Preamble from the Rooster
As I write this, Mary Agnes and Kathryn are in Brunssum, Netherlands along with K’s husband Jeff. Kathryn has given me permission to post her story for the preparation of their trip. I’ve done a bit of editing, added some photo’s and info, but this is Kathryn’s story. I hope you enjoy her Saga as so many have already. Congratulations to Samantha on her promotion to Major in the USAF. Sam, and husband Zed, a pilot, are stationed in Geilenkirchen, Germany at a Nato Air Base. ( Oh, and one last note, I did not ask permission to use her photo holding the passport.) If she was having a bad hair day after what she went through, we should not pass judgement. She really does dress up nice. A big thank you to a good friend, Lexi O’Leary, who checked on the wife’s welfare while she walked alone in DC getting he 16,000 steps in while waiting for Kathryn. It was much appreciated Alexis!
Planning July 2021…. Our daughter Samantha has been in the USAF for 10 years, in that time she has accomplished an incredible amount for the AF and for her family. When she was notified of her promotion to Major, she asked if I would be her officiating officer. Of course, I agreed, and Jeff was asked to say the prayer, two parents could not be more proud. Off to the Netherlands! Planning began, since Jeff would be coming from Saudi Arabia following a work trip, and I would be coming from Salisbury we needed to coordinate.
We asked my parents if they would want to go too. The answer, of course! Let the planning begin…. We plotted airports, hotels and restaurants. It was a fun summer activity. We also planned our trip to USAFA for parents weekend in September to see Tommy Palmer – another family member entering the long blue line, – something to take our minds off of COVID… despite the rising numbers, we had something to look forward to. Then COVID struck close to home, my dad got COVID, and he got sick. Luckily, because he was vaccinated, he never got hospitalized, but it slowed him down tremendously, he was really sick. In my mind I have a running list to all the things our family has lost due to COVID, friends, family, events, holidays, and now, my dad’s travel to Sam’s Promotion…..
My mom and I continued to plan, she’s such a great traveler. She and I picked tickets that would coincide with Jeff’s arrival to Frankfurt. We got our hotel and Blacklane pick up. Remember life before COVID? The only thing you had to worry about when making you plane reservation was picking a seat? Now plane reservations require scanning and downloading vaccination cards, testing requirements (which can change weekly) review and completion, quarantines. It takes a PhD in technology, political process, medicine and patience to know how to successfully enter another country…. Oh yeah, and a passport. That’s important too.
The fine print
As my mom and I sat 72 hours prior to our flight, working to get all our documentation in order, I got everything scanned in, vaccines, hotel reservation, passports, via the United app, and waited for our “travel ready” approval. Instead of the “All Complete Green Check on the APP” I got a “Kathryn Fiddler is pending updated information…..” Pending information? I checked the app again, reloaded my vaccine card and waited. The message remained unchanged. I checked my passport #, correct, I rechecked my documents and date, correct, then I read the fine print.
Apparently, my passport was required to be effective for at least 90 days, and mine was set to expire in 60 days. What did that mean? Surely my husband, who works for the Dept of State, could fix it. I called him in Saudi and let him know there was a glitch. I had 64 hours before our plane left. I also started calling the US Passport office when they opened, attempting to get an appointment. Sixty hours left. While at work, I called the passport office, hoping their live system would find me a next-day appointment for a passport. There were appointments in Honolulu, Seattle, Washington, Phoenix, Arizona, but none on the East Coast. Jeff was sending emails to every contact he had.
I hadn’t yet said a word to my mom, and I just kept trying. I did call my sister Sarah, just to let her know what I had done, I shared my sadness. What if I couldn’t get a passport? “No, I haven’t told mom or Sam,” I shared. Forty-eight hours left, passport office now closed.
I couldn’t sleep. I knew I had to let my mom know. When she walked over for coffee the next morning, I shared the news. She said she could go without me. She declined. I told her I would keep up my phone calls to the live passport appointment system. Jeff had exhausted his contacts. People were praying all over the world for us. I called Sam and let her know. She said, let me get with my legal folks and the German Nationals; God Bless NATO bases. There were renewed hopes. Forty hours left.
I spoke with many schedulers in my continuous calling, Joe, Maria, Sheree, Arthur, and Anthony. I begged, pleaded, considered flying to Buffalo to get an appointment, but someone else took that one before my passport agent finished. Thirty-six hours left.
