Four years of contractor life…

Feeling comfy and secure?  Good!  Time to rotate.

I regularly get visitors to this blog from people who are considering the overseas military contracting life.  Today’s post is update number four in my continuing series about what it’s like to be a contractor in Germany after retiring from the Army.  Please note, I’m not the actual contractor; my husband is.  However, he doesn’t write this blog; I do.

Something major happened last week.  For those who haven’t been following along, here is a brief timeline of our four years in Stuttgart.

August 2014– We moved back to Stuttgart after having been gone five years.  Our arrival came one month after Bill retired from the Army.  Bill has a job working at AFRICOM with a well known company.  I posted my first blog entry about the contracting lifestyle.  Four years later, it remains a very popular post.

September 2015– I posted an update of what life had been like thirteen months after our arrival.

April 2017- Bill had just found out that the first company he worked for lost its contract.  A new company would be taking over.  Not everyone would be hired.  It was a very stressful month for us as we waited to find out our fate.  Bill did end up getting hired by the new company.  He also got a tentative job offer for a GS position in Italy, which he decided to turn down.

July 2017- Bill started working for the new company doing the same job he was doing when he was first invited to come to Germany.

October 2017- My third update on our overseas military contractor lifestyle was posted.

Okay…  so this past week, Bill had a meeting after work.  At the meeting, he and his co-workers were told that the government has decided to convert their positions to GS jobs.  The company Bill works for has been paid through the spring, so they will definitely have jobs until then, but after the money runs out, everyone will have to move to a different position or convert to the GS system.

This situation differs from what happened last year with Bill’s first employer.  That time, the contract was simply lost, and everyone was on the hook to find a new job.  Basically, everyone was told “Sorry and good luck.”  Quite a number of people ended up having to leave Germany, including a couple of people who had only just arrived months prior.

This time, no one is losing his or her job with the company; however, everyone who decides to stay with the company will be moving to a different position somewhere.  Some people might decide to become government service employees, but if they stay in Europe, that will very likely mean a significant reduction in pay.  Not only is the salary likely to be less, it will also mean giving up the housing allowance and moving expenses, should a move be required.  Some might opt to work for another company or simply leave Germany altogether.

Bill was asked if he would consider going GS and staying at his current job.  He said he wouldn’t, because it would mean an unacceptable reduction in pay and benefits.  Bill has enjoyed what he’s been doing for the past four years, but not enough to forfeit five figures in annual pay.  Aside from that, as a former Army officer, he’s used to changing jobs every few years.

Fortunately, in Stuttgart, Bill is qualified for a number of jobs and is well-liked by a lot of people.  Not only does he have a lot of experience working as an exercise planner in Europe, Africa, and South and Central America, he also has a brand new master’s degree in cybersecurity to join another one he has in information management.  The company he works for is very large and has contracts worldwide, so if there is nothing for him in Stuttgart, chances are good there’s something for him elsewhere in Germany or Europe.  Or, we could go back to the United States, although neither of us wants to do that.

Given my ‘druthers, I’d rather stay where we are.  It’s not that I don’t wonder about living in other places.  I just hate the moving process and have had to do it way too many times over the first twelve years of our marriage.  We like our dentist, our vet, and all of the amenities in this area.  While I don’t love our house much, I do like our dog friendly neighborhood and our relatively laid back neighbors.

I will admit, though, that I do sometimes fantasize about moving to a different part of Germany,  Belgium, Italy, or even Spain and travel blogging in a new area.  I like new experiences, trying new foods, and meeting different people.  I also sometimes muse about moving back to the States, buying a house of my own, maybe even finally getting a job somewhere, if anyone would hire me.  But I also have two aging dogs who aren’t in perfect health, so I don’t really fancy looking for a new vet, putting them through quarantine (in island areas), or making them fly long haul across an ocean.

So we’ll see what happens.  I won’t lie.  I am a little bit stressed out by this development, especially since we just went through a worse version of it last year.  However, some of Bill’s co-workers have been with the company longer and, when this has happened in the past, they were well taken care of.  We have no reason to believe that’s not what will happen this time.  At least this time, we have plenty of notice and not just ninety days.  And this time, the company wants to keep everyone and reassign them rather than tell them “See ya!  Wouldn’t want to be ya!”

Stay tuned for updates.


