Thomas DeJong: Abused to Death

Just before 4pm on March 11, 2011, 54 year old Susan DeJong called the Jefferson County Nebraska emergency dispatch to report that her 52 year old husband Thomas was not breathing and was cold to the touch. She stated that Tom had been in South Dakota to be with his “whore” and came home “all beat up”. The operator had Susan begin CPR until emergency units arrived at their rental home at 55930 Highway 136, about nine miles west of Fairbury.

When emergency personnel arrived, Susan was hysterical and she repeatedly stated that the “whore” did this to Tom. Emergency personnel found that Tom was not breathing and there was no heartbeat. He had dried blood around his nostrils and the top of his mouth. His hands, arms, feet, legs, torso and head were all visibly cut, scratched and bruised. CPR efforts were able to restart Tom’s heartbeat before he was transported to Jefferson Community Health Center then to Bryan LGH Medical Center in Lincoln.

Lab and blood test results indicated a threat of imminent heart and renal failure. A chest x-ray showed multiple rib fractures and a partially collapsed lung. A full body CAT scan revealed a swollen brain; a tremendous amount of fractures within the chest cavity; spinal fractures; a broken scapula; a fractured nose, and a possible fracture of the hyoid bone. The treating physicians concluded that Tom would not recover from his injuries and following permission from Susan, Tom was removed from Life support. He died shortly thereafter.

One of the examining doctors in Lincoln described the visible injuries to Tom as being small incisions and bruising over most of his body and face. He suffered blunt force trauma and bruising near his knees familiar with “a pedestrian being struck by a car”.

Susan drove to Lincoln where she was interviewed by Investigator Wendy Ground from the Lincoln Police Department. Susan told Ground that Tom had returned home from South Dakota that morning looking pale that he had stated that he did not feel well. He was repeatedly stating to Susan that he was sorry and that he had made a mistake. According to Susan, Tom said his mistress did not love him and wanted to kill him.

Ground asked Susan about Tom’s medical history and she stated that he had been feeling weak and clumsy for the last 2 ½ years. After Tom was declared dead Susan was transported to police headquarters for an interview.

During her interview she stated that Tom was often called a “weenie” because he was beat up by his “whore” all the time and he just took it.

“He used to come home bruised, bloody nose, black eyes. He’s got marks on him that are not from me. He’s got scars on his back that are not from me. Everybody thinks Toms such an innocent man. He used to be. He used to be the most loving, gentle, sweet man you could meet. Till he met that cunt. Then they started molesting children. I still say I think he was on drugs because you don’t drive 14, 16 hours with nothing. He is what he is from what he plays with.”

At one point during the interview Susan asked if she was under arrest, then she continued to ramble.

“Self-defense because I don’t bruise, he does. That’s pretty much the way it goes. She did that to him. I have to be arraigned in 24 hours. I know that. Just like the deal in Minnesota. And he’ll walk away scott free. And there’s a lot of injuries that he had that were not from me. Why didn’t I just leave? Why didn’t I just run? I need some sleep, so tired. I haven’t slept for two days. It’s all partly true. The whole story is partly true. I don’t know. I didn’t hit him in the head. He fell on it. I stepped on it. That was after he threw it at me is how it ended up there. I’m not under arrest. I can go outside and have a cigarette if I want.”

Shortly after 4am March 12, 2011 Susan was placed under arrest and charged with first degree murder and the use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony.

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According to the probable cause affidavit for Susan’s arrest, Tom sustained injuries to nearly every part of his body and “would have had great pain and suffering from the wounds.” A search of the house found that the beating appeared to have taken place throughout the main floor, as blood was found in most of the rooms. Seized during the search was a weapon described as a sword or bayonet with a sheath that had blood and hair on it. When asked by a detective what happened to a coffee cup in the house Susan replied, “his head cracked it.”

During the trial, evidence was presented that showed more than 70 drops of blood throughout the house; blood and DNA from Tom on the hood and front fender of Susan’s pickup; several hammers with blood and DNA from Tom.

In Tom’s autopsy report the pathologist found defects on Tom’s hands and arms that she described as defensive wounds. She stated that she had “never seen someone so extensively injured” and that Tom’s death was a homicide. Expert testimony for the defense opined that Tom’s was really beaten up in the last 24 to 36 hours before his death.

It was revealed that in September 2010 Susan had exchanged instant messenger chats with her son James about Tom. Stating that, “I can’t do this anymore. I’ve come to realize I literally hate him. Now I wish he was dead. I really hate him more than I have ever hated ANYONE. I’m looking to get rid of Tom.”

The week prior to Tom’s death he reported to his farm job as normal on Tuesday. He was bruised and had a little trouble getting around but he was there. He called in sick on Wednesday and Thursday. His boss drove by his house on Thursday and found both Susan’s and Tom’s vehicles in the driveway. His cell phone showed no pings or calls made anywhere other than the Fairbury and Hebron, Nebraska area.

Susan DeJong was found guilty of first degree murder and use of a deadly weapon and was sentenced to life plus 50 years to be served consecutively. She is currently housed in the Nebraska Corrections Center for Women in York, Nebraska.

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Sibling Criminals: Nature vs Nurture

Since the beginning of psychology man has been asking if it’s nature or nurture that determines our human behavior. There are some valid points on both sides of the argument and I as a former psychology student believe that we ARE the product of our environment.