Songs Have Meanings
Sarah got me in contact with an Aide for Congressman Andy Harris. I filled out a form explaining why I needed an appointment. Sam called her General Officers from the Pentagon to see if they could help. I drove to Easton, MD, to be closer to DC should an appointment come through. And working from my car, and dialing into Webex appointments, thirty hours left. With hope waning, I headed back to Salisbury.
Jeff sent a text that he was boarding for Frankfurt and would check-in when he landed. It was now just over a day until our 10 PM flight to Frankfurt. As I was headed home, listening to Genesis, “Jesus he knows me” and the lyrics “Jesus he knows me, and he’s been telling me everything’s gonna be all right”. I knew that in my heart, whether in Salisbury or in Europe, it would be all right. If these past few years with COVID have taught me anything, I had learned patience, resilience, and a feeling of peace with whatever happened.
As I stopped at a red light, Genesis on the radio, twenty-nine hours to boarding, I checked my phone one more time. There was an email from an Aide to the Congressman. I had an appointment at noon tomorrow, ten hours before our flight. I broke down and sobbed my eyes out.
Then I called my sister! It was her outreach to the Congressman’s office that had come through. I told her I was headed to our mom’s, she said, “wait for me, I’ll meet you there!” It was a celebration, a clink of wine glasses, and sharing of the good news.
Step one, we had an appointment. Now we needed to pack, and I needed to make sure all my documents were in order. Confirmation letter from the State Department Passport office, current Passport, DS forms for renewal, passport pictures, I checked and rechecked, and packed.
Off to DC
The next AM, 0730, after rechecking my documents one more time, I picked up my mom, and we headed to DC, 600 19th St NW, the US Passport office. As I left my mom walking DC, I walked into the building….. following all the rules. I must wear a mask, have my confirmation # and come into the building alone. We arrived at 10 AM, 12 hours from takeoff… and I was allowed in the building. I went to check-in, and my documents were verified. I got called 20 minutes later to review the accuracy of my documents and to pay $170 for a new expedited passport.
While I was paying, there was a crowd of people forming on the other side of the room. A gentleman was explaining there was a problem. He said we had permission to leave and get food, and it might be a while? I walked over to the group to hear what was going on. Oh dear, broken printer? Delays, another backlog, as I got closer I heard the whole story. The passport printer had been down since early AM. It would be several hours before it came online, and the passports from overnight had to be completed first. Eleven hours until takeoff.
I left the building to find my mom and share the news. We walked to a food truck and got our fine street dog for lunch, right on the mall. The fresh air was nice, DC is always beautiful in the fall. We walked for an hour, and then I went back to the passport office to get an update and to wait. I left my mom again to walk the streets of DC. Ten hours until take off.
I sat, read, listened to the anxious murmurs in the room. Everyone had a story, weddings, funerals, family vacations, family reunions, and none of us could fix the broken machine. After about an hour, there was an announcement. The printing machine was up and running. It would be a few hours, but the backlogs were already being printed. Eight hours until takeoff.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Finally, at 230 PM, my name was called. I went to the counter and picked up my passport. Never had anything looked so beautiful. I had a passport that didn’t expire for 10 years! 7.5 hours till takeoff! I met my mom outside the building, and we were off to Dulles! We had made it. The work of friends and family all over the world, the power of positive thoughts and prayers made it happen. I believe it.
I think of the old Master Card commercial. Plane ticket to Frankfurt, 500 dollars, new passport, 170 dollars, being able to officiate at my daughter’s promotion, PRICELESS!
Pictured below are the new Major, Samantha, husband Zed, L to R, Mia, Zoe, Dax, & Ana. Ctr, retired Major and Mom Kathryn, Samantha, the USAF’s new Major and Father Jeff. Right, 4 generations, L to R, the Roosters wife Mary Agnes, our daughter Kathryn, Major Sam, Kathryn’s daughter and Master of the Ceremony Mia, our great granddaughter, granddaughter of Kathryn and Sam’s first born.
A big thank you to daughter Kathryn who provided a written dialog to me of these events. Thanks to whoever in Germany for providing the photos of the event. Kathryn and Sarah, thank you for all you do for so many. Matthew up in Connecticut, thanks for all you do. Matt’s our families technical Wizard. The Rooster accepts responjsibility for all grammatical and draft errors.