Contractor life with a new company…

I know a lot of people find this blog because they are seeking information about what it’s like to work for a military contractor in Germany.  Today’s post is update number three in my series about military contractor life.

If you’ve been reading earlier posts on this blog, you may know that in April of this year, Bill’s former employer lost its contract.  When we got the news, we worried about what would be coming next.  In that post, I mentioned that April is usually Easter time, and maybe the contract loss would be a blessing in disguise.  For the most part, I’d say that is what came to pass.

In May, Bill was given a tentative job offer for a government position in Italy.  We seriously considered making the move, but it soon became clear that moving to Italy would be a big, expensive hassle for us.  It appeared that not only would the salary be significantly less, but we’d also be responsible for moving ourselves and it looked like we would not get a housing allowance.  Bill applied for another government job in Germany and was on the short list for that one, but the story was the same.  The only difference was that we wouldn’t have to move.

Then, Bill was offered a job with the new contractor.  The new contractor is a much larger company than the old one and has deeper pockets.  Although they did not hire everyone from Bill’s old company, they did take most of the best people.  Bill got a significant upgrade in salary and benefits, although he will have to tolerate being a “hired gun” for a bit longer.

I can now see where people get the idea that government contractors make a lot of money, although I also know from experience that it’s not always the case.  The old company was paying a lot less– basically a salary they would give a captain in the Army rather than a retired lieutenant colonel, although the housing allowance brought the salary up to a more respectable level.  The new company pays a salary more in line with what guys like Bill should be making.

So far, the new company is better.  The contract is better written and lasts a year longer than the older one did.  Bill’s new boss is also great.  Fortunately, both companies had good people in charge who treated Bill well.  That’s a real blessing.  So, with any luck, Bill will be able to stick with this firm for awhile.

That being said…  I do love Germany very much, but I am beginning to think about what will come next.  I don’t know that we’ll want to live here for years on end, like some people do.  I don’t really miss America that much, but I would someday like to own my own home.  Also, whenever you move to a new location, there is the chance to see and do new things and meet new people.  We’ll be in Germany at least another year and probably longer, but I don’t think I’d mind moving to the next station, provided there is support and we don’t end up hanging out in Europe as tourists while we wait for things to get official.  That’s what would have happened if we had moved to Italy.

The funny thing is, the government folks in Italy are still ribbing Bill about not taking the job.  It does seem like a surreal twist of fate.  So many people complain about how hard it is to get a GS job.  Bill was offered one without even being interviewed, although that was because the Italy folks know him and know what they would be getting.  If the new company wants us to move to Italy, I’d be alright with it.  But only if they help us make the move.

I guess what it comes down to is the contractor life is not as stable as GS life is.  The lifestyle can be turbulent, and that makes it difficult to make plans.  Contractors also don’t get any authority except within their own company.

However, it is true that contractors can end up making significantly more money than government employees do and some contractors also offer superior benefits.  That is the case with Bill’s new position.  He’s making more money and getting better benefits.  And he also has a good boss who was kind enough to let Bill come to Scotland with me last month.  The only thing that does suck is that Bill has to earn leave again.  But knowing him, he’ll have those hours made up in no time.

Another bonus to the new job is that Bill’s boss has told him that the company will help him pick up some extra certifications.  For instance, Bill earned a master’s degree in cybersecurity last year.  The new company will help him become certified in that field if he wants.  Or they will help him get certified as a project manager.

Also, as a contractor, Bill has more flexibility.  He can try for jobs wherever he wants to and isn’t just limited to places where the government or military want to send him.  Granted, given what he does now, we will probably always be near a military installation.  But that does not always have to be the case.  The new company has jobs worldwide and, if Bill does well, he could certainly compete for the ones he’s qualified to do.

Frankly, I’m envious of all the opportunities Bill has.  I’m wondering if it’s not time for me to start trying to get into a career again myself.  But then I remember how much I like sitting around in my nightgown, writing blog posts.  Here’s hoping Bill’s new job lasts awhile.  I’ll just focus on being a good partner.

I get to look for more hot air balloons in the near future…


Italy vs. Germany…

Well, folks, the time has come to decide what to do next.  Bill’s job ends in 56 days.  A few days ago, he got a tentative job offer to move to Vicenza, Italy as a GS employee.  That would mean he would no longer be a contractor.  Instead, he’d be working in the government service, something that I think would make him happier in the long run.