My second cousins (their father Edward Cummins is my cousin), Brittany Cummins Pilkington and her brother Stephen Cummins both grew up in the same home, with both of their parents for the first five years or so of their lives. Shortly after their parents divorced both found new partners and continued to raise their children in separate two-parent homes.

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Brittany Pilkington Booking Photo
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Stephen Cummins      Booking Photo

Their mother found a new partner in Joseph Pilkington for nine years. During that time there was an allegation made that Brittany was being sexually abused but the case was never progressed because in 2010 two months after turning 18, the teen mother and Joseph got married, effectively stopping the investigation.

 

Fast forward to April 2014, Brittany is now pregnant with her third child, still married to Joseph and has two toddlers at home, Gavin age 4 and Hailey age 3. Joseph works a full time job that keeps him away most nights while Brittany stays home and takes care of the kids. On the morning of April 6 Joseph came home around 7AM to find Gavin unresponsive. He was later pronounced dead and his death was ruled “undetermined”.

Tragedy struck once again in the Pilkington home on July 22, 2014 when her three month old son Niall was too found unresponsive. Once again, his death was ruled “suspicious but undetermined”. Several months later Brittany found herself pregnant once again and this time the Logan County Ohio Children’s Services stepped in. Once the baby, Noah, was born he and his sister Hailey were immediately taken and put into state custody pending an investigation.

On August 11, 2015 following a Logan County Children’s Services had a three-day hearing, Judge Dan Bratka ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to keep the children in state custody and ordered the children returned to Brittany and Joseph. Six days later tragedy struck the Pilkington’s home for a third time when Joseph came home and found Noah unresponsive. Listen to Brittany’s 911 call here. For a mother who just found her third child unresponsive she shows absolutely zero emotion.

In May 2014 Brittany’s brother Stephen took his six week old daughter to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio because she was “crying a lot”. After an examination it was determined that his daughter was suffering from a fractured skull, 20 broken ribs and a broken femur. After a short investigation Stephen was arrested.

In July 2014 Stephen plead guilty to three counts of second degree felony child endangering and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. At his sentencing he gave testimony as to what he actually did to his child. He said, “I just wanted her to stop crying so I hugged her tight”. He also admitting to squeezing her head between his palms hard enough to cause the fracture that went over the top of her head from ear to ear. Finally he admitted that on several occasions over her short life that he would take her in both hands and slam to to the ground.

After a lengthy hospital stay his daughter was released. Her condition today is unknown to me as her mother has no contact with me or my family.

If we apply the nature vs nurture argument to these two people who grew up in the same house, with the same parents, who for the most part are law abiding citizens, we are left asking “what went wrong here?” It has been alleged by Brittany that her father was abusive and we know for a fact that she was sexually abused as a child by her husband who also kept her isolated from her family. This definitely would have an effect on her mental health. Apparently she was so isolated that she stated that before the death of her sons her daughter was her best friend. Furthermore she confessed that she killed her three sons because her husband paid to much attention to them and not enough to her daughter.

Stephen on the other hand is a different story. He had a steady girlfriend for a few years, both were members of the Ohio National Guard and he was attending college. For all intents and purposes he was “going somewhere” in life. So, why? Why squeeze your infant daughter to the point of near death? Why slam her fragile tiny body to the ground while she was crying in an effort to make her stop crying? Only Stephen can answer these questions and I certainly hope that while he is incarcerated he takes advantage of any and all counseling that is offered to him.

My personal opinion is that Brittany was definitely a product of her environment, suffering the abuse at the hands of Joseph, who was her own step-father for nine years. After their marriage I think the abuse continued and I believe she was jealous of the attention her sons received. Stephen I think is a little different. Sure Joseph was his step-father as well and granted I do not know for a fact but I would suspect there was physical abuse going on behind closed doors. But I personally think that he is a victim of stress. The stress from having a new baby, just him and his girlfriend taking care of her and both trying to maintain work and school schedules.

So what do you think? Did their environment growing up make them into the (alleged) killer and child abuser they are? Or were they both born bad?

Victim or Villain?

“I killed them because I didn’t want them to grow up to abuse women”. I killed them because they received more attention than my daughter”. I killed them to…

No matter what confession you believe to be the truth, Brittany Renee Pilkington, 23, a pregnant mother of three, stands accused of murdering her three young sons over the span of 13 months.

Brittany-Pilkington

The first murder, Niall aged three months, occurred on July 22, 2014. His death was ruled “Undetermined” based on lack of evidence and there were no obvious signs of a cause of death, even though medical examiner and detectives had their suspicions.

The second murder, Gavin aged four years, occurred on April 6, 2015. His death was ruled an accidental suffocation but once again there was suspicion. Shortly after his death his younger brother Noel was born and he and his younger sister, Hailey, described as her best friend, aged three, were removed and placed into state custody for “their protection”. For three months they remained in state care while detectives and Children’s Services investigated the deaths and the safety of the Pilkington home.

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August 9-12, 2015 the Logan County Court holds a three day hearing to determine the parental fitness of both Brittany and her husband Joseph and the projected safety of the children if returned to their care. Both the prosecutor’s office and the Logan County Department of Job and Family Services remained adamant that the children should not be returned to their parents.

