Aspects of Living abroad

Living in a foreign country has been an adjustment for all of us. We knew it would be an adjustment when I chose orders to Japan, but we wanted to meet the challenge. Here is a little of what we have learned and/or experienced so far during our past two months on island.


Driving is different than in the United States. First off, the driver is on the right side of the vehicle, and one drives on the left side of the road, like in England. This is opposite what we have been used to in the states. I will admit I did pull out from a stop sign once during my first week behind the wheel and automatically went to the right side of the road…oops! Luckily it was on base and there wasn’t any traffic, so I was able to correct myself without any additional issues. In addition to the steering wheel on the “wrong” side, the levers for the turn signals and windshield wipers are on opposite sides. This has been a harder adjustment for us and both Heather and I have given the “Okinawa wave” as fellow service members call it by hitting the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal lever. This apparently is a classic American mistake. On the bright side, the pedals are on the same side as in the states, so the right foot is still the gas pedal, so at least we don’t have to learn to drive entirely backwards. The final major difference in the vehicles here is that the speedometer is in kilometers per hour instead of miles per hour. The speed limits on island top out at 60kph unless on the toll freeway. This equates to a whopping 37mph. If you have a “need for speed” Okinawa is not really the place for you unless you happen to fly a jet. However, it does allow for some leeway since everything occurs at a slower speed. Instead of trying to figure out which lever to use for turn signals at 80mph, it’s a lower 37 mph.

            In order to drive in Japan as U.S. service members we were required to pass a written exam on Japanese road laws and signs. We had a study guide to prepare, and both Heather and I passed on our first attempt. Once out on the open road one must decode the local road signs. The major signs are primarily in picture form along with Japanese and English text. This not to say that all signs are bilingual however, so there are plenty of signs and pavement markings that we have no idea what they mean. It has not caused a problem yet, but has made me more aware of the struggles foreigners living in the U.S. must go through if they are not proficient in the English language.

            Another aspect of driving that is different is the use of emergency lighting by the police. In America if a police car behind you has its red flashing lights on, you had best pull over. In Japan flashing lights simply means the police are on patrol and can be completely disregarded unless they activate their siren which means to stop. One interesting note is that the lightbar on top of American police cruisers are typically mounted very close to the roof of the car. Sometimes this is for aerodynamics, sometimes to try and blend in with other traffic. In Japan the lightbar is mounted high above the roof on a fiberglass pedestal to raise the lights above the height of other vehicles for increased visibility. When stopped these pedestals extend upward with a scissor-type lift to further raise the lights for visibility. With these features it is probably apparent that the police do not really “hide” much. Another thing they don’t do much here is run speed traps. There are numerous speed cameras mounted over the roadway on metal pole structures which control motorists’ speed. The cameras are, according to multiple online sources, set to trigger around 30kph over the limit. While I do not have any first-hand experience with it, it is said that the fine if caught by these cameras is pretty steep. With these cameras positioned all over the place most drivers keep it within 10-15kph over the limit, which seems to be the normal speed of traffic in town. Those that choose to zoom around will receive a ticket in the mail as these cameras snap pictures of their joy ride.

Purchasing fuel on Okinawa is a little different than in the States. First, one must decide to purchase gas on-base or off-base. If buying on-base there is one gasoline option: 85 octane gasoline sold by the gallon. They also sell diesel on base, but none of our vehicles use it. The vehicles and our lawn mower all seem to run just fine on 85 octane fuel here. If purchasing fuel off-base there are two gasoline octane options, 90 and 98, however it is sold by the liter not the gallon. When compared in equivalent measures, off-base fuel costs around three times the amount of on-base fuel. Noting this, we make it a point to fuel up on base as much as possible. This has been fairly easy since the island is only about 7 miles wide and 70 miles long, so we can make it from our home in the central region of the island to anywhere on the island and back without refueling.

After watching such movies as “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” one may have the impression that all the cars here are “rice” cars with loud mufflers, sit low to the ground, and are wide in stance. That is certainly not the case, at least on Okinawa. I have actually seen this style of car the most ON base and not driven by locals. Largely the vast majority of cars are small and narrow. We have one of the largest vans on the island and it could be described as a roomy minivan by American standards. Large SUVs and pickup trucks are simply not a thing here. We are glad we did not attempt to bring our Ford Transit van as it would not have fit well here. The roadway lanes are more narrow and parking is a significant problem here. In fact, to purchase a car in Japan one must provide proof they have a place to park it before being allowed to purchase the vehicle. The malls and larger businesses have plenty of parking (mostly on the roof and in parking garages) but visiting small businesses can be a challenge because there really is nowhere to park in the immediate area. When we were looking for a church to attend on island, one of the things we looked for was if they have a parking lot or not.

Operational Security

Those who have been around the military know that keeping a low profile and blending in can be of benefit to limit risks while overseas. While this may be the case, since US military bases occupy 25% of the island paired with the fact that our license plates actually denote that we are Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) personnel, this has proven more difficult on Okinawa. This of course, is in addition to the fact that I am taller than every native citizen I have come across so far. Luckily Japan is pretty U.S.-friendly and this is less of an issue than some other countries that come to mind.

