SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - If you are like many Army spouses here in Hawaii, you have been separated for quite some time from your Soldier.
A trip home or even an adventurous excursion to Australia might be just the thing you need to get through the last few months of separation.
A friend and Army spouse recently shared how she made a trip home and a Disneyland vacation possible for her family by taking advantage of Space-Available or Space-A travel.
Space-A travel is a program that serves active duty, reservists, retired and family members of military personnel. The purpose of your travel and status determines your eligibility and the category for flying.
By all accounts, their trip was a success. The children were able to visit their grandparents and relieve some of the stress they had been feeling since their dad deployed, and for my friend, it was a nice change of pace from counting down the months and days to her husband's return.
Once I heard how easy it was to fly Space-A, I was encouraged to give it a try for the first time last month.
My family needed to travel from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. On day one, our first attempt fell through, but by day two, we were onboard a C-5 airplane headed to Dover, Del., only an hour away from our desired destination.
Our seats on the plane faced a large aisle. When my daughter, Jesse, 4, and son, Joshua, 8, got tired, they were able to stretch out on the empty seats next to us, but could have also curled up in sleeping bags or blankets on the floor if I had brought them.
Our return flight was a dream, because we were lucky to hop onboard a DC-8 commercial flight, complete with flight attendants and family-friendly in-flight movies.
We flew from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and spent the night at the United Service Organizations (USO) at Travis before heading back to Hawaii.
We were treated like royalty at the USO, with access to snacks, movies, books, blankets, iron, washing machines and even showers.
If you were ever leery or downright afraid of attempting to fly Space-A, I encourage you to "get hopping" with some tips I used to get started.
Pick a range of days
Determine which days your family can fly. It is a good idea to determine a range of days (2-3) for travel in case you get bumped off a flight or the flight changes.
Get command sponsorship
If you are traveling without your sponsor or your spouse is deployed, you will need a command sponsor letter, which can be requested from your spouse's commander.
Register at Web site
Visit www.takeahop.org and follow the prompts to sign up for a flight. Be certain to have all family member's social security numbers readily available, and passports if you are traveling outside the U.S.
After filling out the online registration, you must be very resourceful and willing to do some legwork to map out your travel.
Lastly, prepare to be flexible - and happy "hopping." It will be an adventure you and your family will remember forever.
(Editor's Note: Shahnaaz Mason is an Army spouse, mom and freelance writer. Her husband, Lt. Gary Mason II, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, and children, Jessy, 4; Joshua, 8; and Martel, 16, are stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Since the printing of this article Mason and her family have taken a second adventure, flying Space-A. She can be contacted at k1cs.mason@gmail.com.)

Infobox
Space-A Travel Tips
Aca,!AcCheck in when you arrive at the air base.
Aca,!AcPrint out your online registration for reference.
Aca,!AcCall Hickam Air Force Base and listen to a recording (449-1854) of which flights will be leaving in the next 2-3 days to determine when to arrive at the terminal.
Aca,!AcArrive at least one hour before roll call to ensure your chances of getting a seat and to have time to order and pay for in-flight meals ($4.25 per person, cash only).
The boxed meals are huge, so have toddlers share one. You can even request vegetarian meals.
Aca,!AcWear tennis shoes. Open-toe shoes are not permitted.
Aca,!AcBeware, if you are not present for roll call, you will not be able to board the flight.
Aca,!AcFor more information on command sponsorship or Space-A
contact the Air Mobility Command passenger terminal on Hickam Air Force Base at 449-6833 or getstarted at www.takeahop.org.

Page last updated Mon July 13th, 2009 at 21:51