Saturday, July 8, 2017

PCS Move to Japan

Somewhere south of Japan. (May 2017) - Photo by MC2 Nathan Burke

Goodbye everyone, it's been fun! I leave the United States in a few days, headed for USS Ronald Reagan, ported in Yokosuka, Japan. It's a lot of work to get ready to PCS (Permanent Change of Station) move to a new country and I wanted to share some tips for anyone who comes after me.

* Things change all the time, so don't take this guide for gospel!
* I post way more often to I Am Your Eyes on Facebook, so get there.

If you don't feel like reading, I did a quick video showing what packing for this was like.


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Permanent Change of Station is a fancy phrase for moving to a new command. 

So far I've PCSed from the Nimitz to Syracuse University to Defense Media Activity, which are all commands in this country. Going to Japan ups the game just a little bit.

Here's some quick tips:

Start early.  I'm a single Sailor with no kids or pets and it took almost two weeks to get prepared to leave. Those with families will want to start a month or two early. 

Read all the paperwork. The Navy will send you lots of good gouge to read, as should your next command. It will have important things like flight info and cultural details of the host country. 
  • I posted detailed info about flying to Japan at the bottom of the page. Thanks to Reddit user TheBeneGesseritWitch!
  • BE ANNOYING. If there's anything you don't understand, call people and ask! My itinerary had detailed info on my flight from Baltimore to Seattle, but very little about the plane from Seattle to Japan. I called four people before I found someone who could tell me what the check in process was like, the plane seating details, etc.
Understand the packing process. If you have large items, like furniture, you'll be assigned a Household Goods move. If you have small stuff, like me, you'll get an Unaccompanied Goods move. You could have both types! 

Breaking down the stationary bike and weight bench, hoping UG movers would take it.

My place came pre furnished so I only needed a UG move. I had a couple of larger items I wanted them to fit, but had to wait until the movers arrived to find out if they'd take them. No one on the phone would say for sure. (They ended up taking everything)


This was the UG move items. I've been told three weeks to two months for this to arrive.

Sell Sell Sell.  Not everything should make the trip overseas. Many things are just easier to buy over there. For me, it was my Jeep, my water cooler, mountain bike, and a bunch of smaller stuff. Figure this out at the beginning so you can start selling or giving away. (I mostly gave away)

Why would I sell my bike? Because I don't want to wait for it to arrive in the UG shipment, so I'll just buy a new one.

The Navy has too many damn uniforms. Look at those sexy PO1 chevrons though.

Double check your uniforms (especially the blues or whites).  
Depending on the time of year, you'll be expected to arrive to your new command in dress blues or whites. Make sure they look good, have the proper rank (did you get promoted) and still fit (did you get fat).

Take off all pinned rank and ribbon items and store them in a plastic bag, to lessen the chance of them getting torn off when some baggage handler tosses it.

Mama's vacuum bags made my uniform items super small.

Get magic bags.  They're called vacuum bags, and they decrease the amount of space your stuff takes up. Thanks to my mama for suggesting these and letting me use some of hers!


This is my checked and carry on stuff. I bought a blue suitcase so it'd be easier to spot at baggage claim. Every small electronic item I own is in here.


Carry on items, so all this is going in the backpack. Make sure you have:

  • your printed orders
  • your passport
  • a bag with sunflower, pistachio, and pumpkin seeds

Make sure checked and carry on stuff is separate from your HH or UG move items, because the movers will take everything they see. I put all this stuff in a separate room and told them everything in there was staying. Simple.


My PC obviously couldn't go in checked luggage. I was told it was a bad idea to ship it with my high end graphics card still attached, as it could get easily damaged during a rough ride...

I didn't take this pic just to show everyone I own a Founder's Edition GTX 1080, the best graphics card on the planet.

...so I took it out and shipped it in its original packaging. I'm terrible at assembling, disassembling, or maintaining ANYTHING so this was a big win for me.

SURVIVAL TIP: Pack your electronics in their original boxes if you can, but DON'T SEAL THEM. The movers will want to copy serial numbers so they have a record on their end.

They put everything in huge boxes. Maurice and Lindsey were awesome. Thanks again guys!