Broadcast Media

Living on base we have cable internet that is provided through a vendor for the Armed Forces Network. We have 8 free channels along with our desired (paid) internet access package. The free channels offer a good mix of sports, entertainment, and news. I have actually been pleasantly surprised with the amount of baseball I have been able to watch this season. We could purchase an additional cable TV package, but we stream a lot via other media services so we do not have a large need for cable channels. I will say that watching TV here is not really the typical American experience though. As the programming is provided in conjunction with the military, there are not typical commercials. Instead the commercial breaks are filled with advertisements for on-base services such as the Officer’s club, the various pools on base, and infomercials related to water safety, Covid-19 vaccines, weather, and typhoon preparedness. On a related note, we have found exactly one radio station that is broadcast in English, and you know what? You guessed it, it is broadcast by the U.S. military from a station on one of the local bases. As far as media goes, even though we are living in a foreign country, we are firmly rooted in American media. If flashbacks to “Good morning Vietnam” with Robin Williams come to mind, you are probably not too far off track.


Another aspect of life we have had to adjust to is the money system. The Japanese use the Yen, which is roughly equal to a penny. Paper notes consist of 1000, 5000, and 10000 yen bills and coins for 500, 100, 50, 10, 5, and 1 yen. When calculating the rough cost in US dollars one just mentally moves the decimal two spaces, so 1200 yen is approximately $12.00. It is kind of fun going to the ATM though, because you feel really rich when withdrawing 40,000 yen (Approximately $400). For anyone coming to Japan in the near future, I would advise you to use ATMs off-base for acquiring Yen instead of on-base ATMs. Even with the 1% international fee my bank assesses the conversion rate between dollars and Yen is much better off base. We have found that we need to keep both dollars and yen on hand because on base transactions use dollars and off base transactions require yen. Yen is also important to carry as many businesses do not accept American credit or debit cards.

Vending machines

Vending machines are literally everywhere! As long as you have some yen in your pocket you will never be hungry or thirsty due to non-availability of refreshments. Leaving the pool after a refreshing swim? 3 vending machines along the sidewalk. Inside the military health clinic? 4 vending machines. Taking a walk around the abandoned old Navy hospital? You guessed it, 2 glowing vending machines positioned along the chain-link fence. Taking a drive through the sugarcane fields? Yes, even here one will find an operational vending machine on a pallet to keep it up off the dirt. These vending machines are packed full, but not full of just soda. They offer multiple coffees, teas, waters, juices, and a few select sodas. Other vending machines offer ice cream cones, eggs, hot food, beer (Japanese ID required), umbrellas, batteries, or facemasks should you have the need. While I have not seen one in person, Japan even boasts that they offer covid-19 testing swabs via vending machines, although I am not sure how the swabs get processed once obtained.


            I think I could sum the weather up in two words: hot and humid. While Japan mainland has more changing of the seasons, Okinawa is pretty much hot and humid most of the year with winter lows only dipping into the 50s. Just yesterday by 10am it was 92 degrees with a heat index of 119. Needless to say during the summer many people spend the heat of the day indoors or engaged in water activities. The housing community is pretty empty during the day but in the evenings as the sun is less intense there is a flurry of activity. With this much humidity hanging in the air the chance for rain is ever-present so the daily forecast is pretty much the same: hot and humid with a 50% chance of rain.


            Living abroad can be a fun experience trying new foods. The ramen here is fabulous! Even the pre-packaged ramen bowls are better than in the states. They come with multiple packets of both dry and wet ingredients that get mixed into the bowl. Heather has taken a liking to the Japanese curry. It is a more mild curry than Indian curry as it is based on the late 1800s British curry. It is served with some sort of protein, sauce, and white rice. It is simple, but pretty good. Out in town meat is more expensive and less available on island than in the states, with the exception of seafood which can be obtained locally and in quantity. Luckily, the military commissary tends to do a decent job of keeping us hungry Americans supplied with all the normal meats from the states, although it mostly arrives frozen due to the long transit time from the states. Due to things being deep frozen for transit there are signs on the freezer doors stating that the expiration date on food packages can be extended by 6 months due to being frozen.

So there is a small taste of the differences one may experience while living abroad. Stay tuned for more posts about our explorations around the island and beyond.

Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters

By: Kevin

This weekend we ventured to the southern end of Okinawa to tour the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters. It is here where Vice Admiral Minoru Ota made his last stand and ultimately committed suicide so he would not be captured. It now stands as a monument to peace and remembrance.

The battle of Okinawa was among the bloodiest of World War II, lasting 82 days from when American forces first landed on the beaches on April 1, 1945 until June 13, 1945 when Admiral Ota died an “honorable death” for Japan. The total death toll for the battle of Okinawa stands at 12,520 Americans and 188,136 Japanese over the course of the battle. In the tunnels of the headquarters, according to the Sixth Marine Division, 175 Japanese deceased soldiers were found.

The outdoor monument and green spaces are free to tour, but there is a small admission fee for the tunnels and indoor museum. The museum features the timeline of the battle as well as Japanese uniforms and artifacts recovered from within the underground headquarters. Few weapons remain as the Japanese intentionally destroyed them so they could not be used against the Japanese later in the war. While some areas of the museum were in Japanese as well as English, some exhibits are only in Japanese, so the Google translate app on our phones proved very useful. As one starts down the stairs into the tunnels the walls are adorned with Japanese Senbazuru. These hanging paper sculptures are each made from 1,000 tiny origami cranes threaded together into strands of 100. They are gifted for the purpose of conveying prayers for healing and peace.

The headquarters consisted of multiple interconnected tunnels and rooms complete with ventilation shafts and emergency exits. The core of the headquarters lies 20 meters (65 ft.) below the surface to protect it from enemy attack. We were able to view the operations room, Commanding Officer’s room, 3 generator rooms, the code room, a staff room, as well as 3 rooms for soldiers. These rooms of soldiers were so tightly packed at times it was said one could sleep standing up. As many as 2,000 soldiers and officers occupied the headquarters during the battle of Okinawa. In one room of the headquarters the walls are riddled with shrapnel scars from the hand grenade that Admiral Ota used to commit suicide.

