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What is Command Sponsorship and why is it so vital? (aka going to Japan)

I am blogging about this because it is information every fiance or newly married Navy spouse needs to know. Anyone with first hand experience, please add comments, and correct me if I have incorrect information or have forgotten an important detail.

When a sailor gets orders overseas, and I include Hawaii in this, he will receive orders which are either "Accompanied" or "Unaccompanied". Basically, with or without dependents. In order for the dependents to move overseas at the Navy's expense, they must be command sponsored. This is the approval from the sailors new command to have their dependents with them. It is far from automatic.

I cannot address every overseas command, but I do have many years of experience as an ET1/E-6 and as a dependent wife in Yokosuka, Japan. 12 years in Yokosuka, I learned a few things. I can give you the skinny on that, and then you will know what questions to ask for other countries and regions. I have read the regulations as they pertained to my junior sailors who worked for me and Navy wives who needed help.

Command sponsorship in Japan is granted to the dependents of sailors who are E-4 and above. E-3s and below can put in for waivers, but those are not routine and take time, months in fact. It is unusual for E-3s and below to have their families with them there. If a sailor does get their dependents approved, their overseas tour may be extended.

What does Command Sponsorship provide?

On base housing for E-4 and above. E-3 and below do not qualify for on base housing in Japan. Period. If not sponsored, the sailor will not receive the with dependents rate for BAH and COLA. In fact, junior sailors attached to ships may not have permission to live off base at all.  
(BAH = basic allowance for housing, overseas it is OAH, or used to be)
(COLA = cost of living allowance to offset the expensive areas)

Travel: the Navy pays for the plane tickets for you, to and from. If not sponsored, you pay your own way. Concurrent travel means you travel with your sailor.

TLA: temporary lodging allowance. Pays for up to ten days of hotel rooms or Navy Lodge while looking for an apartment. Not sponsored? Nope, none for you.

Household Goods Shipment: to and from. This is important as single/unaccompanied sailors has far less of a weight allowance. Learn the term "geographical bachelor". That's what your sailor will be if you cannot go overseas.

EML leave: Travel back to the states to visit home of record. We had trips home between PCS orders even though we stayed in the same house in Japan.

Jobs: The on base jobs are offered pretty much only to command sponsored dependents. Off base you cannot legally work without a work visa.

Schools: dependent children who are not command sponsored must pay full tuition to attend DOD schools on base. It ain't cheap.

Visas: Command Sponsorship guarantees you are under the SOFA agreement for immigrant residency. Not being sponsored means you have to struggle with tourist visas and getting permission to reside in country.  Without this visa, you must leave the country every 90 days. If your sailor is in Italy, not only must you leave, but you must stay out of the EU for a minimum of 30 days.

Personal mail box on base... this changes, I need updated info if anyone has it.

Without sponsorship you will have your ID card and access to base facilities such as the commissary, the NEX, MWR, and medical. They cannot refuse to treat you at medical, but basically you are on standby.

You are not eligible to ship pets unless you are command sponsored.

Do you need a passport? Yes. The sooner the better. Don't wait until you are married, you can always do a name change.

Do you need to clear overseas screening? Yes, this is mostly health and debt and criminal background checks. And immunizations.

Can't I just go? Sure, if you think you can afford it and want to deal with being on a tourist visa.  A rental offbase cost more than an E-2 (or even an E-3) makes in a month.  Over $2,000, easily.

http://www.usui-home.com/navyus/

Hard cold facts about living in Japan: You will live offbase in a tiny apartment. Nothing like you have experienced in the US, even the floors and appliances are different. If you find a place with appliances! We heated our tiny house with kerosene heaters and slept on the floor. Furnishing a Japanese apartment is not simple, you can't use your furniture if you didn't get a household goods shipment. You can't fit most American furniture into a Japanese apartment anyway. (Houses are few and far between, we got lucky). Rent and utilities are extremely high. Can you afford a car? Insurance? International phone? Internet? Not on the pay of a junior sailor! I promise you that. Gas was $10 a gallon when I left Japan. The dollar is low and weak right now (80 yen to the dollar, 2012).


I never met the wife of an E-3 or below who was happy trying to live on the economy. Never. One was nagging the chaplain to get her sailor a humanitarian discharge because she wasn't able to pay her rent and was lonely when he deployed. Another was sleeping on the couch of a friend. It is a hard life, no kidding around, straight up fact.

I'm not pushing for kids to get married just to get on the orders, but it is food for thought. Also, a sailor can still be sent overseas even if they are married and the spouse must stay behind.

I'm bumping this because I've been asked about moving overseas by several new spouse and a fiance recently.  It is depressing, and more depressing is I rarely hear back from them with what happens.  Did they get their waiver?  Did it work out?  I wish all the couples the very best, and know they have huge obstacles ahead.

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Comment by sailorwifenmom on November 13, 2012 at 10:41am
Excellent advice!

Some other things to keep in mind, just because your Sailor has a friend in a different branch if service, and they are allowed to take their family doe not mean the Navy will. The base we just moved from, also in Japan, had Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Air Force allowed their E-3 and below to bring families. Navy did not. Nor did they grant any waivers. You could apply, but I don't know of any that were granted in the 3 years I was there, and with the volunteering jobs I had / working with the spouses I did, while not certain, odds are good I would have heard.

Also, while I don't want to get too into this for security and OPSEC purposes, getting onto base isn't as simple as showing your ID anymore. They have systems in place that basically tell them if you are supposed to be there. So, you could have problems even getting onto base to, say, meet at a friend's house, if you aren't sponsored and don't have your Sailor with you.