Logan County Family Court Judge Dan Bratka found that the evidence was insufficient to keep the children out of their parents care and the children were returned. Six days later Brittany placed a call to 911 to report that her now three month son Noah was not breathing. He was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Later that same day, Brittany confessed to smothering all three of her sons with their security blankets and leaving them for their father to find them when he returned home from work in the early morning hours.

Brittany Cummins Pilkington was born to Eddie and Lori (Skaggs) Cummins in Bellefontaine, Ohio on January 27, 1992. Her parents divorced when she was just four years old. When Brittany was just eight years old her mother began a relationship with Joseph Pilkington that lasted for nine years. During that time he identified himself as her father, even taking her to doctor appointments and paying all of her expenses.

Joseph Pilkington

On March 30, 2010 a heavily pregnant seventeen year old Brittany married Joseph Pilkington. Prior to their marriage and while Joseph was officially living life as her step-father there were allegations of sexual abuse. However during the investigation by Logan County Children’s Services all parties, Lori, Joseph and Brittany, refused to cooperate with investigators so the case stalled. Once she married Joseph it was closed. Following the death of the three children Joseph was charged and arrested on one count of sexual battery stemming from his sexual interaction with Brittany and subsequent pregnancy in 2009.

In July 2016 he plead guilty to sexual imposition and must register as a sex offender for 15 years.

Brittany Pilkington’s aggravated murder trial is set to begin in summer 2017.

Pilgrimage to St Edmundsbury Abbey Ruins, England

Bury St Edmunds, England, in the county of Suffolk, was originally called Beodericsworth and was first platted in a grid style in 1080 by Abbott Baldwin. Today it is known for the Green King brewery and for a British Sugar processing factory where Silver Spoon sugar is made. But Bury St Edmunds has a long recorded history dating back to before 841 A.D. This is where we find the namesake and the beginning of St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

Through the Eyes of a Traveler

In February 2017 we took our first European vacation as a family from North Central Kansas to Beck Row, England a small village of 3000 in the East Anglia region of England and the home of Mildenhall RAF. From here we chose to begin sight-seeing in the town of Bury St Edmunds paying particular attention to the Abbey ruins.

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The trip to Bury St Edmunds from Beck Row began with a five minute walk from the apartment we had rented from Shakespeare Lodge to the bus stop in front of Tokyo Oysy Sushi for the orange bus number 355 at 10:05. This bus route is operated by Mulleys Motorways. The return fare for the ride was £6.00 each with the grandbaby being free (under aged 5). This trip takes about 30 minutes and meanders through the villages of Mildenhall, Holywell, Icklingham, Lackford, Flempton, Hengrave, Fornham and finally Bury St Edmunds.

Once we arrived at the Bury St Edmunds Bus Station we made our way to the town center up a slight hill passing many pubs, shops and restaurants along the way. There is a street market every Wednesday and Saturday in the otherwise car park directly in the center of town. Today Bury St Edmunds is very much a modern town of 30,000 residents that is easy to navigate by walking or using the city bus system.

We walked along following the well placed attraction markers to the Abbey Gardens where we spent the next two hours wandering through the ruins, the park, and the aviary then finally into the magnificent St Edmundsbury Cathedral. The Abbey was built as a shrine to King Edmund Parts starting in the 11th century and construction has continued as needed as recently as 2010. Entrance to the Abbey Gardens is free and made through the 12th century Norman tower gate.

To visit the Cathedral is free for a self guided tour using the stained glass window guide provided and they offer a guided tour for a charge. The cathedral is filled with many beautiful stained glass windows that each tells a story, even one that tells the story of the Creation. One of the tour guides pointed out that it was curious that Adam has a belly button.

Services are held daily in St James Cathedral and the Pilgrims Kitchen serves cooked meals just off the Cloisters. They even have picnic tables set up off the kitchen for outside dining or just to enjoy a cup of tea in a beautiful peaceful spot.

Bury St Edmunds can be accessed directly from London using the Greater Anglia train.

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King Edmund, Patron Saint of England and Martyr

In 841 Edmund was born to the King of East Anglia. The kingdom was a rich and prosperous place that often came under attack from many people. When Edmund was 14 his father died, making him king. He was crowned in a small chapel in Bures that you can visit today.

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In 869 Vikings invaded East Anglia and captured King Edmund. They told the king that they would spare his life if he renounced his Christian faith. When the king refused to do so they tied him to a tree and shot arrows at him, making him a martyr. After his death the Vikings then cut off his head. When they tried to pick it up to remove the crown a wolf suddenly appeared and guarded it, preventing anyone to go near it. It is said that the wolf continued to guard the head for several days until men from King Edmunds army were able to retrieve it. In 900 his body was taken to Bury St Edmunds.

In 1065 work began on a shrine to honor King Edmund and an Abbey of Bury St Edmunds was built. The abbey was built on a site that had been used for religious ceremonies for nearly three centuries. The Abbey continued to grow and flourish under many different Benedictine Abbots until it was in the 16th century it was stripped of all valuable and usable building materials and left to ruin. In early 1500 the current St James Cathedral was built on the Abbey grounds.