Touring the headquarters was very interesting from an exploration point of view, but it also holds additional significance to my family because my grandfather was stationed aboard the USS Edgecombe, a Haskell-class attack transport ship that landed assault troops on the Okinawa beach on April 1, 1945: the first day of the battle of Okinawa. His job as a navy corpsman was to accept the dead and wounded from the beach and provide medical care to them. Of course while he was rendering aid to American soldiers the Japanese kamikaze pilots were strafing the decks of the American ships with gunfire. I remember my grandfather telling me when he heard the planes swooping down he would tuck himself into the side of an I-beam and watch the hot rounds ricochet off the steel ship deck. As I pause in reflection some 76 years later I am an American Naval officer stationed on Okinawa standing in the Japanese Naval headquarters that was so fiercely defended from my grandfather and the Americans who came before me. It really is thought-provoking.

On a lighter note, once we finished our tour the kids played at a near-by park and we tried Japanese curry, which is based on British curry, with a milder spice than Indian curry. Heather and the kids had various beef or chicken dishes while I tried the shrimp & clam curry. It later occurred to me as I was looking at our receipt that mine was the least expensive dish. In the states I would think it would have been the most expensive. I guess that’s what you get when living on a sub-tropical island.

PCS Travel

By: Kevin

March 31st was our last morning in San Diego and thus started our marathon of travel. We awoke before sunrise and piled 4 sleepy children into the van. Our first stop was to drop off our dog, Dixie, at my coworker’s home where she would stay until she traveled to Japan in late April. Next was a final stop at the Navy hospital to officially check out of the command. My orders were stamped and we were all loaded in the van by 6:45am. From there we hit the road! We spent the next almost 24 hours driving across California, Arizona, New Mexico, and into Texas. Our first destination was the Silos at Magnolia in Waco, Texas. As we traveled across west Texas in the dark we did hit an unidentifiable pile of road kill with the left front tire. Usually when one hits an animal the driver can identify the animal, whether or not one can avoid it or not. In this case, neither Heather nor I were quite sure what it was we hit. We didn’t think it was a coon, skunk, or opossum. It wasn’t until we stopped for a few-hour nap at a truck stop several hours later that I discovered there were porcupine spines sticking out of our left front tire!! I spent almost 10 minutes picking spines out of the tread and the sidewall of the tire. This was painful to me, not because I got poked, but because the tire was only about two days old. Some of the spines were in a little deep, and I was really hoping that the tire would remain inflated and not be a loss of $180 as I doubt a tire shop would put that many plugs in the tire, and they won’t plug the sidewall at all. Luckily, the tire made it the rest of the trip without losing pressure, so I think we dodged the bullet of buying a new tire.

The Silos

On arrival to the Silos we first visited the Magnolia Press for some coffee and breakfast. We ate it on the outdoor patio as we watched the live entertainer getting set up for the day. The atmosphere was very pleasant. We then wandered through the shops at the Silos. We last visited the Silos and Waco, TX three years ago on our way to San Diego. Much has changed in the past three years with the addition of the coffee shop, a wiffle ball field, a church, and two rows of small shops that border a green space to name a few. Last time we visited it was right in the middle of a huge festival at the Silos, so this visit was welcomed with less people to contend with for space. If you happen to be a Fixer Upper fan and are in the area, I would suggest you make a stop at the silos.


            Our next two stops along our journey were to visit some good friends of ours in Louisiana. The first stop was at the house of a nurse who I worked with in Ohio prior to starting travel nursing, who now lives in Louisiana. We visited, had dinner, and spent the night; and awoke to Mickey Mouse waffles, bacon, and fruit in the morning. After a delicious breakfast and a round of goodbye hugs we traveled about an hour down the road to another family who we knew from our time at Ohio State University well before either family had children. Now some 16+ years later our friendship continues and we had a wonderful multi-day visit with this family before bidding farewell and pressing north toward Ohio.


            Our last stop before heading overseas was to visit the homestead in Ohio. Not only were we all excited to see parents, grandparents, and friends, I do believe that at least one of them would have tracked us down had we omitted the visit. This visit was full of visiting, feasting, and just spending quality time with loved ones. But of course, this too came to an end too quickly and it was time to prepare to leave. Heather and I spent a day and half organizing, preparing, and cramming military seabags full of our remaining items that had not already been shipped ahead. We joked about dragging four children, 2 carseats, 6 carry-ons, and 10 pieces of checked luggage through the airport. However, there was a degree of truth to that joke and we were cautiously optimistic it would go well for us.

Time to Fly

            Before dawn we all piled into the van one last time to head for the airport. All 4 kids fell back asleep during the 1 hour ride, awaking only once we were preparing to drive up the departure drop-off ramp. As we began to unload all the baggage onto the curb a very nice airport attendant brought a large luggage cart and assisted us all the way to the airport check-in counter as our airline did not have curbside baggage check. His assistance was well worth the tip we gave him. Next was TSA security, but being so early in the morning there was literally no line. We walked right up to the checkpoint and we were through pretty quickly and without incident. Our first flight was to Georgia so we were only in the air about an hour.

In Georgia the kids had fun riding the underground train that connected the terminals with each other and had some lunch while watching the flurry of activity on the tarmac and waiting for our next flight. The second flight was longer and aboard a much larger aircraft enroute to Washington state, but this was made more manageable by video screens in the headrests in front of us and our laptops for the older two kids to play Minecraft on for a few hours.

