Creating a military family despite paperwork struggles
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Getting married, completing the command sponsorship process and uniting two cultural backgrounds is no easy task. My family and I have recently completed an eventful journey to get where we are today.
I remember the first time I said hello to my wife, Joheart Love Viojan, as though it was yesterday. It was April 2014, I was stationed at Osan Air Base, South Korea, and sent her a message on a dating site. I had been in the Air Force for four years at this point in my career and it was my first time outside of the United States. I never thought that I would travel halfway around the world and meet the woman of my dreams.
Joheart and I faced a tremendous challenge immediately after we began talking. There was more than 1,600 miles between us as she lived in the Philippines.
We didn't have the opportunity to go on dates, meet each other’s friends or take part in other typical courtship rituals. Most of our communication was through social media and video calls. While it was the most challenging aspect of building our relationship it was probably for the best. Being unable to use body language or hear intonation a majority of the time we communicated was difficult, but we learned to be more open verbally with each other to help us understand one another.
As we continued talking on and off throughout the year our relationship became more serious in October. She informed me that she has a daughter, Toni Viojan, so I knew I would become a father instantly if marriage was in our future.
I traveled to the Philippine Islands of Cebu and Bohol in January 2015 to visit Joheart in person for the first time. It was the most nervous I'd ever been in my life. I was traveling to a country that I had never been to, I didn't know what to expect while I was there, it was the first time I'd see Joheart in person, someone I met on the internet and I wasn't 100 percent sure she was going to show up.
We spent the next 10 days together touring the islands. I tried Filipino food for the first time; I visited places such as the Chocolate Hills, temples and beaches, attended the Sinulog Festival (a Filipino cultural and religious festival); I spent time with her extended family and we were able to get to know each other on a more personal level. Things went very well, and our relationship grew stronger.
We continued talking over the next 10 months, and during that time I moved to my current location, Yokota. We spent more time together in the Philippines in August 2015. When she came to Japan in November 2015, I proposed to her.
Little did we know, we had a stressful road ahead of us.
In order for Joheart and Toni to live with me, we had to complete a pre-marital checklist, marry in accordance with the host nation's (Japan) laws, complete command sponsorship process and turn the documentations into several agencies.
Our original plan was to marry in September 2016 with a ceremony in the Philippines. We were misinformed by multiple sources in regards to the length of the command sponsorship process. Led to believe that it would take about a year to complete, and not wanting to wait almost two more years to live together, we decided to complete the process while our daughter was on summer break. We later discovered the command sponsorship process takes approximately one month to complete, as long as we stayed on top of everything and no problems arose.
Researching the process and getting everything squared away prior to their arrival was emotionally and mentally taxing. Every time it seemed as though progress was made, we found two or three more obstacles preventing us from living together.
The correct information was hard to come by. I was told I would need to adopt Toni (going through an adoption attorney in Florida) before she could enroll in Tricare and complete her medical inspections. We were told we would need to make space-available appointments with the medical group and my wife didn't realize until a week before that she needed a specific stamp on her single affidavit for marriage.
Luckily, I did not need to adopt my daughter to get her enrolled in Tricare, I just needed to show them my marriage certificate. Once they have their military IDs and receive a temporary social security number from Tricare, they can make appointments within the medical group.
When getting married to a foreign national in a foreign country, the necessary documents can be different from those required in the states. Service members should check with their base legal office to find out what documents the member and their significant other need to get married in their home country or abroad. I strongly recommend going to the military personnel services which offers a command sponsorship briefing and checklist. Also, talking to people who have gone through the process before and doing as much research as you can prior to getting married will make the process go more smoothly.
Other stressors emerged prior to my wife and step-daughter arriving in Japan.
The first difficulty we encountered was finding a place for them to stay. Since I was living in the dorms, they had to reside elsewhere. Luckily for us, one of my wife's cousins, who is also married to a Yokota Airman, welcomed my family into their home while we went through the process and waited for accompanied housing to be made available. This helped us save thousands of dollars we would have had to spend for them to stay in base lodging or on hotel expenses and we are truly thankful to them.
The second stressor was me supporting myself and two others on single senior airman pay. I didn't start receiving a food allowance until we moved into our apartment or receive a dependent rate for my cost-of-living allowance until after we completed the command sponsorship process. Thanks to the Air Force's promotion of financial readiness, I had enough money saved to support us through the process and to help us start our lives together.
My family arrived on April 9, and the experience consumed my life; I lived, breathed, dreamt and cried about the command sponsorship process. We needed to complete the necessary medical and dental appointments, have our paperwork in order and make sure we did everything right.
Joheart and I also needed several documents specific to our home countries in order to marry in Japan. Once they were translated into Japanese along with a marriage application form we turned them into the Fussa City Hall to become married on April 13.
After putting a lot of time and effort into completing the stressful process, our command sponsorship was finally routed and approved on May 19. We were unable to complete this process alone. Thanks to the advice and support from others who have gone through the process and base helping agencies, I can happily say that we are now a family and have begun our lives together.
Joheart, Toni and I are still working through some growing pains, but we will continue to come together as we build a life as a family.
We have recently moved into an apartment and are learning to live together while making it our home. While I have been single for most of my life, I am learning to share my life with Joheart and make decisions together. I am also learning to be a father to Toni, who is also getting use to having a father since she has never had a father figure in her life.
We are also fusing our two cultures together into a Filipino-American hybrid, and I am learning to speak Tagalog to better communicate with my family while they are adjusting to speaking English more frequently.
Being married and having a child is no easy task, especially when family members come from a different background, culture and opposite ends of the world. The relationship can be difficult enough, so stay educated and find help where it is available to make the process of command sponsorship go smoothly. And, always remember to be patient, communicate with one another, and understand that it takes teamwork and sacrifices to make a family whole.