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Off the Beaten Path – Lewellen, Nebraska

Traveling along the Yellowstone National Park Highway, HWY 26, in western Nebraska travelers pass through many small plains towns that are very rich in history. Some of which has been instrumental in the formation of the country as well as the state. Unfortunately over the years much of this history has been lost or forgotten.

One of these small towns is Lewellen in Garden County. Encompassing a total area of 0.37 square miles of land and as of 2011 the population was 226 residents. This small village that lies in the valley of the North Platte River was a popular resting spot for settles along both the Oregon and Mormon Trails and for gold prospectors heading to California. Early settlers were attracted to the Lewellen area because of the lush grasslands, the open ranges and the abundance of water.

The first settler to the area was Samuel P. Delatour who arrived in 1884 and established a ranch on Blue Creek. Soon after, others began to follow and in 1886 Frank Lewellen built a small store and a post office using lumber from a raft that was used to carry immigrants across the river. Shortly thereafter the post office in Ogallala began shipping mail and supplies. Soon, more settlers began arriving so a bridge was built in 1891 that gave settlers easier access to the nearest railroad in Big Springs.

J.C. McCoy heard rumors that Union Pacific Railroad was coming to Lewellen so he purchased a bunch of land and platted the actual town, making a wide main street from north to south that intersected the old trail and ended at the station platform. When the first train arrived in 1907, McCoy’s Hotel was ready and easily accessible to weary travelers.

Today the Village of Lewellen is still a stop for travelers descending into the North Platte Valley. With restaurants, convenience stores, the Gander Inn Motel-Bed and Breakfast, a winery, art gallery and many other thriving businesses it is possible to stop to refuel both your vehicle and yourself. A slow drive up and down the combination of gravel and paved roads, it is easy to imagine this inviting and quiet village in the past.

Take a walk along Main Street and imagine the dusty gravel roads busy with travelers, settlers, wagons and livestock. Close your eyes for a moment and inhale the smell of thousands of cattle, sheep and hogs that were shipped out from the livestock market every year. Listen to the sounds; hear the whistle and rumble of a train pulling out of the station. See the thousands of grain wagons lined up along Main Street waiting their turn to unload wheat and corn at the elevator. This village with its low population is still very much alive with the many footsteps that have passed through searching for a better life.

Heading about two and a half miles west along HWY 26 you will come to Ash Hollow State Historical Park. Pioneers heading northwest from the Lower California Crossing of the South Platte River faced a steep descent into the North Platte Valley. The hollow entering Windlass Hill was named for the growth of ash trees and was a good place to rest because of the abundance of water, wood and grass. Today the route still bears deep rut scars from the countless wagons that made the descent creating a ravine. At the bottom of the hill sits a reconstruction of an old trappers sod house that served as an unofficial post office where letters were left for travelers heading east to carry. Visitors can follow a paved walking path to the top of the hill and gaze down into the hollow.

Ash Hollow State Historical Park is 1,000 plus acres featuring camping, hiking trails, picnicking and a century old stone schoolhouse. A trail leads from the modern visitors’ center to a cave that was once inhabited by American Indians and many fossils and relics of prehistoric tribes were discovered. The visitor’s center showcases the geologic and paleontological finds and explains the prehistoric history of the area, the military battle that occurred with the Lakota Sioux Indians in 1855, the fur trappers and the pioneers. More than 30 million years of geologic history can be examined at the park.

The park grounds are open year round to visitors from 8 a.m. to sunset and the visitors center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A state park entry fee of $2.00 (13 and up) and $1.00 (3-13) is required to access the visitor center (308) 778-5651. Every Friday and Saturday of Father’s Day weekend each year the park hosts the Ash Hollow Pageant, an outdoor performance using historical diaries and music giving visitors the chance to experience what life was like for the settlers traveling along the Oregon Trail.

Between Lewellen and Ash Hollow State Historical Park along HWY 26 sits Ash Hollow Cemetery. One of the very few marked graves of those who died along the trail belongs to 18-year-old Rachel Pattison who died of cholera in 1849. Just a short drive north of here is the Clear Creek Wildlife Refuge. An 889 acre habitat home to many species of deer, turkey, squirrel, grouse and dove.

Within approximately the five miles from the eastern side of Lewellen to the farthest western side of Ash Hollow State Historical Park along HWY 26 one literally travels back centuries in time. All we have to do is stop along the way to learn and experience the history.

An affordable camping stop just 13 miles west of Lewellen on HWY 26 is the Oregon Trail Campsite RV Park and Camping located at 402 West Avenue “A”., Oshkosh, NE 69154. They offer both RV and tent sites and have water, electric and some spaces with phone service. They can be reached at (308) 778-7395.

What is Space-A Travel Anyway?

There is a little known privilege that active duty and retired military personnel, and their dependents, have access to that allows them to travel virtually free all around the globe. What’s the catch you ask? You absolutely must be flexible and be prepared to pay for commercial travel is necessary. This perk is called Space Available, or Space-A, travel and it is governed by Air Mobility Command, or AMC.

The main thing to keep in mind about these flights is that they are not commercial flights. They are military mission flights that have space available to carry a handful of eligible passengers between bases. If you want to take advantage of this privilege there are a few things you must do in advance.