On arrival in Washington we got all our luggage off the baggage claim, rolled it via 2 rental carts to the curb and loaded it onto a shuttle bus that took us to the rental car facility where we had to load it back onto rolling carts to take to our rental vehicle. I’m sure we were quite the spectacle for those traveling with a single backpack slung over their shoulder, but with 6 people moving overseas packing light was very challenging. We could have skipped the rental car, but the thought of loading all our stuff into multiple Toyota Prius taxi cabs was just not a process I was willing to entertain. As it was we packed a Toyota Sienna to the gills with a seabag occupying the middle seat in the second and third rows of the van seats. I’m glad we didn’t have to travel long distance like that. We obtained dinner from the Wendy’s drive-thru and proceeded to our hotel for the night where, you guessed it, we unloaded all the luggage into our room. While it was fairly early according to Pacific Time our bodies were still on Eastern time, and we knew we would again be up before the sun, so we hit the sack shortly after dinner.

Military Flight

            It has been said that the military accomplishes more before breakfast than others accomplish all day. Therefore, in true military fashion our alarm clocks started making noise at 3:17am. We were all loaded up and on the road back to the airport by 4am, and were filling out military paperwork for our departure by 4:30am. The military flight, with some administrative/paperwork exceptions, operated very similarly to commercial flight including passing through TSA security and everything. Our baggage was counted, weighed, and tagged. One new aspect of travel was the airline agent weighing all our carry-on luggage and asking how much each PERSON weighed to account for the total weight of the aircraft. While it makes sense to account for how much fuel the plane will use, it is the first time I have been asked how much I weigh before boarding a flight. I can only imagine how well that question would be tolerated in civilian air travel.

            Once we were boarded and in the air we enjoyed full meals and plenty of snacks and bottles of water. We all packed our own water bottles, but I think I only drank from mine once or twice the whole trip due to the quantity of refreshments offered by the airline. Compared to some civilian airlines that barely give you 6 crackers during the flight, it was a welcomed change, especially on such a long flight. The aircraft itself was operated by a contracted airline, not the military, so the plane was comparable to commercial flight. We seemed to have a few more inches of knee room and the TVs in the back of headrests had a limited number of movies on them, but otherwise was a typical commercial plane. The kids watched Toy Story 4 on repeat for around 12 hours straight since there were only around three children movies on the system. If we were to do it again, I would have purchased regular headphones for the youngest two kids as the airline-provided earbuds kept falling out of their little ears. The plane traveled from Washington state to mainland Japan where it made two enroute stops before landing on Okinawa. While I am sure it is regulation the airline provides the safety speech before take-off every time, after hearing the same information five times in a 24-hour period I think I could present the safety speech myself without a script.

On the Ground

            Upon landing in Okinawa we were shuttled to the terminal via bus where we went through the military version of customs and collected our baggage. If I didn’t mention it earlier we knew there would be an overwhelming number of green military seabags on the flight, so prior to leaving San Diego Heather sewed a matching wide colorful stip of fabric around each of our  seabags for easy identification. This was immensely helpful in picking them out. In fact, being close to the back of the plane our luggage actually beat us to the baggage claim and other military members had started a pile of our seabags for us since they inferred that they were all from the same group. We again managed to lug all our baggage out the doors of the terminal and met our command sponsors who helped us load our gear into their vehicle and transported us to our base housing. We received a warm welcome from the neighborhood on arrival including cupcakes, flowers, care packages, and welcome posters taped to the front of our unit. Once inside our housing we took a quick look around, flopped mattresses and sleeping bags on the floor and slept the sleep of the dead, until 4:00 am when we were all awake and hungry due to the time difference/jet lag. We were lucky enough to have our household goods delivered prior to our arrival so at 4am we started unpacking stacks of boxes while slurping down instant ramen bowls. It was time to get moved in.

Arizona Hiking

During our checkout process from San Diego, we had a few free days and decided to take a trip to the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park in Arizona. We started off with a 6 hour drive from San Diego. Along the way we passed through the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area which is always a sight to behold. When we had nearly arrived at our destination we started to wind our way up into higher elevations and then were finally in the small town of Yarnell, AZ. Yarnell did not have many open businesses but there was a Dollar General open and we stopped for some snacks. For dinner we had instant soup cups and peanut butter and jelly: a very fancy dinner. We planned to van camp in the area, and there really were not a lot of options as small as the town was. So, we cooked dinner and stayed the night in the parking lot for the trailhead. Early the next morning we were up and getting ready for our big hike. The memorial hike is around 7 miles long with an elevation gain/loss of around 2,500ft. The weather forecast looked like there would be some wind coming in the afternoon so we wanted to get started as early as possible. I think we did not make it onto the trail until 9am though with getting the beds broken down and breakfasts (instant oatmeal) and everyone moving in the same direction. The weather was cool, but not terrible. Along the trail were steel plaques affixed to large rocks telling about each member of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew that died in the middle of a wildfire in 2013. Each member had their own plaque with a photo. 
It was sobering to read about these fine young men that gave their lives in the defense of others. As we crossed over the ridge at the top of the mountain the wind was blowing decently and Chipmunk started getting pretty winey due to being cold. We found some shelter behind a cluster of large rocks, took him out of the pack he was riding in and snuggled him up against Kevin with a blanket. Before too long he was warmed up again and the hike pressed onward. As we neared the end of the trail we could see the fatality site below us in the box canyon. We hiked down into the canyon and spent some time at the fatality site memorial before making our way back up to the ridge. By this time the wind had kicked up considerably, hours ahead of when the weather channel predicted it to build. Unpredictable wind conditions like these were exactly what the Hotshot crew was up against some 8 years ago, putting the whole thing into even better perspective. It was lunchtime by this point, but everyone was well aware of the deteriorating weather and when put to a vote the whole family agreed to skip lunch in favor of hiking out on empty stomachs so we could get off the trail before the weather really got bad. An updated forecast advised of gusting winds around 50mph with a wind chill in the mid 30s. We remembered that we keep an emergency bivvy sack in our pack and wrapped it around Chipmunk for the hike back. He was much warmer this way.
Our pace was much quicker on the way back down, which was aided by the downhill slope of the trail, but I believe we all knew we wanted to be off the mountain. Miss Kicky Feet always amazes us by doing her own hiking. At 4 years old she was able to hike the whole trail on her own and she spent the last half of it pretending to be an airplane, flying and gliding into the strong wind, complete with sound effects. Upon reaching the bottom we encountered a mildly frantic mother asking if we had seen her  daughter who was further up the trail and had texted her mom that the weather was deteriorating. We remembered seeing her and thinking she was not properly equipped for the temperatures and wind, but we were not in a position to head back up the trail to find her. We advised her that we had seen a State Parks ranger on the trail and that hopefully she would run into him. Back at the van we loaded up and drove on to Prescott, AZ which was the home base of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew. We found a learning center dedicated to the memory of the Hotshot crew which had multiple displays describing the people, tools, and fire conditions that ultimately led to the demise of the team. It was apparent that this western town where everyone knew everyone was still very much grieving the loss of these 19 local heroes. We finished out the day with dinner at Cracker Barrel (Prescott is a much larger town than Yarnell) and van camped in the Cracker Barrel parking lot.

