Sunday, June 9, 2013

Getting Ready For Graduation

Depending on the location your soldier is sourced to for BCT, you may be forced to start making some rather intricate plans to attend their graduation ceremony.  If you are having second thoughts about whether or not to attend, allow me to assist you in making the daunting decision. GO!  Not only will you be profoundly proud to be able to witness the weekend’s events, but your soldier will be absolutely ecstatic and eternally grateful to see you.
After 10 weeks, this was the best hug of all time! (For both of us)
Here’s a few (money saving) tips to keep in mind when planning for the weekend:

1.       Book a hotel early!
Most of the BCT training bases are located in, shall we say, interesting areas, usually around a sort of downtown city where the local establishments may be somewhat sketchy at best.   Do a general search on the area, see what is around, and book a location as soon as you know the graduation date for certain.  Hotels will book up VERY quickly, and depending on the area, the better, and even the mediocre hotels/motels will be booked many weeks in advance.  You do not want to end up being forced to stay at Clem’s Roadside Motel and Gator Grill where the accommodations still offer Free HBO, a coin operated vibrating bed, a la Chevy Chase’s Vacation, and all the gator you can eat.  

You will most likely find a Best Western, Holiday Inn, or other large hotel chain that may even offer a package deal for a multi-night stay.  Because graduation activities are often midweek, and early in the morning, you will probably be staying at least three nights, which typically qualifies for a decent deal.  Also, while booking your stay consider using points or rewards from your credit cards.  Even if they do not cover the cost of the stay, they could help bring the price down.   However, be aware that it is extremely unlikely that your soldier will be spending the night with you, so make sleeping accommodations accordingly.

FM’s graduation weekend began bright and early on a Thursday morning with Family Day at 0800, and ended at 1950 Friday evening after the graduation ceremony that morning.  Unless you live rather close to the base, plan to be there a day ahead of time, and leave the day after the festivities conclude, just to be safe.

2.       Fly smart
If you are as unlucky as FM and myself, and forced to travel quite a distance to get to see your soldier walk the stage, do yourself a favor and fly smart.  Much like booking a hotel, start looking at flights as soon as you know the graduation date, but do not be too quick to jump on the first deal you come across.  Airfares are akin to the ocean, constantly ebbing and flowing by the day, where prices on Tuesdays typically ebb, Fridays thru Sundays flow ferociously.

Keep an eye on changing fares through a site like Kayak or FareCompare which will send you free alerts as frequently as you so choose when your fares start dancing.  Also, change the parameters on your search, if possible, to fly on a Wednesday or Saturday, the two cheapest days to travel, where an early morning or late evening trip could ensure hundreds of dollars remain in your pocket, and not in the plump purse of the airline industry.  

You can also save some SIMolians if you extend your search to a larger airport nearby.  Flying into the closest, but somewhat smaller, airport may not necessarily be the cheapest when you consider that most car rental agencies are offering vehicles with an unlimited mileage rate for the same daily price. Flying into an airport slightly further away from the base may end up being cheaper even if you factor in the gasoline it may take to get to the location.  For example: flying into Dallas-Ft. Worth airport is three hours away from Ft. Sill, whereas Oklahoma City is only 1.5 hours, however, the airfare difference between the two is over $200.  It will not cost even remotely close to $200 in gas for a three hour round trip. Crunch the numbers before you book.

3.       Rent before you arrive
If you arrange for a vehicle before you venture off on your merry way, you will not only be saving an exorbitant amount of time at the airport, but most likely some cash as well.  You can find some great deals on unlimited mileage car rentals through your everyday sites like Hotwire and Priceline that constantly run specials, and may even provide a discount for paying your charges upfront before you arrive at the desk.  Just make sure to check with the rental company before you book if you are planning to travel across state lines to ensure that you will not be charged any unnecessary fees. 

4.       Enjoy the 24 hours you get with your soldier
The #1 thing to remember is to enjoy the very brief time you will have with your solider.  Those twelve or so hours over two days will pass super-fly fast, and you will be back on your way home again.  Take a ton of pictures, be appropriately proud, and soak up every laugh and loving embrace you can share before they head off to their new duty/AIT stations.  Make it count!
Throughout the graduation weekend you will hear a lot about what your soldier accomplished and learned in the former ten weeks, along with how much they have “changed”. If your soldier is older, and was accustomed to making their own bed, doing their own laundry, and generally taking care of themselves, you probably will not notice too much of a “change,” but what you definitely will witness is a change in attitude towards you.  Over ten weeks they have become far more appreciative of your love and support; no matter how much they did, or did not, express it before.  You will notice a change in their devotion to you far before graduation weekend, but you will really be able to grasp it fully once your soldier goes from being just words in a letter/a voice on the phone to the real thing physically standing in front of you (and looking mighty good in that uniform, I may add).

Those two days will remain as some of both my, and FM’s, favorite memories together, because we had a chance to reconnect in a way that we never could have after four years of dating/living together.  
 I hope you enjoy your time together as much as we did.
Pure happiness! :)

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