It’s a good job.  We love Italy.  I hate moving, but I’ve done it plenty of times… If we moved there, it would be my fifth overseas experience and my fourth country.  But…

I think it will take a long time to arrange moving to Italy.  We may or may not get an overseas living quarters allowance.  And while we could live on what the government would pay, it would be hard to move to Italy without help from the feds.  And… did I mention that I HATE moving?  I have done it many times and don’t enjoy it.  And I am perfectly happy staying here in Germany, even though Italy is lovely.

Compounding matters is that we have a Scottish/Northern Irish cruise planned for September.  I will be going on this cruise regardless, even if Bill can’t come.  I can’t buy plane tickets or plan for a hotel room, because we don’t know where we’ll be.  And we also have our dogs booked with Max at Dog On Holiday.  Although this trip is after Labor Day, I worry that we won’t find care for them in Italy.  From what I’ve read, it can take time to get approval to live in Italy, which is a big problem.

A week ago, we were worried about whether we could stay in Germany.  But now, we have a choice between two appealing places.  Both have their plusses and minuses.  I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but it does appear that we won’t be leaving Europe.  That suits me fine.


Sometimes timing is everything…

Yesterday, while looking at what some of my readers have been reading, I noticed that someone read a post on my main blog about Bill’s impending Army retirement.  I wrote it in June of 2013.  At that time, we lived in North Carolina and were about to make our big move to Texas.  I was worried because Bill thought he was retiring in October, but then it turned out he had to leave the Army in July.  I was concerned that we’d have three fewer months to prepare for life beyond the military.

It’s funny how perspectives are because at that time, I was pretty sure that once Bill retired, we’d be staying in Texas.  I was upset because I wanted to get one last good trip in.  At the time, I was making some money from my writing and travel was kind of essential to that end, although I write about a number of different topics.

Fast forward a mere sixteen months.  We did our year in Texas and ended up back in Germany.  I was concerned we’d never see Europe again.  This year, we’ve taken three flights to Europe.  After Thanksgiving, it will be four.  Not only have we had two European vacations in 2014, thanks to military Space A flights, we actually got to move back to Germany.  And we’ll be here for at least a year and probably longer.

What would have happened if Bill had retired in October instead of July?  He might have still gotten the job, I guess, although it would have been very hectic.  If he had retired in October, he would have probably gone on terminal leave in late July.  That would have freed him to move to Germany in August if he’d wanted to, but it would have made the logistics of moving more difficult.  There were certain things we had to do during his leave that might have been harder to get done in Germany.  For instance, we had to get new ID cards that show Bill’s retired status.  Since the paperwork for those new cards got fouled up– they had him as a reservist instead of a full time Guardsman getting full retirement– that might have complicated things.

We would not have had the chance to go to France and Germany in May, which was kind of a catalyst for our move back to Germany.  I got to see my friend, Audra, and her family.  We got to talk to people working here, who gave Bill a couple of pointers on the European job hunt.

We would have had to stay in that house we hated for two extra months, unless we could manage the move to Germany before our lease expired on July 31st.  That would have meant paying $100 extra per month for a month to month lease in a house we were already paying too much for and absolutely despised.  And we might have missed out on the house we’re in now.  It’s not perfect, but it’s in a really nice area and we have good landlords… and very reasonable rent compared to what a lot of people are paying.

Yeah…  so I was pretty upset about the prospect of leaving the Army earlier, but it’s actually worked out pretty well.  If Bill had stayed until October, maybe we’d still be in Texas or maybe we would have moved somewhere else.  Moving to Europe was a big pain in the butt for many reasons, but I do like it here better that I liked Texas.  It feels more like home to me, even though it’s a foreign country.

Last night, I was talking to Bill about this and it occurred to me that my earliest memories are of living in England.  Yes, we lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base back then, but it was still not America.  It was very green and cloudy and damp…  a lot like Germany.  After we left England, we moved to Virginia, which is also very green.  Texas didn’t feel like home.  It was a different landscape– not so many trees and not really very green at all.  Plus, San Antonio is just so big…  it’s friendly and we did actually have some friends living there.  In fact, we had more of a social life in Texas than we ever did in North Carolina and Georgia, but I never really felt very comfortable there.

That being said, I wouldn’t mind going back to Texas someday, even to live.  But for now, I’m glad I get to live in Germany for awhile.  Sometimes, it makes sense to just take the plunge.

