1. Obtain a tourist passport.
2. Buy your plane tickets and book hotels on Expedia.
3. Buy a visa at the airport when you land
How to visit the Gulf countries if you are in the US military:
1. Find great plane tickets on Expedia and think, "Yeah, this will be easy!"
2. Visit the DOD Foreign Clearance Guide to find out what the requirements are for DOD travelers. Discover it can only be accessed from a .MIL computer, which you don't have. Write the Help desk for a username/password to gain alternate access.
3. Discover that leave travel is banned. Call United States Central Command for a waiver. Explain that you can't travel in an official status, because your new daughter doesn't have a diplomatic passport yet. Learn that you need a letter from your commander to apply for a waiver, but your request will probably be denied.
4. Wait for your daughter's diplomatic passport to arrive, which takes twice as long as a tourist passport.
5. Search the Air Force leave regulation for information on Permissive TDYs, which will let you travel in an official capacity and bypass the leave restriction. Discover that you qualify for a PTDY, but you need an O-6 to approve anything longer than 10 days (which your trip does). Submit PTDY request.
6. The minute your daughter's diplomatic passport arrives, log into the Automated Personnel and Aircraft Clearance system to request country clearance from each of the three countries and from US Central Command. Lose everything when the system automatically logs you out, start over, and submit.
7. Receive four denials stating that you didn't provide enough information. Learn that your trip has to be coordinated with a POC at each location before you request clearance.
8. Spend several days coordinating with a POC at each of the three countries.
9. Resubmit country and theater clearances. Wait.
10. Accomplish Antiterrorism Level One training (again).
11. Wait more. Send a string of e-mails about the fate of your PTDY request and country clearances, because the trip is two weeks away, and you really need to buy plane tickets. Learn that the PTDY form is with the Colonel and should be back any day now.
12. Wait a week. Receive three of the four clearances. Call the remaining country to find out the problem, and learn that they don't use APACS--they use a DIFFERENT country clearance system you've never heard of. Learn that you need to create an account and submit a new country clearance.
13. Log in. Learn that you need a government e-mail address to create an account, which you don't have because you're at a remote location.
14. Try using Air Force gimail, a .MIL e-mail system designed for people like you who are at remote locations and wouldn't otherwise have government mail. Discover that the system lost funding and was shut down with virtually no warning at midnight on December 31st, 2009.
15. Try logging into Army AKO, where you have a guest account sponsored by an Army officer. You seem to recall that AKO has built in email. Discover that despite the renewal notification you received a few months ago, your account has been deleted.
16. Because you have no government e-mail and can't create an account, request a waiver from this country to use APACS instead of their preferred country clearance software. Receive no reply.
17. Check plane tickets and see the prices spiraling out of control (this trip is not funded, so you're paying out of pocket). Discover that you can't even get tickets for the itinerary you planned. Take a deep breath, change your entire itinerary, and buy non-refundable tickets that cost twice as much as they originally did--even though you still don't have a signed PTDY form, you're missing a country clearance, and nobody has approved your itinerary change. Pray things will work out.
18. Resubmit your entire itinerary in APACS and call each POC in each country to inform them of the new itinerary.
19. Try again to create an account for the alternate country clearance program. E-mail your Army friend. Ask him if you can use his e-mail address to set up your account for the country clearance software.
20. Create an account. Get a message informing you that an activation code has been e-mailed to your friend. You can't use your account until it's activated.
21. Write your friend, asking him to verify your account. Provide him with your password so he can log in and accomplish this. Do this using your personal e-mail address, which apparently the DOD doesn't think is safe enough for you to use to register for the software program.
22. Start booking hotels. Discover that half the hotels are booked because your trip is so close.
23. Fifteen days after you submitted the PTDY request, send another e-mail to inquire about its fate.
24. Have black thoughts about getting out of the Air Force. Wonder if the military actually wants Middle East specialists, because they sure as hell don't act like it. Remember that you wrote a blog post titled Don't get angry unless you mean to, and that an angry rant would look hypocritical. Tell yourself that this is nobody's fault; it's the result of a runaway bureaucratic nightmare that nobody can stop or control. Feel a little better. Then get angry again. Decide to write a blog post anyway.
25. Continue waiting.
[to be continued]