This is meant to share information for those whose sailors are flying out of GL. There is other information posted in the BC Mom pages but those follow the "normal" protocol. I am sharing our experience and also explaining some exceptions to the normal, which have been common among my fellow friends, especially those in the Nuke Moms group.
First of all, after PIR, the Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall is only open for about 20 min or so till all the families clear out with their sailors, after hugs and pictures. A mass exodus begins behind the drill hall, as family members are allowed to walk over toward the Chapel and the NEX area, just follow the crowd. The NFCU branch at RTC is also open and they had drinks, cookies and restrooms available to the visitors. Although liberty is called immediately following PIR, each sailor is responsibile for their specific orders. Those staying in GL for A school have their own set of requirements which are discussed elsewhere. Sailors flying out from GL, generally are released for liberty immediately following PIR to spend the afternoon / early evening with their family. However, there are exceptions which I will explain later. Your sailor is the only one able to tell you their flight information. If your sailor forgot to write down the flight information, or didn't think they had any way of carrying it, as my son thought, they are allowed to return to their ship to retrieve it. That is about a 40 min round trip walk, in the meantime, you may visit the Photo Nex, or the regular NEX and look around. On RTC, you are not allowed to go to their ship with them. The Nex also carries deli type sandwiches and meals in their refrigerator section, if you have to wait long for your sailor. You may make purchases, they just won't be tax free.
At this point in time, if your sailor is free for liberty, they will know when they must report back to RTC that evening. It is always best to be early, even an hour, as there was a long wait line to drop sailors back off at RTC. You are not allowed to drop them off and let them walk back on RTC, they must be driven in. (It is my understanding that each person returning to RTC must have their ticket with them.) There is parking between the chapel and the Nex, so you can return a little early, park and then shop or just visit and take pictures with their fellow sailors. It is a good 20 min. brisk walk (no running) as I recall for them to return to report in at their ship or other designated spot. They can not be late and on time is considered late! They may NOT have any electronics or cell phones. They are still on RTC, not off site, as those that stay in GL are. If they haven't already packed, they will need to pack, and prepare for one of two very early leave times on the bus. ( I choose not to post times for OPSEC) They will get what amount of sleep they can, before loading the bus. I took a small black drawstring bag to GL and we packed it at the motel: cell phone & charger, favorite running shoes, and a lightweight change of comfy clothes, that he knew would fit in his backpack. I took these to the airport the next morning. If they have a laptop, bring it in it's carrying case, it should hopefully be allowed as another carryone item, or place in the backpack.
Sailors will fly out from one of three area airports, usually the day after PIR, to their A school location. You should have the flight and airport information from your sailor. If they had to go pick up their orders after PIR and you see them, be sure to take a picture of the flight info or write it down. Do not leave RTC without knowing from your sailor their flight info. Remember they won't have any way of calling you with the information, unless they borrow a phone once they get to the airport. Your sailor will know which time their bus is leaving, so you can judge when they should arrive at the one of three airports. You may meet them there as soon as they arrive. If your sailor flies out of O'Hare, they will be dropped off near the USO office that is outside of security and be greeted by a USO volunteer who gathered all the sailors in one area. We were given instructions as to when to meet back for heading to the ticket counters and also a reminder that someone needed to stay with the sailors luggage. Each sailor has a large sea bag, a garment bag, black backpack, plus their manila envelope containing their orders to keep track of. The sailors fly out in their dress uniforms ( Tide To-Go pens for the whites / lint rollers for the blues). The backpack does not meet uniform regulation so it is carried in their hand, along with their garment bag, and orders, while they wear their sea bag. The USO is open for the sailors to visit and get food, beverages, and use the restroom (other restrooms are also available). The USO is small, so on the weekends only sailors and ID'd military are allowed. Other family members are asked to wait outside, however, they did give our sailor food to share with us.
