planned (as the new location has different inoculation requirements). As well as start the massive search for the best schools, the best place to get a home, etc. Three weeks later, we were on the plane to go find a place to live. It was like ripping a band-aid off, all in one massive and mind boggling blur! But, we have shown our determination. What many thought would be impossible to do, was done (stress, arguments and sleepless nights aside).

Although we thought education would not be an issue in our new home, once we were physically in our new location, we found that it was a huge problem. All the kids had to do second-language testing (just because we speak a second language), English language testing and Math Testing. The math alone took a full day. These battery of tests took 2-3 days, depending on their ages. This was just for ‘placement’ evaluations. Once we got to guidance at the school, we soon realized that it would be even more complicated! My grade 12 student was placed in grade 11, despite having all grades in the 90s. He physically could not do the graduation requirements (which included history, gouvernment, personal finance, all courses he did in Canada, but were not recognized) and do the requirements for entrance into a Canadian university for engineering (what he wants).  On the verge of sending him back to Canada to finish high school,   Children’s Education Management came up with a solution that works. He is now doing online schooling from Ontario to graduate, and doing some of the few recognized sciences in the high school here. I totally recommend all families faced with issues to contact them (CEM) first when faced with schooling issues!

Finally down to the work.. all is in place, and we are enjoying the area, travelling to see the sites and enjoying the experience. OUTCAN can be a great learning experience for all members of the family.

It is not all rosy being posted OUTCAN. Pay-wise if the dollar is low, you take a hit, as you are paid lower than the going rate, and in local currency (Euro, US, etc).  Since July our monthly pay has dropped $400 US (compared to last’s years rates, we are making $40K less a year).  Not to mention, most spouses cannot work OUTCAN, so you lose an additional salary. That never helps when you are feeding teen boys! Applying to universities in Canada from OUTCAN will be a challenge. My son wants to apply to RMC. They request full FBI checks (with fingerprints), a full education evaluation done by a private firm, flying him back for testing, etc. when you are OUTCAN. We have yet to meet the challenges my third son (in grade 11) will face going back to finish off his high school. There are many hidden costs, and emotional tolls when living OUTCAN.

However the experience is amazing and one we plan on thoroughly enjoy, by travelling as much as possible in our short year out of the country. No obstacle is impossible to surmount!  We have already spent a few nights in different cool cities, and visited some interesting historic sites. With no time to waste, there will be more to come! It is important to enjoy the time and live the experience. A great adventure for the whole family.

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Children’s Education-No easy feat!

I was one of those military spouses that was determined to keep my family together. I dropped my regular force career to ease co-location with my spouse. I even forced my eldest son to change high schools 4 times (and 3 provinces) to keep the family together. After all, keeping the family together is the most important thing we can do as a miiltary family. Family means everything.

Then I was faced with my current situation. My middle two children are in grade 10 and 11. My husband is posted to Quebec, the ONLY place in all of North America that does not offer a grade 12. Moving simply means my son does not graduate from high school. There is the option to send him to CEGEP (Quebec’s college system to replace grade 12 and 1st Yr of University), but applications need to be in by 1 March, which is LONG before posting messages are cut. Furthermore, most do not accept students from other provinces. The English ones have waiting lists.

The CAF has a  Children’s Education Management (CEM) that

‘manages the education allowances and overseas schools for the DND personnel to ensure that their dependent children obtain the same quality of education regardless of the province or country they may be posted to’.

So, I contacted them, to see what the options were.

It should be noted there are a few private schools in Quebec that offer grade 12 (at a cost of about $40K or so). Ideally, if the Dependent Management system could assist with the cost, we could all move to Quebec. Yet, they do not. They DO ASSIST in this type of case, but the only assistance they can offer is to leave my two teens  (15 and 16 yr olds) behind and they will pay the room and board and two trips home for the ten months of school. As a mom, I am not overly thrilled about leaving two of my children behind, that is IF I could find somewhere to have them live.

The official answered received from the department was:

‘Refs: A. CBI 12, http://www.familyforce.ca/sites/AllLocations/EN/Education%20and%20Training/Documents/Education%20of%20Children%20Chapter%2012.pdf

B.  How to Book,http://www.familyforce.ca/sites/AllLocations/EN/Education%20and%20Training/Documents/HOW_TO_BOOK_INCAN%20WEB_English%20Nov%2014.pdf

 

Quebec school system is unique and not a lot of solution exists while posted when your child has already completed grade 11 in another province.  We have one option to offer (beside remaining on IR of course).