You will not be allowed to drive. SOFA status people (which will include your Sailor) have to have a Y plate vehicle. They are not allowed to rent a car "out in town" (they can rent one on base), and this rule has been enforced more in recent years. If you are not SOFA status, you cannot have a 4EJ (military issued license to drive in Japan). If you get caught driving a Y plate car without a 4EJ, it's a diplomatic mess. PLUS - there are restrictions on the number if cars you are allowed to own. Accompanied, 2 cars, 3 if you can prove a need and get a waiver. Some bases say 1 car for accompanied. Unaccompanied, 1 car, no waivers or exceptions, and some bases say below a certain paygrade aren't allowed to own a car.

Most importantly - you might think "what are the odds of this", but trust me, it DOES happen. When or if a major natural disaster strikes - like yrs ago when the volcano erupted in the Phillipines, or, more recently, like the quake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown that happened in Japan while I was there, if you are NOT there on SOFA status, you are NOT the military's problem as far as evacuating you. And trust me, there are few things scarier than being in a foreign country when a major disaster strikes. Everyone is trying to leave, the situation is very fluid, there's a lot of craziness going on. If you are there as a SOFA member, the military will get you out if need be (or, in the case of Japan, some - like pg women, were asked to leave and others were given the choice). The military set up and paid for them getting out of Japan and back home. Those not on SOFA had to make their way to the Embassy (which, in our case, was 12 hrs by car, through the area hit by the tsunami, past the epicenter of the quake and required you to drive within a few miles of the reactor...) and ask for help (just like any other expat or tourist), or fly out on your own.

Seriously, I would strongly advise anyone thinking about going overseas with their Sailor, without sponsorship, to NOT do it. It's like a trapeze without a net. It can be fun, but if you fall, there's nothing to catch you...
Comment by Anti M on November 13, 2012 at 11:24am

Thank you for the additional info.  I'd completely forgotten Y plates.  In Yokosuka, we just didn't need a car at all.  Hubby had a Harley though.  Paid $30 a month to park it down the stairs from our house.

How about emergency leave, when the sailor needs to go home?  He flies on the space A flight, but a non-sponsored dependent would have problems getting back home.  Is that still correct?

If anyone has experience with Bahrain, Spain, Italy, Guam or Hawaii, can you add insights?  Or do your own blog?  It would help many future spouses.

Comment by sailorwifenmom on November 13, 2012 at 12:13pm
You're right about the emergency leave - if you aren't there on SOFA status, you aren't able to travel with him on his leave orders. She could, in theory, fly on the PE, IF the command had given her the paperwork needed to use space A when your Sailor is on unaccompanied or deployed, BUT, if they know she's living there, odds are they haven't given them that, and, even IF she has it, it's an entirely different (and MUCH lower) category for making the flight. So there is a very very good chance he would go and she would not.

OH - and even if you are able to be seen at the base for medical, if something comes up (such as recently when a couple of Airmen crashed their car) and you end up in an off base hospital, that is also a diplomatic and insurance mess.

Not to mention when you transfer... Right before we left, there was a Sailor who was in my husband's department who got on the PE (as per his orders) to fly back to the States. His wife flew to Tokyo to fly out commercial to join him. He was in the air, and she was detained at customs at the airport, because there was a problem with her paperwork. She was posting all over the message boards for there, and calling his command (thank goodness my husband had just turned over the Department so we could Pcs as well, so he didn't have to deal with it) but there wasn't anything the base could do except direct her to the embassy. Her husband was in the air and had no idea she wasn't going to be meeting him in Seattle as planned....

Living overseas is great - we've done it multiple times and I've loved each one, and would do it again in a second. But, it is NOT something I would ever encourage someone to do as a military family without SOFA status. Because basically you become either an expat or, frankly, an illegal alien, if you do. Neither of which has the protection that SOFA gives you.
Comment by LovesASailor on May 8, 2014 at 4:58pm

Hello,

My husband recently received orders to Yokosuka :))) he is an E3 so I am realistic as to the time frame (that he has to reach E4) for me and our daughter to be able to achieve Command Sponsorship and meet him there. His tour is 36 months which, in turn will be good for our family as it will give plenty of time for him to meet his quals and for paperwork.

My question is, is it possible on my end to start the paperwork for the medical screenings? it is my understanding that it is quite thorough and alone can be time consuming. Also, I have been reading about the EFMP screenings. Is this the same as the medical screening? If it is possible to get myself checked out and good to go on my end, who should I contact?

Thank you so much, from all of the research I have been hearing both from families and sailors they love Japan :) 

Comment by Anti M on May 9, 2014 at 7:49am

I do not think they will let you begin the screening until he puts in for the command sponsorship.  The screening itself can expire, so it is best to wait.  This is something he will need to verify when he talks to his new command about bringing you over.  Even though he is an E-3, he should begin asking the day he checks in, or even begin talking to his sponsor before he arrives.  You can get the forms, know what is on them, line up your personal records, but do not begin making doctor appointments too soon.  It all takes time, so no need to get too far ahead.

Comment by Jumanji on June 13, 2014 at 8:09pm
Good article, AntiM! We spent 5.5 years stationed in Okinawa, with SOFA status. That is the only way I would recommend it. Otherwise, it is miserable. Much better for the service member to go unaccompanied and plan for a visit from loved ones later, take leave, make plans for transportation, save money for said plans, etc. - all ranks can benefit by this info. We had a sponsor family and my husband arrived a few weeks before we did, which helped. Over the years, we became the sponsors for about 4-5 families and helped with many others. It was a fun time although nothing in Oki is easy all of the time!
Comment by Anti M on June 16, 2014 at 11:29am

Okinawa is so beautiful.  I was TDY there a couple times, and although I was in the barracks, I enjoyed it.   Thank you for being a sponsor, that is such an important duty and important to do it well so the new families start off right.

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