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Passports: While US Customs officials and airline personnel may be familiar with your Service Identification cards and orders, they are not familiar with Reserve ID cards. In addition to your NATO Travel Orders, we recommend that you bring your personal passport.
Orders: Your host component will provide you with Invitational Travel Orders (ITOs). These orders, combined with your service ID card, will allow you access to our military installations, exchanges, and commissaries. You should have a copy of these orders with you at all times.
**Climate: Many visiting officers have commented that they were not prepared for the extremely high temperatures and high humidity, particularly in the southern areas. When preparing, recognize that the U.S. is much farther south than Europe. In the summer, it is HOT. SUMMER TEMPERATURES WILL APPROACH 100º F AND THE NIGHTS WILL FREQUENTLY BE IN THE MID-70ºS. Prepare accordingly. Officers have also commented on the intensity of such insects as flies and mosquitoes in these regions. Bring an ample supply of sun block and insect repellent, or purchase some immediately upon arrival here. Also, drink plenty of water to guard against dehydration. Consider purchasing a "camel back" or other portable water carrier especially if you will be in the southern parts of the country. ***
Travel: Air travel in the United States is relatively simple. Many small cities have their own airports and regularly scheduled flights. You will travel from the Washington area by air unless you are going to a Unit within the immediate Washington DC area. There are two airports in the Washington area. Reagan National Airport is near the downtown area. Dulles International Airport, which is your initial port of entry, is about 30 miles west of Washington. We usually make arrangements for you to depart to your units from National airport, but you may have to depart from Dulles Airport. If departing from National, use the free hotel shuttle usually available at hotels serving the airport. If you must depart from Dulles, you have two options. First, take a taxi directly to Dulles Airport from the hotel. Second, take the hotel shuttle to National and get on the Washington Flyer buses from National to Dulles Airport. Airlines normally request you arrive at the airport no later than one hour before your flight. Most of the training sites are not near large cities. Expect to transfer planes and expect that many of these planes will be relatively small. Ensure your bags are checked through to the final destination.
Driving in the U.S. is not particularly difficult, but you will be struck by the size of the country. Compared to Europe, everything is far away, but Americans are used to driving 50-60 miles without thinking about it. We drive on the right side of the road. Speed limits are strictly enforced and speeding incurs a healthy fine. Each state sets its own speed limits. Speed limits in cities are 30 miles per hour unless otherwise posted. Street signs are similar to European signs in shape, but we rely more on the written words than is common in Europe. A right turn is normally permitted on a red light after you stop and if the traffic is clear. If it is not permitted, there will be a sign prohibiting the right turn on red.
Foreign Money: The US currency is the dollar. One hundred cents equals one dollar. The exchange rate is about 1.7 to 1.8 DM $1 US or 0.60 British Pound to $1. Do not expect to be able to cash personal checks. You can gain access to some ATMs. Check with your local bank to see if your card and PIN number is valid in the United States. A credit card is essential. AMEX, VISA, and MASTERCARD are routinely accepted. Money exchanges are limited, normally only at international airports. Travelers’ Checks are generally accepted, but you should bring travelers' checks in dollars, not pounds or DM. Travelers' checks in foreign currency will be very difficult, if not impossible, to cash.
Since it is difficult to accurately predict the costs an individual officer will incur, close coordination with the host unit and sponsor can help eliminate surprises. Generally, many participants report that they were unprepared for the level of expenditures that were required. We recommend that participants arrive in the U.S. with a minimum of $500 in cash to cover the potential cost of taxis, meals, and incidentals before you can get to a bank.
Packing: You will be traveling by air frequently. PACK LIGHT. Most airlines allow two checked bags and one carry-on per person. This will be a constraint as you will be carrying your own luggage, in field conditions, and traveling to several different places. Keep this in mind when packing and remember that your host unit should supply you with your field gear.
Uniforms: Each exchange assignment is unique from the perspective of individual uniform requirements. Uniforms will vary by component, unit, geographic region, training programs, etc. It is important to communicate directly with your sponsor/host unit on the specific requirements for your assignment. A copy of the daily training schedule and gear list can be helpful, but you should discuss the issue directly with your host to eliminate any unnecessary clothing and equipment.
Ground Reserves: The uniform for most of your visit will be fatigues or battle dress uniforms. Your host unit will provide load-bearing equipment, pistol belts, canteens, helmets, sleeping bags and the like. If you have a military wet weather parka, consider bringing it.
Air Reserves: Those going to Security Police units should be prepared to wear fatigues (field) or battle dress uniforms. Your host unit will provide load-bearing equipment, pistol belts, canteens, helmets, sleeping bags and the like. If you have a military wet weather parka, consider bringing it. For those going to operations positions in flying squadrons, be prepared to wear Class B uniforms (summer dress) or a flight suit, if you are authorized. The uniform for normal wear around air bases in the U.S. is the Class B (Summer Dress).
Naval Reserves: At most installations, dress khaki or summer whites is the uniform in the summer. Aboard ship, the uniform is working khaki.