At the appointed time, the USO volunteer lead all the sailors and parents to their appropriate terminal for ticketing and baggage check in. The parents followed but waited until another check in area was opened where we received our guest passes. Be sure to have ID's for all parties, including children to receive gate passes. (Our group was very large - probably 100 sailors getting ticketed for various AA flights that morning - smaller groups may operate slightly differently). Once you and your sailor have gate passes, you will proceed to the security checkpoints and go through TSA security. Remind your sailor the day before, what the TSA guidelines are for liquids and what may or may not be placed in their backpack, especially if they are new to flying. They will check their sea bag and garment bag. Once passed security, you may proceed to the gate with your sailor until their flight. We actually watched the takeoff. Food may be purchased now, and empty water bottles filled. We definitely had some odd breakfast times. My son slept for almost an hour on my lap. He had one of the earliest flights out and we spent almost 6 hours with him at the airport!!
Even if your sailor is not flying out until a later afternoon or evening flight, they will still be taken to the airport usually on the later of the early buses, and at least at O'Hare, I believe will be greeted by the USO volunteer. You must be there with your sailor before they go through security in order to get a guest pass. If you don't do it in the large group, or are at one of the smaller airports your sailor will have to wait for you. They will have to go to the airline for their flight and ask for a guest pass for you. We were reminded that this is a privilege that the airlines offer military families. Id's must be shown and you and your sailor all go through security together. Keep in mind the earlier you do this, the less likely you are to encounter crowds and long lines. If your sailor is waiting for you, they should get their tickets and bags checked ahead of time, preferably with any other sailors in their group. This will help insure their checked bags stay together when loaded. If they go on through security you can not get to them and they won't have their phones. It is my understanding, from other posts, that the USO areas for the other two airports are within the security area. And I believe that O'Hare has one within the security area as well. If you can not be there when your sailors bus is to arrive at the airport, then my suggestion is you plan to meet them at the ticketing counter of the airline they are to fly out from, if at the smaller airports, as it may not be feasible to meet at the USO. Also, encouarge your sailors, if they don't have a mate around to borrow a phone from to ask someone. It is always my pleasure to let someone in need use my phone to reach a family member.
Keep this in mind though, depending on the A school and number of sailors flying out there will be one sailor in charge of a group. (I forget the title) but that sailor is responsible for making sure that all of their sailors board the flight. In our sailors case, the leader was responsible for securing the transportation from their destination airport to their reporting duty site. My son's group was so large, once they arrived, they had to wait for a 2nd transit to transport them and their luggage. This is one of the reasons it is not recommended to give your sailors an extra piece of luggage with clothes, etc. even if the airline will fly it for free when they travel on orders. As you plan your time to rendezvous with your sailor, please keep in mind all of the other variables and that other young new sailors are all trying to get to their destination, under orders, without any mishap. Stay as flexible as possible and keep your family and your sailor at the gate where they are to board. If you are waiting a long time and need food, send a family member to get it, not your sailor. The airlines started early boarding and had room for our sailors to actually fly up front, so they were ushered on first, but we had a straggling sailor and our leader was getting very nervous about all of them boarding together and being on the plane, her responsibility was to make sure they were all there. So be considerate. It is hard to say good-bye but be strong and let them go.
Now for the exceptions:
#1 - Your sailor may not have their orders finalized prior to PIR as was the case with our son. This seemed to have happened a lot this fall with various ratings, the main one I saw this happen to at our PIR was Nukes and Subs. Needless to say, we sat in the top row of the Great Hall balcony and when we reached our son to finally get a hug after PIR, his words were, "I am not on liberty yet, I have to get my orders still, I will meet you at the Nex or outside the chapel. I have to go." And he was off. We waited almost 6 hours, I believe, outside the NEX and later the chapel, seeing our son pass back and forth a couple of times, gleaning tidbits of info. We finally figured out where there was food in the NEX, since they no longer had a food court as another mom had told us. The last time our son passed by, he finally had his orders. Thankfully, my husband thought to take a picture on his phone of the flight info, or we would not have known. It still took a long time for our son to get from the NEX to his ship, find someone by then to check out with and walk back to us near the chapel. (He was also developing blisters on his heels due to the dress shoes.) By that time it was after 4:30 pm as I recalled. We headed to our motel which had a restaurant next door. While our sailor showered and napped in comfy clothes we ordered pizza and brought it back to the motel room where we ate. Due to the long delay with finalizing his orders, my son could not find his RDC to check out with and did so with the Quartermaster. My son gave his word, he would at 8 pm, regardless of the other's return time. Ahead of the crowd, we returned him at 7:30 pm to the parking lot. He checked with a few shipmates, deciding to head on back to his ship. He made it just in time to report to the Quartermaster. (Don't underestimate your sailors knowledge of how long it takes them to traverse RTC! He was encouraging us to leave earlier.) Our PIR was before the tickets, so we stayed on site to wait for our recruit. He had no way to call us, and our pass was only for PIR. If I was doing it now, I would check when I pick up my tickets to find out if you have a delayed sailor whether you need to stay at RTC or if you can come back and pick them up with only your ticket. Especially if your sailor hasn't told you in their "I'm A Sailor" call that they have their orders finalized and in their hands. I was just glad our plans to take the shuttle had not worked out and we had driven to RTC.
