Mario & Beverly at Berchtesgaden National Park. Photo provided by Mario & Beverly Feusier.
Over a year ago, a retired Army friend advised us of the savings involved when traveling via Space-A. He went over the process but we didn’t absorb it all at the time. I retired from the Army in December of 2010, and continue working with my mortgage broker/loan refinancing business. My wife retired in December of 2011 and started asking our friend more about the Space-A travel process. She also went on the Internet and obtained information. While she was still working full-time, she started infrequently tracking flights from Travis AFB, CA, to Ramstein AB, Germany, as Germany was our destination. She spent about a year(!) putting together an itinerary of the things she would like to see. I felt I could only be gone from work for two weeks so she tried to keep the itinerary to 14 days, not including travel time.
Starting in March 2012, she started logging onto the AMC Space-A website to daily view the various bases’ out-going flights. By then, she realized that, although we may want to fly directly from Travis to Ramstein, it would more than likely be a flight from Travis to an East Coast base, such as Andrews AFB, MD, and then on to Ramstein.
We settled on going in May because she did not want to go during the time when it may be hot and/or humid. In emailing other retirees who had taken Space-A flights, she kept hearing the theme, “be flexible”. She had also been advised by two retirees, who had taken numerous Space-A flights, not to travel in June, July or August because those are peak travel times. Unfortunately, at the last minute, I needed to attend two business meetings on May 7 and 8. Then we had to remain at home for a grandson’s birthday and a granddaughter’s high school graduation, so we settled on the first week in June, hoping there would not be a problem.
Lesson #1: It’s true – don’t plan a trip in June, July or August! In checking the Space-A flight schedule for Travis on June 4, there was a flight leaving to Dover AFB, DE. There were 10 seats available. We had our bags packed, drove to Travis and parked in the long-term parking.
We made friends with a retired Army civilian trying to get back to Rota, Spain, and a new lieutenant who had just graduated from the Air Force Academy and had 60 days before reporting for duty. His destination was Italy, then Japan, then Hawaii.
We were very naive in thinking we would get on that plane with ten seats! We did not get on, nor did our new friends, Alfredo and Josh. We went back home, 40 minutes away from Travis and they stayed at the passenger terminal. The next morning, we got up for a flight going Travis-McChord-Andrews with 19 seats available. The only reason we were selected is because about six people did not show up for roll call. Our friends, Alfredo and Josh, made it, too.
Before we boarded, we were advised that a wounded soldier was on the plane. We were asked not to engage in conversation with the soldier or stare at him, that he needed his privacy. However, when we boarded, he was lying on a gurney facing us as we came in and he was smiling and looked happy to see us. His right hand was bandaged. I saw him later on sitting down speaking with his nurse (how they heard each other, I don’t know!). He got off at McChord and we clapped for him as they rolled him off. He smiled in appreciation.
We finally landed at Andrews AFB, MD, around 2130 on June 5. We checked the flight schedule and it seemed our chances of getting a flight to Ramstein from Andrews were slim. We started thinking about alternatives, such as the base in Bangor, ME which, I was told, had frequent flights to Ramstein; driving to Norfolk NB, VA; or taking a flight to Rota, Spain, and then taking a Ryanair flight to Frankfurt. What about going into Sigonella, Italy, and taking a Medevac to Ramstein? Are there any flights going into Spangdahlem AB, Germany, rather than Ramstein? These were things we did not consider before-hand. We were really “green horns”!
Along with Alfredo and Josh, we decided to rent a car and drive two and a half hours to Dover AFB because the next day there were three flights going to Rota, and one flight going to Ramstein and another to Rota on Friday. Another couple overheard us talking about renting a car and asked if we wanted to get on a shuttle with them to a rental car agency, so we did. While driving from Andrews to Dover, my wife was excited to see the White House lit up, along with the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument because she has never been to Washington, D.C. (now that she knows Andrews is so close, I have a feeling that we will be taking a Space-A trip there!).
