Feline Fiasco!


-OR-

“Cats don’t like change…without their consent.” ~Roger Caras

Furry Friend Happy Owner

My cat only speaks Spanish.

This is a loose reference to Baxter the dog in Anchorman (the movie), and a constant joke in our household.  And besides, I can’t understand a word my cat says, much like my Colombian in-laws.

And that’s both good and bad.  Bad because she’s moving to Japan, where she won’t be able to get away with feigning ignorance of indigenous language.  Good because I don’t understand the bitching I’m sure she’s doing while we are packing…and that to come while we are moving.

This is close, but not true.

This is close, but not true.

And she also doesn’t understand how closely she came to NOT going to Japan with us.  You see, the Navy and the government are involved in most every aspect of this move.  Need I say more?

Way back when, months ago, when Jody put in our travel request, we made it very clear that we were traveling with pets.  Nothing abnormal that would or should cause any concern, like, say, an Asian Tiger, for either the Navy or the somewhat proud owners of a smallish female Tabby who, in our backyard, tends to think of herself as said Asian Tiger….

This is true for all cats I think.  Except the fat ones.

This is true for all cats I think. Except the fat ones.

If you agree, you’d think wrong.

You see, the first hurdle in traveling with pets to Japan is actually with the Japanese.  However, having been there – with cats (yes, plural, *sigh*) – I had a leg-up on those requirements.  Time being the main concern.

While I understand that no country wants to import animals with disease, how is it that the humans they do allow in are not screened at all?  It’s a very odd situation if you think about it.  Aids, SARS, influenza, hepatitis, typhoid, small pox, yellow fever, chicken pox; one would think all these diseases would be at least of equal concern!  However, Cleo, our cat (“Cleopatra” is her full name, sister to Alex “Alexander the Great,” who went missing 15 months ago *SIGH*), has these requirements placed on her:

  • Be micro-chipped….  Check.
  • Have two rabies shots…30 days apart, and prior to 6 months entering the country….  Check.
  • Have a blood titer drawn and confirmed…at least 180 days prior to import….  Check.
  • Submit notification to import a domestic animal to Japanese authorities…and have it approved…at least 10 days prior to travel….  Check (ApprovalNonF_EN_sofa).
  • See a USDA-certifying vet within tens days of travel to have issues an International Health Certification (which itself is only good for 10 days)….  That’s for next week….

However, the most important requirement is to figure out transportation for your animal so that she can actually get to Okinawa!

Okay, not hard.  Many families in the military have pets, and surely the Navy knows how to arrange transportation!

Not for us.

We get our flight arrangements – finally – after waiting like 2 months, and we are being forced to utilize a military charter flight referred to as “AMC:”  Air Mobility Command.  While this is nothing more than a chartered commercial airliner, complete with civilian aircrew, it is the biggest red-ass you can ever imagine.  More on that in a bit, or, better yet, see my previous blog on AMC buffoonery!

Fine.  Red our asses, Navy, it’s all part of the “fun.”

Except our cat is “not confirmed.”

What?  What the hell does that mean?  Unfortunately for Jody and I, we mistook or misinterpreted the flight email to imply that they would keep trying to confirm our pet…mainly because that’s exactly what it said.  You know what “they” say though, don’t you:  you can’t trust the government.

After weeks of hearing nothing, and after fighting the Navy for some domestic travel arrangements that actually make sense, and after planning to spend a day getting to Seattle, getting a hotel room, and then catching the AMC flight the next morning, we finally call about our pet and, well, they’re sorry, but “they” made mission by getting us on an AMC flight, and that “they” were worry but the pet is really “our concern.”

Fother-muckers.

It's in Spanish.  No idea what it says....

It’s in Spanish. No idea what it says….

There is only one flight a week to Okinawa from the states, at least on AMC.  Fine.  I understand that quite possibly – although I remain unconvinced – it is cheaper than commercial ticketing.  However, why on earth would “they” not put on us an AMC flight that had a pet allocation for us?  The flight the week before AND week after both had room for our pet, but changing our plans so late in the game would cause a whole cascade of issues.  Like pet-friendly room-arrangements in Okinawa.  Like we already have a renter for our house and we have nowhere to live.  Like the moves are all set up and we are losing the vast majority of our schtick!  Changing the AMC flight is really not an option, or, not a very good option.

Oh, but the Navy has a solution:  we are allowed to “delay up to 20 days en route.”  So, this is what “they” expect, given this authority.  We go to Seattle, and hope that, by using some form of Harry Potter magic that a pet slot opens on our flight (not likely).  If not, we stay in a hotel – in a city we don’t know, without a car but with a cat, who relies on an international health certificate that is only good for 10 days, AND, to be renewed, has to be done by a military vet OR a USDA official….  Really?  It’s really beyond belief that this is an approach that the Navy would take, an approach that would negate any cost-savings from flying AMC since “they” would be reimbursing us for hotel and per diem fees!!

Okay, Plan B…C…and maybe Q.