#2 - Not every sailor that is going to A school out of state will necessarily fly out with their TG or other division mates. Some sailors are held back at GL for various reasons in what is called THU (Temporary Holding Unit). This is not on the RTC site, I believe it is with the housing for the A school sailors. This generally happens because something is missing from the medical or security file that MEPS did not catch. My main familiarity is with this happening to the Nukes headed to Goose Creek, SC (GC) for their A school, but it can happen to other sailors as well. There can also be delays at the A school, such as when the various hurricanes hit, and local evacuations or airports closures were in place, the sailors stayed in GL. Sailors in THU are allowed to have their phones and laptops with them. Their stay in THU can be anywhere from a 1 -2 days to several weeks. I am familiar with various scenarios of recent THU time, from other friends of mine. While in THU, your sailor will be assigned a job or task to do, and some say it is worse than bc, and they just want to get to A school. Depending on the school, being held in THU doesn't necessarily mean your sailor won't class up with others from his TG, so continue to encourage your sailor. While your sailor may not be happy with this situation, I know moms especially who really appreciated having the extra time to spend with their sailor that weekend.
#3 – Any other scenario not yet known or shared that deviates from the normal expectation!!
Bottom line, stay flexible. If your sailor actually flies out, they will most likely do it sometime on Saturday, whether early morning or later afternoon. If they are held in THU, then they will be allowed liberty on Saturday and Sunday, just like those sailors that stay in GL, if they fly out on Sunday, it will still be limited. Plan your travel as best as you are able to accommodate alternate scenarios and remember, only they can give you, their flight info, and you are not to share that with others. Do not post anything online about their travel, until you know they have safely arrived at their destination and reported to their new command. Then you can let family members know they are safe and sound. Phones are allowed only at the airport or in THU, they are not allowed to return to RTC the evening of PIR with their phones. Those who do are in violation of protocol.
These comments are based on our experience with a Nuke sailor flying to SC the end of August 2017, which was also prior to the new "ticket" rule.
Thank you so much for your help!!
You are welcome! We have since gone to the gate at our local airport, each time our sailor has flown back to his duty station and the airlines are always very helpful. I will say that the TSA folks vary depending on the airports and time of day, I think.
Moms-- Plan to get to the airport early and you should be ok. At O’Hare the USO is before Security so that is a great place to plan to meet. Also the Airlines and security are not yet open so they can’t check their bags in until around 3:30am. At Midway the USO is after Security so if they are flying out there you want to plan to be there early. TSA is open 3:30am-11pm so as long as you are there before 3:30 you should be able to meet them before they go through security. At Mitchell the USO is also after security but they are only open 8am-8pm. Security is also 24hour so plan to be there before 3am to meet. There is a large concourse area before security so maybe plan to meet near the airline counters for whichever airline they are flying out on.
Obviously you can’t plan 100% for sure yet but once they tell you which airport you can let them know where and when you will meet.