The next day brought even colder temperatures and freezing rain with occasional sleet, so we elected not to head out on the planned trail hike. Instead we opted to explore the downtown area including the former Sam Hill hardware store and The Palace Saloon. The expression "What in Sam Hill's!" started here referring to the odd/unique things that could be found at the hardware store. The saloon offered some very tasty grub and a large wooden bar from the 1800s. The bar even survived a massive downtown fire due the farm hands that were drinking that day dragging it out of the building and across the street prior to the bar's building burning to the ground. While it may sound like a tall tale, there is photographic evidence of the story's truth. The amount of history within the saloon was more than enough to warrant the stop.
What a difference a day can make! The following day was not in the 30s nor sleeting, but rather it was sunny and warm. After making breakfast we hiked out to the Alligator Juniper tree, an important tree just outside Prescott that the Hotshot crew defended during a wildfire just days prior to the fatal Yarnell fire. The tree is actually listed on the U.S. Forest Service list of historic places. The tree is very old and very large compared to the other brush and small trees around it. This tree has also served as a lasting memorial to the Granite Mountain Hotshots with items placed on and around the tree by visitors from around the nation. Upon returning to our van and changing into lighter clothing we headed northeast again to the Petrified Forest National Park, which we have been to a few times already, but wanted to see again before heading overseas for the next few years. After the Petrified forest we decided it was time to return to San Diego and prepare to leave California. We really enjoyed this impromptu hiking vacation and time spent together.
For anyone not familiar with the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew, I would encourage you to read about them and/or watch the movie Only the Brave (2017) which depicts the events that led up to the creation and demise of the Hotshot crew. I have made a video of our pictures and posted it on YouTube which can be viewed here:

Transit Van Modifications

First off, while our pace of travel has changed since we started this blog, our site statistics still say people are reading and watching our blog, so we plan to continue posting, especially as we head overseas in the coming year.

Now, on to our subject for this post, our van and what we have done to it since we got it! We have been really enjoying our Ford Transit, but we couldn’t help tweaking it to suit us just a little bit better.

Within just a few days of buying the van we installed a dash camera, ham radio transceiver, and 500-watt power inverter. All of these were in our former van, a Toyota Sienna, and were easy additions with a little bit of electrical wiring. It stands to reason why Heather just stood and shook her head as I pulled up floor panels and drilled holes in a van that we (according to the DMV) didn’t even fully own yet. We also noticed that there were no places to hang garments in the van, so two grab handles were added to the rear ceiling just in front of the rear doors that double as locations from which to hang clothes hangers.

If one looks at the picture from our post announcing the van purchase one would notice there is no step on the side. This did not make it impossible to get in or out of the van, but it made for a large first step to get in, especially for small children. This too was an easy fix because we were able to find an original equipment step on eBay. Better yet, the van frame already had the threaded mounting holes, so with just a few bolts the step was ready for use.

Heather and the kids enjoy playing MineCraft with family in Ohio. However, our satellite internet connection causes issues while playing the game over the slow internet. To combat this they have been taking the van to a parking lot in town and using the cellular hotspot on our cell phone to play instead. Yes, the cell phone data speeds are less latent than our satellite connection at the RV. To power the laptops for hours of gaming they use a small gasoline generator and and extension cord run through a door to a power strip. To streamline the process and reduce the stress on the electric cord being repeatedly being slammed in a door, I mounted a shore power connection in the rear bumper and wiring run to a total of 6 120-volt outlets mounted in the side wall of the van interior. These outlets are only active when plugged into a generator or shore power, but that is ok as we also have the inverter if needed for small 120-volt needs while driving. This setup can be used in-motion by ratchet-strapping the generator to a utility tray that mounts to the rear of the van via the 2″ trailer hitch.