Through the Eyes of a Traveler

Travel Eligibility – the following types of travelers are authorized to use Space-A per the regulation DOD 4515.13-R. The primary eligibility requirement for dependents to use Space-A is they MUST be listed in DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System).

Active Duty Uniformed Services Member (includes National Guard and Reserve members on active duty in excess of 30 days and Cadets and Midshipmen of the U.S. Service Academies): DD Form 2 (Green), US Armed Forces ID Card (Active), Form 2 NOAA (Green), Uniformed Services ID and Privilege Card (Active), or PHS Form 1866-3 (Green), US Public Health Service ID Card (Active), and a valid leave authorization or evidence of pass status.

Retired Uniformed Service Members: DD Form 2 (Blue), US Armed Forces ID Card (Retired), DD Form 2 (Blue) NOAA, Uniformed Services ID Card (Retired), or PHS Form 1866-3 (Blue), US Public Health Service ID Card (Retired).

National Guard and Reserve Members: Authorized Reserve Component Members (National Guard and Ready Reserve) and members of the Standby Reserve who are on the Active Status List: DD Form 2 (Red), Armed Forces of the United States ID Card (Reserve) and DD Form 1853, Verification of Reserve Status for Travel Eligibility.

Retired Reservists Entitled to Retired Pay at Age 60: DD Form 2 (Red) and a notice of retirement eligibility as described in DoD Directive 1200.15. If the automated DD Form 2 (Red) has been issued, the member is registered in his or her service personnel system as a Reserve retiree entitled to retired pay at age 60, and a notice of retirement is not required.

Retired Reservists Qualified for Retired Pay: DD Form 2 (Blue), US Armed Forces ID Card (Retired), DD Form 2 (Blue) NOAA, Uniformed Services ID Card (Retired), or PHS Form 1866-3 (Blue), US Public Health Service ID Card (Retired).

On Active Duty for 30 Days or Less: DD Form 2 (Red), orders placing the Reservist on active duty, and a valid leave authorization or evidence of pass status.

ROTC, Nuclear Power Officer Candidate (NUPOC), and Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) Members: When enrolled in an advanced ROTC, NUPOC, or CEC course or enrolled under the financial assistance program: DD Form 2 (Red) and DD Form 1853.

Family Members of Uniformed Services Members: DD Form 1173, United States Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card.

EML Travelers: EML travel orders issued in accordance with Combatant Command procedures.

Disabled and Widows/Widowers: Currently, 100 percent disabled veterans and widows of service members are not eligible to use Space-A travel.

Category – Once you have determined eligibility then you determine your Space-A Category.

Category I — Active-duty service members and their accompanying families traveling on emergency leave.

Category II — Service members and accompanying family members traveling on environment and morale leave. This includes command-sponsored family members stationed outside the continental United States.

Category III — Service members and accompanying families traveling on ordinary leave or re-enlistment leave status, and unaccompanied family members of service members deployed 365 consecutive days or more. This category also includes service members and their families on house-hunting leave.

Category IV  Unaccompanied family members on environmental morale leave orders and eligible family members of service members deployed 30 consecutive days or more.

Category V — Students whose sponsor is stationed in Alaska or Hawaii, and students enrolled in a trade school within the continental United States when the sponsor is stationed overseas.

Category VI — Retirees and accompanying family members. This category also includes National Guard and reserve members who are traveling within the CONUS, Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories.

Locations – there are mission flights all around the globe. Review the list of common destinations offered with their contact information here.

Documents – be sure that you have all the required travel documents, such as your passport and any required visas. Contact your departure terminal for current documentation requirements and travel restrictions as Customs and Immigration requirements may change. Some of the documents you will need are:

  • Your military ID
  • A copy of your leave orders for emergency, environmental morale or ordinary leave passengers
  • Unaccompanied family members of service members who are deployed for 120 days or more require a letter verifying eligibility from the service member’s commanding officer.
  • A passport and appropriate visas for overseas travel
  • DD Form 1853: Verification of Reserve Status for Travel Eligibility for eligible National Guard and reserve members

Registration – once you have a good idea of where you want to travel to, from and in-between, you need to register with each AMC Passenger Terminal. This can be done by speaking with them on the phone, fax or email. Registrations are good for 60 days (some only 45 days).

Flight Schedules – for the 72-Hour Flight Schedule contact the AMC Passenger Terminal. A lot of them now have a Facebook page that they update daily.

Checking In – When it is time for you to travel check-in at the passenger terminal counter before the listed “Roll Call” time and have yourself, and any travel companions, marked present. Then wait to see if you are called for the flight.

A thing to consider and keep in mind regarding Space-A travel, it’s not your typical air travel, so plan ahead.

Choose your terminal wisely – a less busy terminals might get you where you want to go faster.

Consider off-season travel – instead of waiting for a holiday to take a vacation, go when school is in session for maximum availability.

Expect the unexpected – Space-A seats can be released two or three hours before a scheduled flight, so get there early. They can also be removed after you have been boarded. The mission requirements come first and if they need the room you will be bumped off the plane. The plane can also be delayed a few hours, to a few days or it may be rerouted to unscheduled stops.

Manage your money – you will want to ensure that you have enough money for a commercial plane ticket home or an extended stay in a hotel room, just in case.