First.  Can we send the cat as cargo?  Oddly enough, we can.  It is not easy, nor cheap, AND, the cat can only be sent once we are in-country in Japan, so we would have to rely on some very good friends to help us out.  We don’t have many of those.

My dream for Cleo:  Marry into Japanese Shogun Royalty.

My dream for Cleo: Marry into Japanese Shogun Royalty.

Next.  How can we get out of the AMC flight?  The one that requires TWO days of travel and showing up for a flight at 2:30am for an 8:30am departure (true story), AND, stops twice in Japan before we get to Japan?  Well, there’s an instruction called the “Defense Travel Regulations….”

The DTRs state that the “mode” of dependent travel cannot be specified, or at least cannot be specified to either a military aircraft or military contracted aircraft.  So, I play the “I’m not playing your game Navy and you can’t make me play” game!  This would result in Jody, as the active duty servicemember having still to fly AMC, but me – and Cleo the non-English speaking cat – to fly commercial.  Fine.

Before forcing the issue, Jody has the good (common) sense to contact her detailer (the person in charge of the permanent change of station) to ask some advice.  Her detailer has an even better, if not graceful solution:  “circuitous travel.”  This means that we fly commercial, that we pick the routing and flights (where we can ensure that Cleo has a seat as well), and that we avoid two full days of travel (for only one) and the silly-assed rules and requirements that the Navy puts on flying AMC….

So, after three more days coordinating pet travel with two different airlines and agricultural officials at Narita airport in Tokyo, Cleo is going with us.  But nothing’s quite that easy, is it?  One leg requires us to have our cat in the cabin, while another requires us to put her in the cargo hold.  So, we will be hand-carrying a soft carrier and checking a hard-case!  That’s a lot of luggage for an eleven pound cat.

Who doesn’t even wear clothes or use a toiletry kit.

The water bowl however can always be half-full.  Even though we don’t have a military vet in Pensacola and now have to travel 1.5 hours (each way) to Eglin AFB for Cleo’s health certificate – and she really hates car rides, we are all traveling together on this great adventure.  And I’m sure that Jody is, at least, relieved to have Cleo with us physically in the cabin most of the way.  After all, family is family, and while the Navy doesn’t seem to realize or acknowledge this, our pets are every bit part of our families as we are.

Measured by the way we treat our animals.

Measured by the way we treat our animals.

Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  I’m not sure what Gandhi would think of our situation, but…

…I sure am glad Cleo only speaks Spanish.  She remains blissfully ignorant of moral issues involved in her moving to Okinawa!

Welcome to Okinawa, Cleo!!

Welcome to Okinawa, Cleo!!

“Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms.” ~Groucho Marx


Military Buffoonery

090311-F-5435R-007

He’s probably apologizing for buffoonery….

So, you wanna PCS (move) overseas with the military?!  Well, get ready for the ride of your life.  Not the fast-car NASCAR adrenaline rush that most of us secretly wish we would’ve pursued out of high school, but the slow, painful coast of death, the kind that makes you say, in a very annoyed and bored 8-year olds voice, “ARE WE THERE YET???”

I can only imagine what my cat thinks.  On second thought, she’s the lucky one – she’s not even worried, having the attention span of a whole consecutive eight seconds!  Oh, and she can’t log into Outlook to check out our PCS calendar, let alone reason anything for tomorrow besides trying to kill yet another bird….

So, we got our flight reservations about two weeks ago.  We are located in Pensacola, Florida, and must travel all the way to Okinawa, Japan.  Now, flying commercial this is *relatively* easy – I’ve done it many times before (having been stationed there twice previously).  The routing would be something like this:  Pensacola – Chicago – Osaka – Okinawa.  Or, Pensacola – Houston – Osaka – Okinawa.  Either way, the trip would take something on the order of 24 hours.  More importantly, such routings avoid the Atlanta airport, which I’m sorry to report is proof that the 2nd coming is well under way (read:  HELL ON EARTH).

Well, we are flying what is called “AMC”:  Air Mobility Command, which is in NO WAY any measure of a substitute for a *real* airlines, and I already rank airlines almost dead-last in terms of service industries that I have any interaction with.  Somehow, it’s cheaper for the military to send people AMC.  At least it is on the military’s creative financial spreadsheets (see the quote from Mr. Marx above).  So, the flight to Okinawa leaves Seattle – far enough.

Now comes some of the buffoonery.  The flight leaves Seattle at 8:15 am – 0815 for those fluent in military ease.  If the flight was commercial – which, in an odd way it is since it is a chartered Hawaiian aircraft and flight crew – our show time would be something like 90 minutes prior for an international flight.

Care to take a guess what the military requires??

Six hours.  Yep, you heard that right, and the military ease translation is easy on this one:  SIX HOURS prior…which puts our show-time at the AMC terminal in the SEATAC airport at 2:15am (0215).  Why, I can hear you saying, much chagrined.  Well, as far as I can tell, for no good reason other than 1) they can, and 2) they are the deciders.