Heather wanted to use the van for some longer road trips instead of always bringing the full RV with us. For this Heather planned, designed, and installed a bed and hammock system all by herself while I was gone on deployment. I have to say, I was pretty impressed when I saw it. The bed platform is made entirely of plywood and allows all 10 rear seats to be installed. There is a bit of an overhang, so the rear 4 seats should be used by shorter passengers, however if the front two slats are removed from the platform a full-sized adult can sit comfortably in the rear seats. The entire bed platform can be removed quickly by simply removing the interlocking slats without unscrewing anything. The side supports can come out as whole pieces and no further disassembly is required. To keep the whole system from sliding around the sides of the platform lock into place around the upright side posts and wheel wells. On top of the wooden slats we placed thin plywood sheeting and a 3″ memory foam mattress topper that we cut to fit the profile of the platform

For the hanging hammocks, Heather removed the interior ceiling panels and bolted Uni-strut to the existing roof cross-members creating a grid framework to hold the weight of the hammocks and occupants. From there she poked eye bolts through the interior ceiling panels and (once the panels were reinstalled) the bolts threaded into captive nuts in the Uni-strut track. From these eye bolts she hung homemade hammocks made from PVC pipe and rip-stop nylon, which she sewed herself. She hung these hammocks with nylon webbing and properly-rated carabiners. The hammocks can be removed and stored on the rear bed platform or strapped to the ceiling above our heads, however this option does obstruct some ceiling lights. For those that notice the white mesh item on the back middle seat, that is Chipmunk’s crib with mesh sides so he doesn’t crawl all around the van before he goes to sleep. It too can be broken down flat for storage. The kids really like the hammocks, and we have used them for a few trips now and they sleep the whole night without complaints.

One drawback of the Transit van is the lack of natural ventilation. You see, only the two front door windows open. That leaves the other 10 seat in the van with only ventilation from the heating and air conditioning vents. This meant that we were running the fan just to have some airflow and not because we needed heat or cooling. To remedy this we installed a 14″ vent fan in the rear roof of the van. This allows hot air to escape out the top and draw fresh air into the van through the front windows. We have a similar vent fan installed in our RV bathroom, but the MaxxAir MaxxFan is built to handle the wind forces of driving and protect against surprise rain showers without the addition of an extra cover. The fan has 10 speeds and an automatic mode that, when activated, will automatically turn the fan on when the temperature in the van reaches 78 degrees. As the temperature continues to rise, the fan will increase in speed through its 10 speeds as needed. When the temperature falls below 78 degrees, the fan turns itself off. After a hot sunny day at the beach parking lot I can tell you the automatic feature is awesome!!! Instead of opening the door to a blast of hot air upon returning to the van, we actually found the van interior to feel cooler than the exterior air temperature. One final note is that the fan took some of the ceiling space that the cargo area ceiling light formerly occupied. The removal of this light left the cargo area a bit darker than I wanted, so two ceiling LED lights were added, one on each side of the fan to provide ample light to the cargo area (not in this picture).

The next question was how to keep our roof vent fan spinning all day while ensuring the van would start the next time we wanted to drive it. The solution was two-fold. First, the starter battery under the driver seat was scooted forward to allow the addition of a second (29-series marine deep cycle) battery under the seat. Special care was required to ensure the battery vent still poked through the floor to vent the battery underneath the van. The deep cycle battery was then attached to the vent fan as well as a few cigarette lighter sockets and anderson power poles for powering auxiliary devices. The second part of this was to ensure the battery would be able to be recharged. For this we added a 160-watt solar panel to the roof of the van and mounted a solar charge controller above the driver seat on the wall.

Wiring was threaded from the roof to the controller and down the wall behind plastic panels to the battery located under the driver seat. While solar will be the primary method of recharging, periods of shade and high device use may result in a need to use an additional charging method. To address this, we added a plug-in charger that uses one outlet on the van wall, so when shore power is connected to the rear bumper it charges the deep cycle battery. This dual-charging setup will allow us to utilize the sun when possible and have a backup charging plan when there is less sun available.

The last modification we made was more mechanical in nature. We had read a number of people voicing concern that the exhaust terminates UNDER the van. While actually driving this is not really a problem, but when van camping or idling for extended periods it could allow carbon monoxide from the exhaust to work its way up into the van. To address this we took the van to a muffler shop and in about 30 minutes they cut, bent, and welded an exhaust extension that comes out the side of the van behind the rear wheel (it is also behind the sliding side door when fully open). We considered just extending it straight out the back, but others had said after doing that they noticed they were getting hit with exhaust right against their legs when loading stuff in the back door if the van was running at the time. For this reason we elected for it to come out the side.

Pack it up!

It is no secret that those in the military move many times throughout their career. Our first military move was from Florida to California shortly after joining the military. We moved our own belongings in our RV and the military reimbursed us for our moving expenses. Except for having to weigh the RV at a truck stop, this was a pretty simple process since we were already living in our RV full-time, so not much really needed to be packed in order to move it. We are now quickly approaching our second military move, however this time we are having the military move us as the logistics of moving overseas is a lot more intensive than just moving across the continental United States. When the military moves you they hire a moving company to come to your location, pack all your belongings, inventory all the boxes, load it into large wooden crates, and ship it to your next location across the globe. When your things arrive at your new location the contracted company will even unpack all your items from the boxes and dispose of/recycle all the packing material and boxes. It really is door-to-door service and a rather amazing process. Our situation was slightly different from this pathway as we moved out of our RV prior to the moving company coming, so we did box a large portion of our things and put them in a storage unit until our pack-out date. On the day we “moved” the movers came to the storage unit, packed any remaining items that we had not already packed, inspected and adjusted anything that we had already packed, and organized them for packing into crates. Anything of significant value was inventoried on a specific form and serial numbers were recorded both on the form and the side of the box. This entire process took 2 guys less than 6 hours to pack, inventory, label, and load all of our household items, which totaled around 8,000 pounds. The packing of the wooden crates is done in such a way as to minimize the number of crates used, so these guys played Tetris: Master Edition with our boxes making sure to account for fragile items. It was actually rather impressive just how much they could Tetris into each wooden crate. Once they were done they nailed the last side on the crate and strapped it down. Since sending our goods we have received updates and tracking data on our crates even down to the vessel name they were loaded on and when they are expected to arrive in port at the destination. So far I am really pleased with the process and hopefully won’t find any broken items on arrival. Stay tuned for more updates as we arrive at our new duty station.