Our pretty backyard in Germany… no, there’s no pool, but there’s also no busy road passing behind…

anecdotes, New York

New York City…

In a couple of weeks, Bill may have to visit New York City for the first time.  I’ve been there a few times, though my most recent visit was in March 1998.  I went there for a job interview.  If Bill goes there, he will also be interviewing for a job.

In 1998, I was totally broke.  I had only been back from Armenia since September and was temping at the College of William and Mary, not making a whole lot of money.  I got a call for an interview in New York City, but I had to pay for transportation and lodging.  I ended up taking a train from Williamsburg, Virginia and staying in a cheap dive.  I want to say the place was called Hudson House, but I can’t remember for sure.   I found it in a New York City travel guide.

I took the train to the Big Apple and managed to take the subway from Penn Station to the area where the hotel was.  I had booked a cheap room… it was $80 with a bathroom in the hall.  I got the sense I was the only one staying at the hotel, though, so it was no biggie.  The room was kind of drafty and cold, but had a TV and harsh fluorescent lighting.

The interview was not successful, but I had an interesting two night jaunt in Manhattan… all alone.

If Bill goes to New York, he’ll probably be very busy the whole time.  I expect the company interviewing will pay for his transportation and lodging and they’ll probably take him out to dinner.  It’s a big four consulting firm.  I feel pretty confident they will interview him, but he won’t know until next week.

I’d like to go with him, since we’ve been wanting to visit New York for awhile now.  Maybe if he gets a job offer, we’ll take the time to go…  Chances are, if they do hire him, we’ll have to move.  But I’d like to go to New York just so we can visit Eataly.  We went to the flagship one in Torino.  Eataly is a very cool gourmet Italian store.  There are several locations in Italy now, but when we visited in 2008, it was still very new.  The store in Torino is amazing.  I’m sure the New York location is equally interesting, though probably ridiculously expensive.  Seems like a lot of things in New York are pricey.

The other times I’ve been to New York, I went as a member of a choir.  Those were very different experiences, since we were there for a specific purpose and we were all in a group.  New York on your own is a solitary experience.

I remember being in New York during a big snowstorm and being trapped…  we watched people skiing down Broadway.  I’ll probably never see anything like that again.  The first time I went to New York, I hated it.  But every time I’ve gone back, I’ve liked it more.  Paris had the same effect on me.


Now Belgium is a possibility?

So Bill has so far applied to several jobs in Germany.  If he gets an interview, it’s likely that he’d be a strong contender.  He’s done a lot of the type of work the jobs in Germany entail and we’ve already lived in the Stuttgart area, which is where the jobs are located.  I would be delighted to go back to Germany, even though the prospect of moving abroad again is a daunting challenge, especially when it’s with a contractor rather than the military.

But then yesterday, Bill sent me an email to let me know he’s applying for a job at SHAPE.  SHAPE is in Mons, Belgium.  I would love to move to Belgium.  It’s one of my favorite places for so many reasons.  I love the people, the beer, the frites, the mussels, and the chocolate.  It would not be a bad place to cruise into menopause… not that I’m showing any signs of hitting that right now.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, though.  The idea of moving abroad is both exciting and scary, even though I’ve done it before.  Because right now, we have to be able to make plans, and that’s hard to do when you don’t know what the hell is about to happen.  Moreover, trying to find housing in Europe can be difficult.  Last time we were there, we were in a hotel for six weeks.  We don’t even have kids, which can make finding a home harder (they have to have access to schools).  I suppose I could do it again if I had to, but again… different support for people not with the military.

Of course, it’s fun to fantasize about going back abroad to live.  There are a lot of good reasons to do it, even though it can be a logistical pain in the ass.  But I figure most moves are a logistical pain in the ass anyway.  And I do hope to move again, at least to a different house.

The job in Belgium would be a different type of job for Bill.  It involves computer security.  It’s pretty lucrative, though it’s been posted a couple of times.  Makes me wonder where all the applicants are, especially since it’s a government job.  It’s doubtful they would hire Bill, given that he’d have to switch gears significantly.  But I would love to move to Belgium… maybe even more than I’d love to move to Germany.  Or so I think I would, anyway.  If I’m unhappy, there’s always frites, croissants, beer, and chocolate around so I can drown my sorrows.