Alumni News

June 18, 2013 at 11:17 am

2nd Lt. McKenzie Reports for Duty at Kapaun Air Station, Germany

Thomas McKenzie and family

The McKenzie family poses after Thomas’ commissioning ceremony. From left: His mother Charlene McKenzie, Thomas McKenzie, his brother David McKenzie (currently a senior cadet at Detachment 650), and his father Tom McKenzie.

 

By Thomas McKenzie ’13
Second Lieutenant, U.S. Air Force, 21st Operational Weather Squadron at Kapaun Air Station, Germany

This past November, my detachment commander reported that my first Active Duty Air Force assignment will be at Kapaun Air Station, Germany. I was both excited and nervous, as I immediately realized that I would serve overseas in a place that I have never experienced before. Not once in my life have I been outside of North America (if you want to count visiting Niagara Falls as “leaving the country”), so I knew that I had to prepare myself for the next two years. At first, I figured that I had all summer to prepare for my assignment. I was eager to learn German, establish my finances, and spend time with my family before I left. This past March, I discovered that my Enter Active Duty date was May 6 and that my report date was May 9, only five days after commissioning as a Second Lieutenant from Ohio University. Obviously, my plans for the rest of the college semester and my summer changed instantly. I only had seven weeks to prepare, and I still had my priorities to handle while in school.

For the next several weeks, I spent plenty of time preparing for my overseas assignment. By the time commencement and commissioning rolled around, I felt that I was ready to leave for Germany. After my commissioning ceremony on May 4, I returned home to northeast Ohio to finish preparing. Given that I only had two days to spend at home, I tried balancing out between getting ready to leave and spending as much time with my family as possible. My primary goal during this time was packing and shipping my belongings before I left. This task was extremely difficult, as I knew that I would not be able to pick up my shipment in Germany until about September; therefore, I had to carefully decide what I wanted to pack with me for the next few months and what I did not need until late summer. Once the moving company left with my belongings, I was ready to fly to Frankfurt, Germany.

On May 7, my parents and I said goodbye as I left for Frankfurt. At the time, I was more excited for entering the Air Force than I was sad to leave my hometown. After all, I knew that I would be seeing my family at least twice again during the summer. The flight was VERY long, but it felt even longer as I traveled over six time zones. By the time I arrived in Frankfurt, the local time was 5:45 a.m.; almost a full “day” after I left Ohio. My new supervisor picked me up from the airport. I was exhausted, and all I wanted to do was sleep. However, I could not check into my hotel until about 3 p.m.; therefore, my supervisor decided to introduce me to my new unit, show me around base and around the local area, and even treated me to a German bakery for breakfast. After I “settled” into my temporary home (the base lodging) and finally got some sleep, I was ready to start my new journey overseas. My first major task was to process into my new assignment.

In-processing is essentially the transition period from an airman’s previous assignment to his or her new assignment. In my case, in-processing involved entering the Air Force as an active duty officer by establishing my health records, getting my ID card, obtaining my overseas driver license, setting up my email account, and much more. Throughout the first week, I focused on finishing these tasks with very limited resources. For example, I did not receive a car until several days after I arrived, so I depended heavily on my supervisor to help me out.

Once I completed the majority of the tasks involved with in-processing, I was ready to find a new place to live. I spent several days looking for my new home within the local area. Now that I had a rental car, I was able to check out a couple of apartments on my own. I eventually found a very nice apartment about 20 minutes away from work. Although I realized that I would have a longer commute to and from work, I considered several factors such as the size of the apartment, the beautiful drive, the neighborhood, my landlord, and even the balcony from my bedroom overlooking the countryside. I decided to sign the lease, even though I would not be able to move in until after my belongings arrived in late summer.

Following my house hunting, I was then responsible for buying a car and getting ready for training down in Mississippi. These two tasks were extremely challenging. First, I never bought my own car while I was in the United States, and I had to try to find one within the German market. Second, I did not have much time to set up my trip to Mississippi; if I made a mistake in my planning, I knew that I would have little to no time to correct it before I left.

My only tasks remaining before I return to the United States for training were to return my rental car, register my new vehicle into the U.S. system, confirm my orders to Mississippi, and train for my position within my new squadron. This week should go a lot smoother than the previous two weeks. I am ready to return to the U.S., even if it is only for a couple of months. I will definitely feel a lot closer to home.

I definitely learned several lessons during these past few weeks. First, as a new officer, you must have a solid financial plan established, as you will most likely pay for most of your needs out of pocket, at least for the first couple of weeks. Access to my own money has been severely limited while overseas. Second, expect to spend plenty of money initially. There are so many different items to purchase when settling into a new area such as rent, insurance, a vehicle, furniture, food, lodging, and other goods/services. Third, I would definitely recommend to study the language and the culture of the host country. Although the majority of Germans speak English, it is important to try to learn their own language and understand their customs. You will definitely set a good example of American society as a whole by doing so. For example, saying “how are you?” as a means to say “hi” is actually not the most appropriate way to greet someone in Germany. Finally, expect a lack of communication with loved ones from back home. Although not impossible, overseas communication is severely limited. I have been accustomed to randomly texting/calling my friends and family from back home whenever I wished. Here, I am limited to email, Facebook, and Skype sessions that usually cut-off at least twice per conversation.

Although these past couple of weeks have been tremendously challenging, I am very honored to serve in an overseas assignment. This is a rare opportunity for anyone, and I am truly excited to continue my journey here in Germany.

McKenzie recently graduated from Ohio University’s meteorology program in the Department of Geography, College of Arts & Sciences. He was commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Detachment 650. He is an active duty Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force serving as a weather officer for the 21st Operational Weather Squadron at Kapaun Air Station, Germany. The squadron’s responsibilities include weather forecasting for specific areas throughout Europe, Africa, and part of the Middle East.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*