Plan now not to sleep much if at all!! I was up at 8am Thursday, at the airport at 12, weather delay till 9. Arrived at 12, rented car, drove to GL, got checked in at 2, up at 5:30, Got sailor for an hour following PIR but he had duty so we got a 2 hour nap, went and got sailor for the afternoon and had a wonderful dinner. Took sailor back at 9pm and went back to hotel to sleep till 12 (Over slept and slept in till 12:30!) Drove to O’Hare and spent the morning with our Sailor then when he left that afternoon we drove back to GL and sacked out!! Got Dinner late and then went back to bed! Sunday we got up and did a little sightseeing and went to the Navy Pier in Chicago then to Midway to fly back home. Arrived home at 10:45 in bed at 12 and spent the next 3 days recovering from the previous 3 days!!! As the saying goes-- Semper Gumby!! Be informed but be flexible. Plans can change in an instant and your best bet is to be ready and willing for anything that may happen. This was my experience but your mileage may vary. You can google maps of all the airports to see where YOU think will be easiest to meet!
BelovedbyHim - Thanks for adding your knowledge of the other airports and the airport security times to my discussion. I appreciate it!
Thanks so much for all this very helpful and valuable information! Can't wait to see my SR this Friday! :)
txgrayce - You are most welcome! Remember to stay flexible! Also, it was brought to my attention that if you are headed to one of the larger airports and your sailor is on the 2nd transport there is a possibility that they could be gathering at a different terminal. So, be sure to remind your sailor to ask to borrow a cell phone to contact you.
Safe travels and all the best!
My sailor's PIR was 06SEP19, so I'm going to share my tips, based on how the airport experience went for our family, while they're still fresh in my mind:
1. Make sure your sailor passes you a slip of paper (or index card or whatever) immediately after PIR with their flight #, airport name, & time they are leaving GLTC via bus, and IMPORTANT: the terminal they'll be dropped at. My sailor had full details written on a little slip of paper he had tucked into his wallet and handed it right to me after our hugs.
2. Calculate how long it will take that bus to get your sailor to the airport, and compare it to how long it will take you to get to the airport. You want to arrive at the airport when (or slightly before) they do.
3. Do your research the night before on best airport parking options close to the terminal your sailor will be dropped at. If you're headed to O'Hare and you're not used to dealing with large airports, you'll want to study an airport map to get comfortable with layout.
Do NOT forget your ID, including ID of minors (SS card or birth cert) so you can easily get a security/family pass to hang with your sailor in the airport, if that's your plan.
4. Before you meet up with your sailor at the airport, keep your phones on high and answer any unrecognized calls that come in. It might be your sailor using someone else's phone to contact you and tell you where they are! That happened to us. Our sailor told us he'd be dropped at Terminal 1, so we patiently waited there forever, watching lots of other sailors check in. Turned out our sailor had actually been dropped at Terminal 2 because Terminal 1 was too busy for them. He finally used the phone of another navy mom to call us and tell us where to find him.
5. There is conflicting info out there on what your sailor can take (from home) to A school. Some will tell you sailors can not take civilian clothes with them. We found that to be false with our sailor. In addition to his cell phone, we brought him socks, underwear, running shoes, running shorts, compression shorts, t-shirts, a couple books he wanted, and a couple of his eagle scout mementos in a small case. Your sailors will know what they are allowed to transport to A school. Bring them what they ask for and they will plan accordingly by compressing their sea bag contents and adding their items from home as soon as you meet up with them at the airport.
6. Freely hand your cell phone to any sailor who needs to contact their family. My husband's phone was used by at least 8 sailors. They are so appreciative of that.
7. Bring snacks and empty water bottles with you to the airport. You can take lots of food through airport security (as long as it's not liquid). We brought a box of cookies we'd made and brought from home, as well as individual bags of homemade caramel corn, nuts and my sailor's favorite chips & gummy bears. All flew right through the security screeners. We also brought empty water bottles to fill at the refill stations outside of all airport bathrooms past security. We ended up spending 12 hours at the airport so we were happy to have our own snacks and water bottles and the sailor all around us appreciated the cookies and popcorn we shared with them!
Feel free to contact me via message if you have specific questions about the above. Now that I've been through the process, I'm happy to help other moms. I was stressed out about the "airport meetup" but it really did go well, despite our little hiccup mentioned above.