 

We don’t pay for schooling if you move them to the province of Quebec. However, IAW Para 12.1.03(7) of ref A, your children who will be in grade 11 and grade 12 in Sep 15 could remain in Ottawa at their current schools and we would reimburse you for board and lodgings for a maximum of 10 months plus two return trips in a school year.  The details of the benefits and maximum amount can be found at Para 5 of ref B.’

IR costs (to have the member live away from the family) can be very expensive. Current rates in Quebec are $1300 per month.  It seems it would make sense that we should seek every opportunity to find other options to assist families to reduce IR, it only makes financial sense.

Again, as a Mom, leaving two teens behind is just not a viable option to me. These are crucial years for them.  They need at least one parent around for them.

So this family will endure 2 more years of IR, until they can graduate high school. I cannot complain, for I know of people that have to have their children in different countries due to postings and education. I can at least choose to keep them at home, and make the sacrifice of living apart from my hubby for the sake of my kids.

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Moving with the Forces-not an easy feat.

I love the ‘rumour‘ mill from average Canadians. When we got our message telling us that my husband was posted, we put our house on the market, just like most military families do. Yet, many of my fellow Canadians are under the impression that the military takes care of selling our home for us, much like many companies will do. It was probably not until the case of Maj Brauer came to light that the average citizen started to understand how costly a military move can be to the member.  

http://www.ctvnews.ca/mobile/canada/federal-court-decision-orders-government-to-review-soldier-s-housing-case-1.1837503

The truth is the military does take care of a lot of the expense involved in a move. They will pay for the lawyers fees, the moving company fees, realtor fees and most of these other major ‘moving fees’. However, there are also a significant amount of things that are not covered, and a member can be out of pocket for substantive amounts of money. These financial losses can add extra stress on any move. Add to the stress that your children have with changing schools (especially in high school, right before graduating), and uprooting their friends and a spouse that has to say goodbye to a good paying job, one can understand why the family may decide to stay behind while the member goes to their new employment (called imposed restrictions or IR) alone, which of course causes different stresses on a family. 

This year we are faced with new challenges in our own military move, as I have heard MANY other families are as well. This year has been a very slow real estate market just about everywhere in the country. So, when we listed our home, we put it on the market to break even. We had put in some capital improvements into the home (interlock deck, kitchen island, etc), which in the past were covered by the forces if we had to sell at a loss. However, the relocation rules change every year, and what was covered in the past, is no longer covered. So, unless we can sell at a price to recoup the money invested, we lose this money. 

One advantage that the military does assist with, is they will help cover the cost of two homes for 6 months (which can be extended for up to year on certain conditions), to allow the family to move, with the hopes of selling the home in the meantime. We had to do this on a previous move. Selling an empty house makes it even harder, and we ended up losing money in order to sell the last time. One of the rules about being eligible for this assistance, is that your home has to be on the market at the appraiser’s value (or less). So, the appraiser really makes all the difference in a move. Our appraisal came in lower than what we needed to break even.  The appraiser gave no monetary value for the above ground pool or hot tub, as both of these items can be moved to a new location (except, of course, if you are a military family)! So, lesson learned, we can never again buy a house with, or put in, an above ground pool or hot tub! We will, once again, be moving to our new location, likely with a significant financial loss. 

Some families are fortunate, and sell their home at the right time, and make money. Yet, I know of others that are in even worse situations. I know of some that have lost lots of money (like maj Brauer in the article), and some that have a home on the market for 2 years and better while they are paying for their new home. This year, it seems, with everyone we talk to, they are losing money. It is not a good year to move. 

This time around, we really considered not moving with my hubby. Yet, the move is into Quebec, and I have one child in grade 10 and one in grade 9. Quebec only has 11 years of school vice 12, so if we do not move this year, we cannot move for three years, or I  would have at least one of my children who could not even graduate from high school! (You can pay for private school to complete the grade 12, but at a significant cost!). So, the choice is to stay apart for at least three years, or move at a financial loss.   

One of the tougher parts of a military move are the ever-changing benefits. What was covered one year, gets cut the next year without notice. Financial decisions are made by families based on these benefits (capital improvements to a home, mortgages, and even pets) to find out that they are no longer covered when they go to move. Some benefit changes have included mortgage breaks are no longer covered (which changed after we negotiated our current mortgage) and pets on an overseas posting that are no longer covered. Families currently serving overseas took their pets over at the expense of the forces, but must now get them back to Canada on their own (which is very costly with vet fees, kenneling requirements, etc).  These are but a few of the variety of benefit changes that military families deal with, and often only find out about when they get their message and meet with the relocation company. 

