For some, getting OCONUS orders is like winning the lottery. For others, it can be an unwelcome shock.
From planning a long-distance move to assimilating into a new culture and learning a foreign language, living overseas certainly has its challenges. But one Army family shares how it was an amazing opportunity to explore, learn and create new experiences that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
Army Maj. Brent Stolzoff, his wife Margaret and their two daughters, affectionally deemed “the Lovelies,” are part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community in Germany, the largest American community outside of the U.S. It consists of Ramstein Air Base and its surrounding installations, including Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where Brent currently works in medical operations.
There are approximately 70,000 U.S. military personnel permanently stationed in Europe, of which half are located in Germany. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, the number of personnel serving in Europe swelled to more than 100,000, and there are currently between 160,000 and 170,000 total active-duty troops stationed outside of the United States and its territories.
Living abroad has always been on the Stolzoffs’ bucket list, so when the opportunity arose, they were quick to jump on it. After Brent underwent a rigorous interview process, the family was approved to travel and the PCS process began.
Despite the added complication of moving during the COVID-19 lockdown, they were assigned a sponsor who helped them take care of everything.
“Without a good sponsor, help from the unit and our own research, the process would have been arduous,” Margaret said via email.
All in all, they say it went smoothly.
“Honestly, we keep thinking this has been the best move we’ve done together. We had a few months to prepare and organize household goods and paperwork. Although, this was our fifth military move so we might just be getting used to this kind of stress,” Margaret joked.
Once they arrived, the family quickly assimilated into the culture and community. From cheering on the local 1 FC Kaiserslautern fußball (soccer) team to visiting the famous German Christmas Markets to exploring nearby castles, hikes, parks and landmarks, the Stolzoffs have taken full advantage of everything their new home has to offer. The entire family even performed in a holiday production of “The Nutcracker” through the “Ballet Dimension” Ballet School in Kaiserslautern.
“Through our village, school and activities, we have formed an incredibly tight-knit community of friends of all nationalities that have become our European family,” Margaret said. “This bond with others can only truly be experienced while stationed abroad away from family.”
And while being so far from friends and family can be hard, the Stolzoffs said they make it a priority to FaceTime often and family members frequently come visit.
As for the language barrier? Although the majority of locals speak English, the family enjoys attempting to speak German, and their efforts are always appreciated.
Their two elementary-aged daughters have also loved the experience.
“We’ve taught our daughters to appreciate new cultures, foods and experiences so they truly feel at ease and at home here in Germany,” Margaret said. “They have friends here from all over the world, and it’s amazing to see them appreciate their friends’ differences and learn from their cultures.”
The Stolzoffs chronicle their adventures abroad on their popular social media account, “Kaiserslautern Day Tripper,” where they share helpful, specific, and detailed information about places to visit and activities to do. They took over the account from another military couple, Oliver and Susan Davis (“Ollie and Nellie”), who the family met while stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia. When it came time for Ollie and Nellie to leave Germany, they asked the Stolzoffs to continue their legacy.
“Our primary goal is to continue the great tradition of sharing the unique opportunities of our wonderful duty station and taking the hard work and anxiety out of the picture so people feel comfortable traveling and experience this great place,” Margaret said.
Although the frequent day trips and vacations are amazing, the Stolzoffs agree the best part of living in Germany has been the quality and pace of life in Europe.
“Everything here seems more intentional, traditional, mindful and less stressful. Walking to our village grocery store and bakery, cooking meals together with friends, strolling through the beautiful German hills and fairytale-like forests surrounding our house — Germany living is good for the body and soul,” Margaret said.
The Stolzoffs’ best tip for families moving abroad is to reach out to the service member’s new unit and sponsor as soon as orders are cut.
“Communicate with your sponsor early and often. Do not delay — be proactive to a fault,” Margaret said. “If your sponsor is busy, check out local Facebook pages and post your questions there. Everyone else went through the same challenges, so they have lots of experience and tips to share.”