We spent two nights in Dover outside the base because the temporary military lodging was full. Some flights had dropped and we started to get worried. By now it was Thursday – four days into our vacation time. I happened to check the McGuire AFB, NJ, and for that day, they had one flight going to Ramstein with 73 tentative seats and two flights on Friday (53 and 73 seats tentatively). We again decided to rent a car and travel to McGuire.
Alfredo decided to wait in Dover for a Rota flight, but Josh decided to come with us. He thought at this point, his best bet would be to get to Ramstein and then go to Italy. At the rental car agency, another person came to the office who was also going to rent a car to go to McGuire. It turned out to be one of Josh’s classmates who had also just graduated from the Air Force Academy. His name was Jason and he was trying to get to Ramstein. We invited him to share a ride so that was nice for Josh and Jason to compare notes about training, etc.
My wife felt that if we didn’t get on any of these flights, we should go back home and try again in September, but I wanted to forge on.
Lesson #2: Be prepared to not always be selected on the flight you wish to be on! We arrived at McGuire AFB (a very nice facility) around 1430. We learned that the flight leaving that day for Ramstein reduced their seating to 48 confirmed, and that the two flights for tomorrow had been reduced to one flight.
We were selected for that night’s Ramstein flight! Out of 48 seats, only 42 seats were filled. We were all giving each other high five’s when our names were called.
The flight was supposed to take off at 1855 but was held up for two hours due to cargo loading, having to let air out of the plane tires to get the load on, etc. There was a seven-team canine unit that was going to be on our flight. We heard the dogs barking as we boarded the plane.
We were on a C-005 from McGuire to Ramstein AB. We arrived at Ramstein around 0930. Josh and Jason said goodbye to us and we parted ways.
Ramstein AB is like a small city! The mall had everything, including a furniture store! After we checked in (we had no previous reservation but we had no problem), we went to the bank right there at Ramstein to exchange our US dollars for Euros. For $1500, I received $1170 in Euros – the US dollar at that time was worth 78 Euro cents. This is one reason why our trip totaled closer to $5,000 rather than our planned $4,000. It was also due to the unexpected car rentals at Dover and Andrews and higher-than-expected hotel rates.
Speaking of hotels, Ramstein had the nicest rooms of any hotel we stayed at – and at a much lower rate! We paid between $100 to$140 per night at the hotels we stayed at previously. We were expecting to pay between $80 to $130 per night.
We picked up the rental car (Hyundai stick shift!), along with a GPS, which was INVALUABLE!! Gas at the time was about $7 per gallon, which we had expected.
Before leaving for our trip, we opened up a travel account at the bank so the account could not be linked to any of our other accounts in case it got hacked into or something fraudulent happened. Also before we left, we made up computerized address labels to stick on postcards so we would not have to spend so much time on them.
While I took a nap in our lodging, my wife began making hotel reservations. We couldn’t do it sooner until we knew for sure what day we would arrive in Ramstein. We lopped off staying a second day at Ramstein and a day of visiting Burg Eltz from our itinerary, since we had lost days in getting to Ramstein. So our final itinerary consisted of the following:
The Porta Nigra in Trier, Germany. Photo provided by Mario & Beverly Feusier.
Trier (1 day) is the oldest town in Germany and has the largest collection of Roman ruins next to Italy. We visited the St. Matthias Church that holds the relics of Matthew, the apostle; the Porta Nigra (Black Gate), the only remaining gate of the four miles of wall that fortified the city during the Middle Ages; St. Peter’s Cathedral (oldest in Germany), which contains the remains of Jesus’ robe; Constantine Basilica; Elector’s Palace with garden; and the Kaiserthermen (remains of vast imperial baths built in the 4th Century). The ruins of the Roman amphitheater were also on the list but we ended up too tired to go.
Lesson #3: Don’t pack too much sight-seeing into one day or you will be too exhausted to see it all. We drove from Trier through the Mosel Valley (very pretty!) to Koblenz, a large city located on the Rhine River. We stayed in a nearby area called Lahnstein. We were very disappointed in the hotel room – you had to walk sideways between the end of the bed and the wall!
The remnants of Remagen Bridge, Germany. Photo provided by Mario & Beverly Feusier.
The next day we traveled to Remagen Bridge of World War II fame. It was very interesting and my wife got s