Pack lightly – not every military plane has the same luggage allowance, so pack efficiently.

For answers to frequently asked questions take a look at the Air Mobility Command Space Available Travel Questions.

Solo Travel in Europe

At some time in our lives we all have those moments when we swear we are going to travel the world and see the sights. I myself have been making that claim since I was a young girl. I was so convinced that I was going to Italy in 2010 so I got my passport, started learning Italian, booked a few hostels and then plans fell through; because my husband was denied a passport.

So instead of making the journey alone, I packed my passport away and focused on traveling around the U.S. We went to a great many places, seeing the sites and along the way camped in a converted suburban. I was completely satisfied with the adventures we were having at home, but it was not the same. I was still longing to see other countries; I wanted to experience other cultures.

Occasionally I would make a comment about wishing I could go to Europe, see England, Ireland, Italy. My husband of 30 years has heard my wishes and desires many times over that 30 years, so he knew how much I longed to see those places. He came to me out of the blue one day in October 2015 and says, “How would you like to go to Europe in January?”

“I would absolutely love to but there is no way I can.” I told him. I knew we didn’t have the funds for a trip like that first and foremost, plus he still didn’t have a passport. Also, we now have custody of our three-year-old granddaughter so how was he going to handle her, the house, the pets and care for himself while I was gone? I just did not see that a trip at this time of my life was possible. The idea was shot down not to be thought of again.

Or so I thought.

Tom came to me again, at the beginning of January and told me to start planning my trip that I was going, end of discussion. After voicing the same concerns I had previously, and a new one that my brother-in-law who was recently disabled and bedridden would be moving in with us, I knew there was absolutely no way I could take any kind of trip right now. But Tom was adamant that he could handle the house and his brother. He also made plans for one of my daughters to come stay with us while I would be gone and she would help him with everything.

After making quite sure he really had everything under control, I, a 45-year-old woman, decided to take the leap and go travel for one month in Europe, alone. I decided to go for it. I would leave in 10 days and I had a budget of $1500.00.

My first course of action was to find a plane ticket. Finding something affordable leaving from Atlanta, Orlando or Miami on that short of notice was definitely a challenge. But after a day or two of searching I had it figured out. To maximize my savings I ended up buying one-way routes on different airlines (Frontier Airlines, Jetairfly and Ryanair). To begin my adventure I would be driving four hours from southwest Georgia to Atlanta, flying to Miami then on to Brussels before my final destination of Dublin.

Frommer’s Guide to Ireland

Once in Europe I planned to take advantage of the trains to get around and one other flight from Dublin to Edinburgh via Ryanair. For my return I would fly straight out of Brussels to Miami, on to Atlanta then the drive back home. Using the method that I did, I spent a total of $650.00 to travel round trip to, and around Europe. This includes using public transportation such as the city bus or subway. But to save a few more dollars I purchased local travel cards (Oyster in London and Leap in Dublin). If those weren’t available I just paid the fare for each ride.

Lonely Planet’s Discover Great Britain

My next course of action was to book accommodations. I knew that I was not going to be staying in hotels during the trip since I wanted the “backpackers experience” so I chose to stay in hostels for the majority of the trip, ones that were centrally located to the center of town that offered free events, tours or inexpensive ones. I stayed brand loyal and scored a small discount for using the same hostel in multiple locations and used member reward points for free hotel stays before and after my flights home. I also rented a room in a private house for twelve nights in Glastonbury at a phenomenal rate.

I booked lodging in each city I planned to stay in, seven of them, and then I booked different modes of travel to get between each location. It took me about five days to have everything booked and in place. My European trip was coming together nicely and the total I was going to spend for accommodations was approximately $250.00. By the time I had the transportation and accommodations booked I had already spent $900.

Now it was time to shake the dust off my backpack and start planning what I was going to be taking with me. I have plenty of experience of living out of a backpack on both short and long vacations, but not one that I would be carrying on my back every day so I had to think about what I really needed. I literally packed bare necessities with the idea that I can replenish in Europe. I bought a few travel books to find out what was free to see and do in England, Ireland and Scotland; the three countries I was planning to visit.

In my small backpack I managed to fit the following:

1-pair of jeans (I would be wearing the second pair)
2-pair of bed pants
5-t-shirts
4-sets of underwear and socks
1-small toiletry bag
1-blanket
2-travel books
1-water bottle
snacks
1-flashlight
batteries
2-phone chargers
international plug adapters

Then I set off on my solo backpacking month in Europe.

By the time I landed in Dublin, Ireland I had already been traveling for 23 hours. Once there I hopped on a city bus and made my way downtown to find the hostel I was staying at. The hostel I chose was Paddy’s Palace and it was very centrally located to everything in Dublin. Literally, it’s right around the corner from the train and bus station, and across the street from the Customs House. It is a few blocks from famous Connolly Street and the General Post Office, the sight of the 1916 Easter Rising, and just a half mile from Ha’penny Bridge. It was very reasonably priced at €9 (about $11) per night.

All of the sites and attractions in that I visited were free of charge and I didn’t leave feeling like I had missed anything. However, while in Dublin I did pay €22 (just about $25) for the Hop On/Hop Off tour bus that drives around and listened to the stories along the routes. With my hostel stay of two nights minimum I received a free trip to Glendalough, Kilkenny and Wicklow, worth €25 (about $28).