Treat the movers right.  These guys are working their asses off all day. Have some snacks and drinks ready for a UG move, and give them sandwiches or pizza for the bigger HH moves. Also, tip them. I gave them $40 each at the end and they were very appreciative. That was probably more than necessary, but they were cool. (we laughed almost the whole time...good conversation)

It feels awkward to have strangers moving your stuff. I asked them if I could do anything to help and liked the response. He said "just hang out and talk to us." That's a great approach, because it's a non-creepy way to stay in the equation to make sure it goes smoothly.

I just hung out on the couch and played Stepbrothers real loud so everyone could enjoy it.

Learn the language (don't be lazy like me).  I need to get on this, because knowing some Japanese will make my 3-year tour more rewarding...and help me talk to women without accidentally saying something weird like "I enjoy tickling myself in the tub."

I just bought Hiragana Battle, an old school RPG game that teaches Japanese writing.  Might help.

Don't blow stuff up.  Be prepared for different voltage in another country. Depending on where you are, you might need adapters or even converters. This could be a post on all on its own, but check out this page for good info.

http://www.japanupdate.com/2015/02/japanese-versus-north-american-voltage-and-frequency/

Know the flight process. Going to Japan means a flight on the Patriot Express out of Seattle. It's part of the Air Mobility Command. (AMC) I'm still learning about all this, but here's a couple helpful links.

https://www.facebook.com/SeaTacAmcPassengerTerminal/ (VERY RESPONSIVE TO MESSAGES)

http://www.spacea.net/faq/patriot-express

SURVIVAL TIP: If arriving in Seattle from another flight, get your checked luggage from baggage claim. It doesn't fly straight through to Japan, so you'll need to recheck it when getting your AMC ticket.

Here's step-by-step instructions to get you through the Seattle Tacoma airport USO and flight check-in process. Individual experience will vary, especially since flight times change frequently. I'll be spending the night in the USO, so I won't follow this exactly.

Reddit user TheBeneGesseritWitch saw me fumbling around on there looking for PCS info and sent me some excellent info. I don't know this person, so taking the time to do this for me meant a lot.

"So I actually just walked my sponsee through this process:
  1. Go to the USO on the second floor of SEATAC. Check in at the desk; the employees are really rude, but, whatever. They also have a storage unit there where you can check in your seabag/luggage. I checked in at like, 1200 the day prior; I have family in the SEATAC area so I promptly went over to my sister in laws and chilled. But the USO is a great place to hang out if you don't want to explore Seattle....go get some starbucks, the original is out there.
  2. Chill out until roll call, which is like, at 0300 (it'll say on your orders)
  3. Go back to the USO about a half hour early to get your luggage, and the directions to whichever gate they're going to issue you tickets from.
  4. Go get your tickets. This is a long-ass line; have a copy of your orders handy. And don't freak out, if you're on orders, you will have a seat on the plane. If you're on leave or a retiree, you might be SOL, but yeah, you'll be okay.
  5. Take your tickets and boarding pass over to the military baggage turn-in area--this is near the luggage check in where people are dropping off their pets and oversized luggage. Turn in your luggage.
  6. Go through security.
  7. It's probably about 0700 around now. Grab breakfast and snacks for the plane (they will feed you on the plane, but snacks are always good.)
  8. Find your gate. Chill out, you've got another two hours (ish).
  9. Get on the plane, put on your headphones and eyemask and sleep the entire flight because it'll help you with jetlag. Seriously, the time difference will jack you up when you arrive.
  10. Land in Yokota, have your passport and orders ready; they're gonna give you an abbreviated 7th Fleet Liberty Policy Brief, and try to usher you onto a shuttle to/from Yokota to whichever other base you're really going to--if you're flying further (usually to Korea) you stay on the plane for this ~3 hour layover.
Google "Patriot Express" and there are some youtube videos where you can see the inside of the plane. It's a "normal" civilian plane, 767, it's just run and staffed by military. That being said, I've done MAC flights in the back of an A-10 Warthog, so I mean, my first thought was "oh shit, the Navy's gonna fly me 12 hours in a fucking cargo transport plane," but this is nothing like that.
Oh, and my sponsee said her flight didn't have USB connections so maybe grab a battery pack for the flight, but mine did, so, YMMV."
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I read that last part about a battery pack, slapped my forehead, and went to Best Buy and got a smartphone/tablet recharger. Thank you! (And thanks to my mama for helping me research those things.)

I'll add more to this post as I learn about the process. Expect photos of the sleeping area in the SEA-TAC airport USO and of the Patriot Express plane. Wish me luck! 

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