So, the next time you see a military family moving, you will know, that they do so out of love for their job and out of love for serving their country. They are certainly not doing it to ‘make money’ on a sale of a home, or move up in the real estate market. Most have some sort of financial loss and all have family stresses that accompany their move.  We just absorb the losses and the frustrations and we continue to get on with the mission. In the end, it’s only money, and it certainly cannot replace happiness. 

 

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Sexual Assault: Its not just an army issue

This blog took me a while to write and I think you will all See why. The articles in Macleans and L’Actualité about the CAF sexual assaults frustrated me. They frustrated me for a few reasons. First, that the are still victims that feel that they cannot reach out. Secondly, that there are recruits that have now withdrawn their application to the military because of these articles.

So let me put my thoughts into context for you. I joined the Canadian Forces in 1986. At that time, there was not a policy on harassment, and sexual harassment was rampant. I myself, was a victim of sexual harassment on numerous occassions and once of sexual assault. Ladies felt helpless. The culture was simply not there to protect victims. I ended up failing my training because of my sexual assault and was released from the CAF. One must remember that this was before women were even allowed to be in most occupacions, there were very few women at all, we were pioneers. One must also remember this was before women had reguarly topped the echelons of any corporation, business or government. Many women still were not in the work force at all. So, the CAF was very much a reflection of society as a whole.

However, there was one senior officer who believed in me, and brought me back into the system. He was infantry, and very much a pioneer in his thought processes. I continue to serve today, now 28 years later, thanks to him. I can attest that the Canadian Armed Forces have completely changed their views on women, on sexual harassment and on harassment of any kind.

are there still victimes? Of course there are. We are an organization of 68000 regular members and 30000 reservists. We are a refection of society. It would be a lie to say there are not still victims. However, as I have reguarly told people, I do not blame the system for what happend to me, for bad people exist everywhere. For sure things could have been done differently back then, but we have learned from our mistakes.

There is a zero tolernace in the CAF. Is there room for improvement? For sure there is. If one victim still feels she or he cannot report abuse of any kind, then there is always room to improve.

However, I would urge any lady who is considering NOT joining because of the bad press to reconsider. The actions of a few do not reflect the organization as a whole. I am very proud to wear my uniform, and feel perfectly safe sleeping in a tent full of men. I know most of my bothers in arms would protect me, as they would any other brother or sister in arms. I feel much safer in my army environment than I do walking into a bar, or walking down the street at night.

I also urge any and all victims to please speak up. In doing so, you protect other women and men who could otherwise also be victims. Only if you do report it can the violence stop and the road to recovery continue. Your life will be forever changed, but you can ensure someone else’s does not.

Women in the CAF can do any and all occupations, have been paid the same wages as men for decades, and top the echelons of the service. We have some fantastic women serving our country who never cease to amaze me in all that they do. It is a culture of respect and equality.

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Home safe home

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It has been a very hectic few months. My hubby came home from Afghanistan, just in time for us to head off as a family on a quick ski trip in upstate New York.

 

Unfortunatly one of my sons had an accident and broke his Tibia (a lateral fracture). It took a few weeks for the physicians to diagnose this (took an MRI), but after a quick 2 hour surgery, he has been recovering. 

 

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Add to this, I have been finishing my BEd (doing my last practicum), all the while, my hubby has been using his leave to prepare the house for sale, as he is posted once again. It has been two very hectic months. 

Coming home from a tour is never easy. Not for the family, nor the person that comes home. Sometimes there is tension, sometimes it takes a while for the spouse to ‘re-take’ their place in the home. For us, it was important to spend some quality family time before the hectic life of a posting takes its toll. 

 

It is for this reason it is important to take the time to be together as a family as much as possible (hence the ski trip) and to be together as a couple. Reconnecting after a year apart can be tough on any couple. WIth modern technology you can remain part of the family via skype or Facetime.. but nothing is like being there in person.. So taking time as a couple is important. We have had very little time together, but have at least managed to attend the Army ball and my BEd grad ball, both were fantastic evenings! Now its onto our next military adventure: a new city that we have not lived in in over 20 yrs, and a new adventure.. 

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The Last Move

Recent news ‘flashes’ about LGen (ret’d) Andrew Leslie or Col (ret’d) Dan Menard’s last move have caused controversy, but why should it? Let’s look at the facts for a minute.