After spending three days in Dublin I took the train north to Belfast for the next two days. While there, I paid for a 4-bed mixed dorm room and ended up being the only occupant at Paddy’s Palace and took another one of their guided tours, this time to Giant’s Causeway for £29 (about $32). This trip included a stop at Carrick-A-Rede, where you can enjoy the views of Mull of Kintyre and Rathlin Island in Scotland across the Irish Sea or walk across a traditional rope bridge built by fisherman to harvest salmon. It had some amazing views along the coastline between Dunluce Castle and Ballycastle.

From Belfast I passed through Dublin again on my way west to Killarney for two nights at, you guessed it, Paddy’s Palace. I paid for a 6-bed female dorm room and was once again the only occupant. I took the day tour around the Ring of Kerry for €25. The Ring of Kerry is considered to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world. You see a wide range of scenery from rugged cliffs, small villages, peat bogs and mountain ranges. This tour makes a few stops along the way for photo and site seeing opportunities. From Killarney I headed back to Dublin before heading out the next day to Edinburgh, Scotland.

I flew Ryanair to Edinburgh and spent the next three days staying in a 30 bed mixed dorm at Budget Backpackers Hostel for £7 (about $8.50) per night. While there I once again paid for the Edinburgh Hop On/Hop Off bus tour for £22 ( about $26), a trip through the Edinburgh Dungeon for £13 (about $16)  and a day trip to Stirling Castle (£15 admission not included) with Timberbush Tours which included a stop along the way at Loch Lomond for £38 (about $41).

From Edinburgh I headed south on Virgin Trains to London, England for two nights at St Christopher’s Inn. While in London I did have time to take the Original Bus Tour for £29 and visit the London Dungeon for £21 before heading to Glastonbury to spend 12 days doing genealogy research.

Once I was already in Glastonbury for a few days I decided to take a break from the massive amounts of historical records I had been reading to tour the town, visit the Glastonbury Abbey ruins and take a trip up to Bath. While in Bath I stayed at St Christopher’s Inn and I toured the Roman Baths for £15.50 and took a day tour to Stonehenge (£16.30 admission was not included), Avebury and a few of the Cotswold villages like Lacock and Castle Coomb through Madmax Tours for £39.

During this 12 days I even had the pleasure of visiting the town of Nunney and seeing Nunney Castle which my Prater ancestors owned before it was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1634 during the English Civil War.

When it was time for my trip to come to an end I took the train back to London then down to the Brussels airport in Belgium. Since I arrived late in the evening and I was taking an early morning flight out I chose to just find a quiet corner and sleep in the airport. By this time I was nearly broke and completely ready to go home.

I had a good time on my solo trip. Never once was I afraid to go somewhere or to walk down the street alone, in the dark, on a street I had never seen before. I did however learn that in order to travel alone you must really enjoy quite a bit of quiet thinking time and spending time with alone; which I do!

Travel Journal Entries:

20 January 2016 – Well after nearly 23 hours of flights I have finally made it to my first European destination. This town reminds me so much of Manhattan, it is very busy with workers, merchants and tourists. The buildings too as they are very large and tall. One main contrast though is the age of the buildings here in Dublin; you can see that many of them are centuries old.

I ventured out this afternoon once I checked into Paddy’s Palace Hostel and dropped off my backpack. My destination was St Patrick Church, however that plan failed. It was just a few blocks walk from the hostel to the Connolly Street bus station where I needed to catch the number 13 or 40 bus to reach the church. Unfortunately I wasn’t using a very to scale map and the bus driver failed to tell me when my stop was. I ended up five blocks past my destination and once I backtracked using the directions a few bus riders gave me I still did not find it. Instead I decided to make my way back to the hostel before it got dark so I could eat, charge my phones, shower and talk to Tom.

I also wanted to reflect on the days’ activities and record a few thoughts about Brussels, Belgium and Dublin, Ireland.

First, Belgium Airport layout is unlike any American one I have ever seen. Not only was the trek from my arrival gate to the ticketing agent to connect to my Dublin flight odd but it felt like I was being paraded through the border protection checkpoint kind of like cattle. Furthermore, it was very strange to me that flight passengers literally zig-zag through duty-free shops. You are meandering through expensive jewelry, shoes, sunglasses and any other trendy item being peddled. I even witnessed a kid of nine or ten years of age hocking products as well.

Finally, I am accustomed to seeing American movie stars all over the U.S. because our culture is to worship them. But all over the walls and displays was interesting to see.

Plans for tomorrow are tour of Glenadough, Kilkenny and Wicklow. After that, who knows!!

21 January 2016 – Today I took a guided tour of Glendalough, Wicklow and Kilkenny. All are beautiful places with literally centuries of history. While hiking the green trail at Glendalough I made my way from the lower lake up to the ruins of the old church and cemetery. I was in awe at the beauty, the condition of the stones for the age they are.

I then followed the trail along past a flowing waterfall and river until I found my way to Saint Kevin’s Monastery ruins. It was a large area with massive headstones and stone slabs along the floor indicating that someone had been buried beneath them, in the church floor.

Saint Kevin’s is surrounded by a massive cemetery that has continually been used since 700AD. Once again the stones marking the graves are huge, nearly six feet tall and so warn from age that nearly all of them are unreadable.