Surely there must be a reason.  I assure you there is not.  You see, I’ve done this very flight before, with my ex-wife and relatively small children.  Luckily, we were located in Oak Harbor, Washington state, and were able to take an airport van down a day or two prior and have a last weekend fling in Seattle prior to making the midnight trip to the terminal the day prior…or day of…depending on how quickly your wife can get her schtick together.

Why six hours prior?  Well, may there’s additional paperwork.  Or maybe there are special customs dealios since the AMC flight flies directly into an overseas base.  Nope.  Sorry.  Nada.  Here’s the kicker about this whole “if you’re on-time you’re late mentality:”  the AMC counter is not even manned until about 4 am, and not opened for seat assignments until something like 5!!

So, what you have are a whole lotta unhappy families with overly tired and cranky kids, along with their scared and often barking dogs and cowering cats.  Of course the single guys are crowding the USO, the kids are sleeping on the nasty terminal floor, and guess what is open in the terminal for concessions at 3 am.  You guess right.  Not a dang thing.

But wait, it gets even better!  The last time I did this, after showing up at their required show-time, I finally approached the counter to get seats for my family somewhere around 5:45 or so.  There’s an orderly line of rather pissed-off people at this point, but the line moves okay.  I get to the counter, and after having our papers checked, the seats we are offered are on two different rows, on opposite sides of the airplane.

W.T.F, over?

I inquire as to the seating arrangement, thinking surely there is a mistake.  The young airman assures me it is no mistake and that they are required to fill the aircraft row-by-row, from front to back, left to right, without skipping seats.  “But I have a family; I’m traveling with my two young children,” thinking that surely the AMC staff will see the logic in allowing us to sit together.

“I’m sorry sir, I can open the next row until the current is filled.”

Frackin’ buffoon.

733rd AMS gives Space an A

Potential buffoon most likely hard at buffoonery.

I think to myself, momentarily, to look behind me and ask for two single riders to come up and take the last two seats in the almighty “current row.”  But that’s too easy, and lets the buffoons off the hook for their buffoonery.  “Is there a supervisor that I can speak to?

Oddly enough, the supervisor was standing right behind the guy at the counter, acting as a de facto silent yet complicit partner in execution of said buffoonery.  He steps forward, and asks what the problem is, like he didn’t hear the whole thing from the beginning.  At this point, after being at the airport for 4 hours, in the middle of the night, I’m more cranky than my kids are, and ready to bark louder than any dog in the surrounding kennels.  Either the supervisor sensed the approaching tongue-lashing and demands for action, or, what I would like to think happened is that he was spiritually moved to make good on the sinful buffoonery of the situation.  The supervisor leaned forward to buffoon #1 and attempted to whisper, “open up the next row,” like he was selling secrets to the North Koreans….

Problem solved.

Not so fast.  The next row started with either 2 or 3 seats together, not the four we required.  God works in mysterious ways, and I believe it was divine influence at this point that *allowed* an AMC counter staff person to make the tough call of allowing a family of four to sit together for a 14 hour transpacific flight.  Amen.

But back to this particular trip.  Now we have to get to Seattle, and originally the Navy had us leaving Pensacola at around dinnertime, which put us in at Seattle around midnight.  Not bad, since the ridiculous show time negates any chance of sleep or other benefit of getting a room.  However, on closer inspection, we find that our connection en route is only 49 minutes.  For the love of god, what automated travel software would allow such a moronic business rule as to allow a connection of less than, say, 80 minutes?  We are traveling with a cat, and would have to change terminals.  There is no other international AMC flight the day of our flight, nor for days following.  There is too much on the line; these flight arrangements are simply a no-go.

In the old days, the service member could call SATO – the military’s “travel agency” if you will, and adjust flights, well, “on the fly” (pun intended).  Not today.  Jody has to first contact her “manpower” person at the hospital (whom I designate middleman #1), who then has to contact the base/PSD transfer clerk (middleman #2), who then calls SATO to adjust travel arrangements.  Jody follows this bureaucratic chain made of wet pasta, and “good news” as middleman #1 reports:  “they were able to change your flights!”

Yes, to a layover now en route to Seattle of 1 hour and 3 minutes….  Buffoons.  And buffoonery.

This time Jody does what Rocket Man (movie reference) and I like to call “the right way:”  she contacts SATO directly, and even though the person on the other end of the phone says she shouldn’t help the service member directly, after Jody explains the above buffoonery, the SATO rep is left with no other choice but the moral imperative to right the wrongs such sinful tomfoolery creates.  We have our flights adjusted, and although we are now leaving much earlier in the day, we have a *reasonable* layover to make our connecting flight, and our timeline now allows for a sensible few-hour stay in a hotel room before our late-night/early-morning foray to the airport in Seattle….

But the buffoonishly-thick icing on this buffoonish-flavored multi-layer cake is this:  our cat still does not have a “reservation” on the AMC flight, and if there are problems with *that* seat assignment, the military reserves the right to delay us en route or change or plans to COMAIR at their discretion!

It’s a good thing that Cleo our cat is only concerned with killing birds….