Civilian Attire: Normal attire in the U.S. is very casual by European standards. Americans tend to dress informally, however, PT clothes, running suits, “cut-offs,” blue jeans, and the like are improper civilian attire in hotels and officer clubs, even “after hours.” Likewise, do not wear running or jogging suits for anything other than physical training. If you are invited to your host’s home for dinner, attire will normally be a pair of slacks and a shirt. If it is a picnic or barbecue, shorts are acceptable. Americans seldom wear a coat and tie to restaurants unless it is a special occasion or a very nice restaurant. Most participants report that suits are unnecessary, but a sport coat, tie and slacks offer good flexibility for different occasions.
Living Conditions: In Washington, you will stay in a hotel selected either by us or by your nation’s representative here in Washington. Since you are staying in a hotel, expect to guarantee your room and pay the bill with a credit card. The Hotel rate will be $110-125 depending upon the lodging arrangements. Out in the units, billeting arrangement will vary. Ensure that you ask your host unit what lodging arrangements have been made for you. You may be required to live in a hotel with the expected costs of up to $85-105 a night. If you live in a Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ), you can expect to pay $25-45 a night. Although most BOQs normally have towels available, you should bring bath towels and wash cloths if your host unit is going to spend any time in field encampments.
Ground Reserve: If you attend an annual training with a maneuver unit, expect to stay in the field for a considerable period of time. Lodging will be in tents or in a cantonment area and will be rather Spartan. If your host unit is on a military base or is doing its training from a home station or armory, you may be in a hotel or BOQ.
Air Reserve: Including Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, and Naval Reserve aviation. These units are frequently based at civilian airports. BOQs are not generally available and you will be required to live in a hotel. Also expect to eat many of your meals in local restaurants.
Naval Reserves: If you are posted to a ship, your lodging will be taken care of, but you will still pay for meals. If you are posted to a land-based organization, expect to stay in a hotel.
Meals: US units do not have a regimental mess or officers club in either the British or German tradition. US officers are paid an additional “subsistence allowance” and are expected to pay for all of their meals. These costs can be considerable, even at government dining facilities or mess halls and they may accept only cash. Please factor in these additional expenses in your individual planning budgets. Contact your host about specific arrangements. You should expect to pay for your meals while at your unit. If you are assigned to a ship, meals should be included without having to pay. If you are assigned to a ground unit participating in field training, you will probably have the opportunity to sample the world famous MRE.
American restaurants cover a wide variety of tastes and formality. The term “restaurant,” however, covers a broad spectrum of dining establishments and is no indication of quality or formality. Attire in most American restaurants is casual.
Tips are seldom included in the check at American restaurants, although if part of a larger party, check to see. It is not uncommon for a tip to be automatically added to groups of more than 5 or 6. A standard tip for good service is fifteen percent of the pre-tax bill. Many states, counties and cities have a sales tax that is added to the bill. It is normally listed separately. Everyone, including foreign nationals, must pay the tax. There are no provisions for exemptions as with VAT in Europe.
Invitations to Dinner: You may receive an invitation to dinner at a US officer’s home. The attire will usually be specified as casual. Casual attire in the US normally consists of slacks and an open collar shirt. The European custom of bring the host a small token of appreciation is certainly acceptable. Following the event, it is appropriate to send a brief thank you note to the host or hostess.
Electrical Current: If you elect to take any European electrical equipment with you, you should know that U.S. electrical current is 110volts, 60 cycles. Further, U.S. electrical outlets are two-pronged, with flat, not circular prongs. 220volt appliances will not work on US electric systems.
Telephone Calls: Phone calls from any hotels are very expensive. Phone calls to Germany and the UK can be dialed directly. From a US phone, call Germany direct by dialing 011-49, followed by the local telephone number; the UK by dialing 011-44. Be sure to drop the leading zero on the city code.
Briefings: Participants may receive briefings from all units on any bases that they visit and accordingly should be prepared to provide reciprocal briefings on your nation’s Reserve system and on your particular component.
Gifts and Mementos: Most participants have reported that a small supply of gifts and mementos can come in quite handy. You may want to consider a supply of “Certificates of Appreciation” signed by your unit commander requiring only the typing in of an awardee’s name. Something as simple as your unit crest or insignia on a small block of wood or a plaque can be a treasured gift. Uniform items and small keepsakes from your particular unit, region or country can be highly regarded as well.
Emergencies: There is a nationwide emergency phone number that will connect you with the local emergency service dispatcher. Dial 911 for emergency requests for assistance from police, fire, or ambulances. It is common practice for the 911 operator to ask you to stay on the phone until the first response element arrives. Most are also trained to talk you through first aid. Use 911 only for emergencies.
When you arrive in the U.S. the German Armed Forces Command or your Embassy representative will provide you with an emergency point of contact at their offices.
Medical: Should you become ill or injured during your stay, follow the procedures of your host unit to seek medical help. Each unit has a supporting medical staff. You are authorized routine medical care for minor illnesses and injuries. Should you suffer a major illness or injury requiring hospitalization, British officers should immediately contact their embassy. German officers should contact the German Armed Forces Command for the US and Canada.
I hope this information has been helpful in getting you started on your exchange. However, it in no way substitutes for contact with your host unit. Enjoy your exchange here in the United States!