Prepping as an Active Duty Servicemember Overseas, by M.B.

As a member of the Armed Forces stationed overseas, and for those civilian government employees likewise stationed, we face unique situations as we attempt to get ready for TEOTWAWKI scenarios. First, when you are stationed overseas, usually for a 12 to 36 month tour, whatever happens back home seems magnified in your mind because you are so far away and feel helpless to do anything about it. Mental preparation is of utmost importance if you get a sense of panic after reading about all the horrible things going on back home.  It is important not to panic when you see special sales for prepper items on the blog as this leads to impulse buying and frustration if the vendor does not ship to FPO/APO addresses. I think we tend to go into panic mode because in the military exchanges and commissaries overseas, it is common to run out of a given item and it may take months if ever to get restocked.  I am a mental health professional and just as I would counsel my clients, I suggest to my fellow military bloggers, the first thing I would advise is read as much as possible, take a deep breath, and realize that you are limited in what you can do.

The second piece of advice is, ask God to open your eyes to what you can do.  There are a lot of things we can do that give us unique advantages over our stateside friends.  What country are you in?  Get out and see the local surroundings.  You will have unique shopping opportunities so see what that country is known for producing and see how cheaply you can get it there.  Remember, whatever is not contraband gets shipped back to the States when you leave at Uncle Sugar’s expense.  (Check out the local Costco or Wal-Mart as their inventory likely will stock things particular to that country that you can’t readily purchase as inexpensively back in the States.  What things do the local nationals do that strike you as odd or weird?  I have found that much of what initially appears ‘weird’ actually makes good sense.  For example, in many Asian countries the custom of removing one’s shoes upon entering a house may strike American’s as strange but upon second glance, this practice makes a world of sense.  Imagine being limited in terms of medical care and trying to control the spread of disease.  Now imagine where you walk everyday and what you pick up on your shoes – everything from doggie doo to spittle and worse.  Now imagine what you’re bringing into and spreading throughout your home with those shoes.  Enough said!  For every custom you observe your host nation practice that leaves you scratching your head, ask “why” and you would be amazed at how much you can learn.  In particular, since most countries don’t have the same amount of stuff to waste and space to store their stuff, they live frugally compared to our standards and if you observe long enough you walk away with a wealth of knowledge and innovative ways to do things.

What is offered at your base?  Many of us, even if we don’t carry weapons have the opportunity to go to qualify on a weapon, and for free.  Each service probably has its own point of contact – for my base it’s the Security Chief.  Most overseas locations have a very active Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program which offers everything from tours and trips to the practical such as Auto Hobby and Wood Hobby Shops which allow you to develop automotive and wood working skills for free to very cheap. The Family Service Centers normally offer free to very cheap classes on budgeting, child care, local culture, retirement preparation, to name a few.   Additionally, the base is the place to look for unique bargains.  Most bases both in the States and overseas have a local thrift shop that carry items at bargain basement prices and make Goodwill prices look like Nordstrom’s.  What courses does the base hospital or clinic offer?  There are generally health promotions courses going on that focus on particular diseases, CPR, etc.  Also, contact Military One Source for tons of free information and literature.  It is a clearinghouse and referral source for military beneficiaries.

Now for the challenging part – what do you do about making purchases from back in the States and where do you store them?  First, when you see something you’d like to order, decrease your frustration by going to the company’s drop down boxes to see if there is even a listing for FPO/APO addresses in both the “Billing” address and “Ship To” sections.  If there is none, don’t waste your time trying to order online.  E-mail or call the company and explain your situation.  For example, I have a great relationship with Shelf Reliance and Arbogast.  While they have no FPO/APO drop down box and there is a time difference of almost a day, when I receive Shelf Reliance’s sales notices I shoot them an e-mail (they’ve given me a particular customer service representative whom I deal with exclusively) listing the items I wish to buy and then call in my credit card number during their working hours.  Some items cannot be shipped by a company to an FPO/APO address because of import/export laws (i.e. certain electronics cannot be shipped from say Radio Shack to an FPO address, it can however be shipped to a friend in the States and they can mail it to you with no problem).  Other items cannot be shipped to such addresses period (that may include food items), so it is important to check with your post office and find out what can and cannot be shipped.  Also, find out from the Household Goods office what items would be considered contraband to ship back to the U.S. in your household goods shipment.  Get educated before you spend your hard earned cash and have to leave your purchases behind.