Military families must move all over the country at a moment’s notice. We uproute our families, take our children out of school, out of their various activities and from their circle of friends, and move them into a new province or even country, to suffer through complete changes in educational systems, and to try to find ‘new friends’ and fit in, only to do it all again in 2 or 3 yrs. Too add to the complication, we have but one week of a house hunting trip to find a new home, new school, new daycare, inspect the house, find a job for your spouse, find a lawyer, etc. All this and the dates must match the sale of your previous home, or you have to pay for the storage of your stuff between homes. A house is the single biggest purchase most people do in their lifetime. Yet, a military family has but one week to do this, and must continue to live through this stress every few years, often at a loss of sale because they had to sell their home at a time when the market was stagnant.

We often move into areas of the country we know nothing about, and may end up buying what we think is a great house, but in a neighbourhood we discover does not fit our lifestyle.

Too add to it, you can be sent to remote posts such as Whitehorse or Goose Bay for your ‘last posting’. It is for these various reasons military families, and RCMP officers have been allowed to have a ‘final’ move after retirement to the place we plan on retiring. Like every other Canadian, we would like to choose where we get to retire. It should not matter if we decide to move down the street (to downsize which is common on retirement) or if we want to move overseas (which the government only pays the rate to the coast of Canada, the rest is always on the member to pay if its overseas). The last time we had a say about where we live has been, well, since before we joined the military. For most of us, we joined a the age of 18, so we have never had a choice about where we live prior to our retirement.

This is a benefit that ALL military who have served at least 20 yrs get when they retire. It does not matter if they are a general or a private, all get the same benefits, and the same service.

The bottom line is this is a ‘non’ story. There is nothing illegal; there is nothing immoral that has been done. I for one am glad that the Canadian population seems to understands this. On CBC tonight, it was reported that 77% of Canadians support the final move of soldiers. So, time to move on.

Citizen Article on LGen Leslie’s move

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Keeping the love strong from miles away

As I sit here, we are once again back into the swing of school and the regular routines. The holiday season is well behind us and we are in the groove again as a family; going through the last few months of the deployment. As a family, we are on our 7th deployment. Many of my friends who are not miltary do not understand how we can do it.  I’d love to say it is easy, for it is not. A deployment has its challenges, both for the parent living away from their children, as well as the parent that is doing it all (the later one, being harder to do for sure!).

Deployments can also have an effect on a relationship. In some cause the couple realize they cannot do it anymore, resulting in a separation. Others can make the marriage stronger as both couples realize how much they truly do miss and love each other.  For us, deployments have always made our relationship that much stronger. It is when we are apart that we appreciate each other even more. 

So what are the secrets to making it work? How can you make your relationship stays stronger despite the seperation? The first strategy that has worked for us is communication. On my earliest deployment, we only had 5 minutes a week of phone calls, so we would continually write letters back and forth. Now, with the advent of Skype and Facetime, we communicate via video. This is fantastic! We also text each other regularly. Sometimes, my hubby will text me while I am on the bus, just to say that he loves me. It does not take much, just a little word to say you care. Sometimes, he orders flowers and then has them delivered. He always knew the phone number of the florist by heart! 

Another thing that we found the be very helpful is to take the leave period given mid-way through a tour to be together, but NOT at home. Coming home has its own stresses. The deployed spouse wants to help out and get into the routine. However, the spouse that is home has made their own new routine, and having the other one home for just a couple of weeks can interupt that and cause stress. We have always taken our leave periods on a trip away as much as possible. We take the time to discover something new as a couple and family, and have a stress-free vacation, not worrying about trying to do house repairs, doing housework, etc.

This was especially important for the last break, as it fell over Christmas. Christmas in itself is a very stressful time for most people. You may need to travel far distances to see family, and, once you are visiting family, you are not sleeping as you normally do. With the extra people crowded into a home, it can become stressful. So this year, we took our leave and went to an all inclusive resort, completely away from everyone. We enjoyed snorkeling with our kids and just sitting in the sun and sipping something cold. No meals to prepare, no stress of housework, and no long days of driving. WIth my son coming home from University for the first time, this was a fantastic family bonding vacation. Other vacations have included European road trips, Russia, the Dominican Republic, and a recent French battlefield tour and London life with the boys. Each one has given us time to reconnect as a couple without the stress of ‘household duties’. 

Many people debate the merits of going home or going on a trip when deployed. When you have kids, there is always school to consider. The decision is not always an easy one. Regardless of the decision on what to do while on leave, remember that it is important to make sure that you, as a couple, remain strong. Anything you need to do to make that relationship stronger is what is important. So, at the very least, make sure you send a quick email or text, or just a good old fashion letter. It will bring a smile to your spouse and remind him or her that he or she is the most important person in the world to you. Image

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