End of Year Update

Wow! Life has been a little crazy this year and I have realized that we have completely neglected our blog for the past 6 months. As with others, Covid has been a contributing factor to some of the craziness this year. At work there has been a tent set up in the emergency room parking lot since mid-summer to handle the additional influx of patients with covid-like symptoms. We also transformed our minor treatment area into an entire negative-pressure treatment area for covid patients. While this has not changed the number of days or hours worked in general, the workflow within the emergency department has needed to be adjusted and changed frequently in response to changing guidance.


The kids have been growing up way too fast. Within the past few weeks they have concluded their martial arts program at our church’s after-school program. The instructor said they both did very well and even gave them both a set of martial arts gloves to take with them to our next duty station to use during future classes. Heather and I, as well the kids, thought this was a very cool gesture by the instructor. They both think they want to continue learning martial arts, and what better place to learn and train than in an Asian country.

Change of Residence

Within the next two weeks we will be moving out of the RV which we have called home for the past (almost) 6 years. We have had some great times in the RV and it has served us well. However, our family has obviously grown over the past 6 years and our spacial needs have changed. This paired with taking overseas orders with the military for the next few years just aligned to give us a convenient time to move out of the RV and into something different. It would also be rather expensive to move the RV across the ocean, mostly at our expense. However, this means that we have to move out of the RV, and we are figuring out just how much we have managed to cram into this 32’ house on wheels of ours.


After returning from the Covid deployment to Los Angeles earlier this year I, Kevin, have been busy with school. I started back with classes the last week of June and summer semester rolled right into fall semester, separated only by a single weekend. When I concluded classes for winter break on December 18th, my brain was ready for a break after doing school for right around 6 months straight. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my school. The practicum experience has been very beneficial and I have learned a great deal about how hospital administration really works. Heather may not be enjoying it as much since many of my “off days” from work have still been spent at the hospital, just in a student status instead of a working status.

Trip to Ohio

In November we were fortunate enough to be cleared to travel out of state and took the opportunity to visit family in Ohio for two weeks. We made the 2,200 mile trip in just over 36 hrs from when we left San Diego. While in Ohio we celebrated both Thanksgiving and Christmas, which gave the grandparents the opportunity to see the kids open their gifts in person. In years past our visits have included a list of visits with friends around the state, but this year we curtailed our exposure risk by limiting our visits to primarily family instead. Despite these additional precautions the weekend we returned to San Diego we got word from our family in Ohio that many of them were beginning to lose their senses of taste and smell. You guessed it, they had covid. I spoke to my supervisor at work and it was determined that I should have a surveillance covid swab done to see if we brought it back with us from Ohio. Sure enough, I tested positive too despite having absolutely no symptoms myself. I and the family were placed on home quarantine for the next 10 days. We only ventured out for a single grocery run, and even then it was curbside delivery with practically no interaction with the employee that loaded our groceries in the back of the van. Luckily, none of the family developed any symptoms during the quarantine period either. If you were wondering, our Ohio family, while having minor symptoms, never progressed to requiring hospital care or emergency treatment. I am very thankful for that as many have not been as lucky as our family.

What’s Next

So what is next for us? In the next few weeks we will be packing up all of our household goods to send them overseas to the next duty station and will be temporarily be living in an AirBnB, which comes fully furnished, which gives us the flexibility to send our household goods ahead of time. It will also be nice to live in town again where cell service is much better than the campground at which our RV is currently parked.

Stay tuned for coming updates as we begin our adventures abroad. We will try to do a much better job at updating this blog so our friends and family know what we are up to. I will also have more time since I will be done with my Masters Degree by the time we leave the states.

Covid-19 Deployment

By: Kevin

The last week of March 2020 was the beginning of a new era for many Americans as they went into lock-down mode as businesses closed and travel became restricted throughout the United States due to the outbreak of Covid-19. However, for me and about 500 of my peers, a new journey was just beginning. I had been called upon to serve aboard the USNS Mercy, a huge white floating hospital ship operated by the U. S. Navy. I was asked to prepare for deployment in about 3 days while businesses and even travel around the city of San Diego was being halted. That added an extra degree of difficulty as I prepared due to stores being closed that I wanted items from! We were able to find some work-arounds such as doing curbside pickup of boot socks from Dick’s Sporting Goods, where you drive up after ordering online, roll down the window, and they pitch your purchases to you through the open window from a “safe distance”. Talk about abnormal shopping!

Well, I was able to get everything I needed in those few short days of scrambling around, jammed all of it into a seabag, a backpack, and a garment bag, and boarded the huge white ship which pulled out of port heading North, but with no official destination. It was determined a few days later that we would be heading to Los Angeles to help ease the load of local hospitals by taking non-Covid patients and caring for them aboard the ship. This was done because infection control is hard to battle onboard a ship in normal times, let alone with a tenacious virus like Covid-19 of concern.