Is there someone you can ship your order to back in the States and who is willing to store what you ordered until you return to the states?  Arrange your leave with great care.  When I went to my Mother’s this summer for 21 days, I coordinated my purchases of grain, mylar bags, food grade buckets, etc. to arrive a few weeks prior to my arrival.  I spent a good portion of my leave in her basement packaging foods and storing things. Again, coordination is crucial, as you don’t want a ton of wheat arriving two weeks after you return to your overseas assignment.  Also, it gives you a chance to examine your merchandise and handle situations if you receive defective merchandise.

If you are considering firearms, know your state laws.  I never owned any firearms and knew nothing about them.  While I didn’t purchase ammo, I did purchase a shot gun and a rifle to keep at my Mom’s.  This was a challenge because most of us who have been in the military for any length of time, have had several moves and probably no longer have a home address in the state from which we joined the military.  In my case the most recent state I lived in before going overseas was North Carolina and even though I own property there, that didn’t help.  To purchase a firearm in the state of Virginia, I needed to show some type of bill addressed to me at my mother’s house.  Fortunately her cable bill is in my name, so with that, a copy of my military orders, and my military ID, I was able to purchase the firearms.  Find out in advance what the requirements are for the state you plan to purchase firearms if you are still stationed overseas.

Business affairs – no matter how routine it may seem, read thoroughly every bank statement.  In preparation for leaving the States I got a safe deposit box at Marine Federal Credit Union. I had to have an account there with a minimum balance. Having met those requirements, another wrinkle has been added to the mix.  Recently the credit union schooled me to “Escheatment”.  In other words, my account is considered dormant because I have not had any withdrawals or deposits (interest deposits don’t count) for one year and this Dormant Account Notice was to inform me that in the State of North Carolina any account that is inactive for a period of five years will be claimed by the state.

If you want to buy gold or silver, most dealers will not ship overseas.  Either have it delivered to someone you trust impeccably for safe keeping stateside; place your order so that its delivery coincides with your travel back to the States; or visit a local dealer when you are in the States and make your purchases.  Finally, when we are overseas we get a fairly decent cost of living allowance (COLA).  Get financial counseling on base as many people are able to get on a financial plan to get out of debt while overseas.  If you are out of debt, treat the money as an extra pay check and use it towards your prepping plans.

In addition to annual leave (vacation), take advantage of opportunities that present themselves when you go on Temporary Additional Duty (TAD/TDY). Recently I was sent to Honolulu.  Aloha Stadium Swap Meet (hours and directions are available on the web) is fantastic!  On Saturdays and Sundays vendors are there that sell real flea market type stuff.  The touristy items are at the beginning of the swap meet but if you go all the way into the Meet’s Netherlands, you will find at least two vendors who sell military gear at bargain prices. I got mess kits for $1 each, cold weather gear, mosquito netting, and the list goes on.  One vendor also has a store in town but the best deals I got were from the older gentleman and his wife who only sell at the Meet.  Another place for good deals is the Marine Corps Exchange in San Diego.  Because the Marine Recruit Training Depot is there, when recruits drop out, the gear is cleaned and resold in the uniform shop very inexpensively (duffle bags for $2).  Some items can only be purchased by those still on active duty so research it; and retirees, make friends with some active duty folks.  Look for prepping opportunities when you get to travel to other areas.  I have ended up with so many great buys that I always travel with an empty duffle bag to either bring stuff back (some airlines will allow military travelers to check as many as 3 bags at no charge). Sending things back by snail mail with insurance is also a reasonable way to ship.

I am a single female prepper who has had to look at things from both sides of the aisle. Being stationed overseas is difficult, but you can think outside the box and make progress on prepping instead of waiting until you return to America.  One downside is that sometimes I don’t always get the best deals as I’ve had to weigh “’buy now’” and have it” vice “wait till I get back and maybe the Schumer will have already hit”.  For me the peace of mind of having some of the basics while they are still available outweighs waiting for a better deal, so I make the best of a so-so situation.  Hopefully these thoughts will help my active duty counterparts.