Wicklow itself was nothing exciting. Apparently it was only popular because the movie Braveheart was filmed here. Kilkenny was a different story altogether.

This town has been around since before Ireland was even a country. The castle there was built to keep the Vikings and others out. It had been lived in by the Butler family for 300 years until 1965 when the final owner sold it to the Historical Preservation Society for £50. The town was old and far more than I expected.

Tomorrow I am taking the train up to Belfast for a few days.

22 January 2016 – Today so far I have taken the city train, the Luas, to see the National Museum. At the moment I am sitting on the regular train, just pulling out of Connolly Station to make the 2hr 15min trip up to Belfast where I will be staying for two days.

One thing I have noticed by not taking the commercialized tours and staying in the preferred hotels is that I actually see the real Dublin. I have no problem venturing off the beaten path, in fact, I prefer it. I see the true city and its people. I see the struggles, the dirt, and the graffiti.

When I do get the chance to talk to someone who lives here I ask about homelessness, and they tell me there is a lot.

In fact, some of my dorm mates at the hostel actually live there. One gentleman, Jim, has lived in various hostels all over Ireland for 12 years. He doesn’t work and receives social welfare.

Another dorm mate, Dee, a 28 year old South African woman is actually married to an Irishman and has three children ages 7, 5 and 2. She too receives social welfare and because she and her unemployed husband fight constantly, she stays at the hostel to avoid conflicts with him. That means she is gone from her children for days at a time. That is something I cannot understand. I know my kids would drive me crazy and I would need a break from them at times but I’ll be damned if I would choose to leave them and my home for weeks at a time just to avoid conflict with my husband. He would have to leave.

24 January 2016 – Well I made it back to Dublin from Belfast in plenty of time to exchange currency before my train ride to Killarney. I am damn happy to be rid of them damn Pounds. They are so much less value compared to the Euro or US Dollar. Unfortunately when I leave Ireland on the 27th I will be using Pounds again for the rest of my trip.

So my thoughts on Belfast and Northern Ireland; let’s just say I did not feel like I was I Ireland at all. They are definitely British. Often I saw the Union Jack flying proud and the Irish accent is also very absent. I did a tour yesterday to see the Dark Hedges, Dunluce Castle and Giant’s Causeway. I am glad that I made the journey north to see Belfast but I doubt I will ever return as I prefer Dublin so far.

While in Killarney I’m hoping to see the National Park. I do know that tomorrow I am taking the Ring of Kerry tour.

25 January 2016 – Waterville, Ireland – This town on the coast of the Atlantic is where Charlie Chaplin vacationed for many years. He even built a house here.

It is said that while he was in town one time at a local pub an announcement was made for those participating in the “Charlie Chaplin Look-a-like” contest to come forward. Having a bit of fun he entered to contest. After some time for the judges to get a look at the contestants they took some time to decide the winner.

Finally he entry number was called and he went to the stage to receive his award. He received a cup. He was disappointed by the award but walked off the stage as directed. Next he heard another number called to the stage and he decided to go back and ask what was going on. He was informed that he had won third place in the contest and he tried to tell the judges that he was the real Charlie Chaplin. They did not believe him and shooed him off the stage.

He then went to the barkeep and showed him his passport to prove who he was. The judges never returned to judge another contest.

Only Charlie Chaplin could win third place in a Charlie Chaplin Look-a-like contest!

Skellig Islands, inhabited for 2000 years by a group who worshipped the sun. Their diet was the fish they caught in the Atlantic Ocean and they lives in beehive shaped huts. When St Patrick made his way across Ireland converting Pagans he came across these people who refused to convert unless they could worship their sun too. St Patrick agreed and the Celtic cross was created.

26 January 2016 – Killarney, Ireland – The more time I spend in this country talking to the people, hearing their history, not the American taught history, the more my heart aches for the people. For a thousand years they have had to constantly fight to live and worship as they wanted to.

Ireland has always been a nation of poverty, faced with oppression and discrimination all because of religion. First they were Pagan forced to convert to Catholic when St Patrick, who himself was a Pagan enslaved and forced to live in Ireland for 12 years, trekked across this country converting people with offers of education, a home and a way to earn a living. It’s no wonder why so many people either sent their children to the Abbey or monastery. Conversion literally became a means to survive.

31 January 2016

I am on the train from Edinburgh London bound. I will be there for a couple of days. Plan to take the tour bus around to see the sights, take the Thames river cruise and visit the London Dungeon. If I am able, I want to see the Tower of London.

8 February 2016 – On the road to Bath, England – I have noticed that the people of England are not much different from those in America. I see every class, from the stoic businessman to the common beggar on the street. On more than one occasion I have been bumped by someone on their phone talking about an “account”. Frequently I have been asked for some spare change by some of the same people sitting on the same bench or on the ground in front of the same business, only on different days.

I have even encountered the clueless druggies who will openly discuss what they’re buying from who and for how much. Or even their legal troubles in full earshot of many strangers, AND LAUGH about how high they were or bitch that their stupid lawyer can’t get the charges dropped.

For the most part our two countries are more alike than we care to admit. We all have the same common goal of making a home, living and taking care of our families.