Ship life was not too bad once one figured out how to navigate around the ship. Due to the large number of officers onboard the vessel I spent part of my time sleeping in an enlisted rack and part of the time in an Officer Stateroom. I will have to say I preferred the spacious Stateroom, but the enlisted rack was tolerable. I found the rocking of the ship at sea soothing as I was rocked to sleep at night, and it only took me about a day to get used to walking down a passageway while compensating for the shifting deck. Once we arrived in Los Angeles harbor the rocking of the ship stopped and we only noticed the tide when comparing our height to the cruise ship terminal at which we were docked.

There were other perks of being an officer onboard such as having a separate (shorter) line for food from the enlisted and we ate in the Wardroom instead of the common galley. However, due to social distancing requirements both officers and enlisted were detoured to the flight deck to eat under a large white tent when the galley and Wardroom were too full.

After 6 weeks aboard the USNS Mercy, while most of my peers were preparing to head home, I was re-tasked to a land-based mission in the Los Angeles area aiding local nursing homes who had requested assistance and had been identified by the state as being in distress. I was honored to be named the Officer in Charge of this mission, reporting directly to the Fleet instead of the USNS Mercy. Multiple small Medical Strike Teams were formed and we headed out to various nursing homes to assess, provide staffing, and teach infection prevention and control measures to mitigate Covid-19 transmission. We obtained vans and they were loaded down with personal protective equipment for each Strike Team. If there is one thing the military is good at, it is providing needed gear for its personnel.

For this phase of the mission we were based out of a hotel, as the USNS Mercy had pulled out of Los Angeles Harbor and was headed back to San Diego. After 4 weeks of assisting over 500 nursing home patients, the military made the decision we were no longer needed and we handed off our mission to the National Guard (a state asset) and the California Medical Assistance Team for continued work. While I have really enjoyed the 70 day mission and the experiences I have taken part in and learned from, I will be happy to return to the Navy Hospital and see my teammates of the Emergency Department again.

New wheels…again

By: Kevin

Kaw 1400

When we moved to San Diego, we never intended to change vehicles. We had a truck, van, and motorcycle that served their purpose and we enjoyed them. As one can read in a prior post on our site, we have already upgraded our van since we arrived in San Diego. Then I was on my way home from a training class on a freeway fly-over ramp when the SUV in front of me decided to brake harder than necessary. Due to being in a full-bank turn my motorcycle was hard to bring to a stop and I ended up skidding into the back of the SUV. I came off the bike and rolled past the side of the SUV before coming to a stop against the concrete barrier wall. Other than sore hands I had no other injuries. It certainly could have been much worse! The accident only left a scratch on the SUV (which the owner was not concerned about) but bent my handlebars and front forks. The insurance company inspected the bike and totaled it in a matter of minutes. It was mid-December so we decided to wait a bit for the weather to warm back up before seeking out a second bike. Well, San Diego weather is fairly mild, and by mid-February I was back on two wheels. My former bike was a 2005 Honda Shadow 750cc cruiser. I enjoyed it and put 41,000 miles on it since I purchased it brand new. Now that I had been riding for multiple years I was interested in a bike with a few more creature comforts. After test-riding it, I purchased a 2011 Kawasaki Concours 1400cc sport touring bike. After my crash some advised me to give up motorcycles entirely for safety reasons, but instead I more than doubled the engine size and top speed of my old bike. You can tell I listened very well, LOL.
The new bike has many creature comforts and upgrades compared to the Honda. It has ABS linked braking, a motorized push-button adjustable windshield, heated hand grips, a throttle lock, keyless ignition, locking hard saddle bags, full cowling, a digital dash, tire pressure monitoring, and LED lamps to name a few things I did not have on the Honda. I am very happy with it, and the ride is great. For anyone who cares, it also cost me half of what my Honda did, although the Honda was purchased brand new and the Kawasaki was purchased used with 13,000 miles on it.

Note: Since purchasing the bike all the Coast Guard stickers have been removed 🙂

Starting College Degree #3

Upon completing my Associates of Nursing I kind of knew at some point I would need to return to school for a Bachelors of Science of Nursing. I took a year off and then started back to school to obtain my BSN. In the middle of my degree program we launched on our Full-time RV adventures with travel nursing. Much time was spent at the homemade desk that was fashioned in our bedroom of the RV working on school assignments. I completed my BSN capstone project in Daytona Beach at the hospital where I was a contracted travel RN. The administrators were blown away that I was doing a capstone project in their hospital but was not even an employee. They offered me permanent employment multiple times over my remaining contracted time there. At the completion of my BSN I figured I was done with school. I was a well-educated bedside RN with no aspirations to become an advance-practice nurse.

Well, let me tell you, things change…..

After joining the US Navy I learned that while it is a number of years off, if I desire to obtain the rank of O-5 or above, I will need to have a Masters Degree. Add to this that the Navy offers tuition assistance (TA) to those taking classes, and the thought and cost of a Masters Degree became very attainable. I researched schools and started the process. I was once again back in school. Of course, anyone who knows the military knows that EVERYTHING is subject to change. Part way through my degree plan I learned that I was temporarily not eligible for tuition assistance because of a rule change made at the national level. This meant that at least one class would have to be paid for out of pocket instead of receiving tuition assistance. Heather and I decided that while this would be a minor inconvenience, the military tuition rate was still pretty darn good and that I would continue working on my degree until I became eligible once again for TA. After a single class being paid for out of pocket I fell back within the criteria for TA and I happily accepted additional money for school. My degree was then once again put on hold due to deploying on the USNS Mercy, one of two Navy hospital ships. Upon returning from my deployment I will restart my courses and with any luck I will complete my Masters Degree at my next duty station.

I guess it just stands to reason that wherever I start my degree is not necessarily where I will complete it. My BSN was completed over three geographic living locations, and my MSN will be completed over at least 3 geographic living locations as well, more if you count each campground separately.