Don’t Trip Over That SOFA!

In every foreign country where our nation has troops stationed, we also have formal agreements with the governments of those countries spelling out the conditions under which our troops are hosted. Those agreements are called Status of Forces Agreements, or SOFAs. While Cat 6 travelers do not need to be intimately familiar with ALL the details of these agreements, one particular aspect seems to be a stumbling point for many – where can we, and where can we NOT use commissaries and exchanges?

Lady Cat 6’s personal philosophy is that I travel to experience the cultures of the people in the countries I visit, and that includes using their grocery, sundry, and drug stores (pharmacies).   In all my travels in Europe and Asia, I have never been to a location that does not have these commercial establishments in the local area!

That being said, knowing what is permitted in the countries we visit can save a lot of frustration. In some countries, like Italy, visiting retirees are free to use US facilities. In others, like Germany, we are not.

Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to abide by the agreements our government has negotiated.

Fortunately, there are handy little charts,


and here:  

 that provide information regarding shopping at exchanges (BX/PX/Navy Exchange) and commissaries overseas. Simply find the country you want to visit, and find your answer. Easy-peasy!

Since so many retirees transit or visit Germany in our travels, a few notes are in order:

Regarding Ramstein, the main point of entry into Germany for space a travelers: though retirees are not permitted to use the commissary or BX, they CAN, except for car rental concessions shop at any of the private vendors (feel free to load up on Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas bling!), in the mall complex, and they CAN purchase sundries at the little shopette. Retirees can also take advantage of the tours provided by MWR.

 It is possible, if one intends to visit Germany for 30 days or more, and one desires to document that intent, and provide receipts for all purchases, to make arrangements to shop at the commissary and BX and pay the attendant taxes to the German government. Instructions on the requirements and process are found here: 

Regarding the Edelweiss Resort: many retirees in the past have enjoyed staying at the Edelweiss Resort, in Garmisch. No longer. Details can be found here:  Never fear though, Germany has many resort properties and tour operators we CAN utilize, in addition to thousands of charming B&Bs, restaurants, and other recreational opportunities!

 Some SOFAs are soft and warm and cushy and easy, some are firm and streamlined and spare and forbidding.  Successful Cat 6 travelers are aware of the particular “styles” of SOFAs in the countries they are visiting, and know when to sit and relax, and when to stay off the furniture!


Most of us, having been affiliated with the military, know there are a lot of abbreviations and acronyms involved in mil-speak. It’s no different with military space a travel! Watching air terminal flight forecasts, reading information at the AMC and other websites, and reading online posts, you will see more than a few “abbreviations formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as words”. Some are self-explanatory, some are a bit more challenging to decipher. 

Here’s a handy list of some of the most common abbreviations and acronyms you’re going to encounter during your travels:

AMC: Air Mobility Command (formerly known as MAC: Military Airlift Command). The Air Force command responsible for moving most cargo, fuel, and passengers around the world. For an in-depth look at the history and mission of the command, see here:

AMCI: Air Mobility Command Instruction – the official instruction governing travel on AMC aircraft:  Space a travel regulations begin on page 18.

CONUS: Continental (or, contiguous) United States – the lower 48.

DTR: Defense Transportation Regulation – the source of all things defense transport-related. 

F: Firm – the number of seats that have been “officially released” for a flight…which are still subject to change without notice.

OCONUS: Outside the Continental United States – includes Alaska and Hawaii.

PACAF/PACOM: Pacific Air Forces/Pacific Command – PACAF is the Air Force wing of PACOM, which has command of US forces in the Pacific and Asia. Hickam and Elmendorf are PACAF (Travis, however, is AMC). In addition to the space a opportunities offered via AMC, there are also opportunities via PACAF. The important thing for space a passengers to understand is that very few flights from PACAF locations go to the east coast, and almost none go to locations in Europe.  and

PAX: Passengers.

PAX REP: Passenger Services Representative (the men and women behind the counter and on the phone).

PE: Patriot Express (also known as the “Rotator”). Contracted civilian airline flights intended primarily to      move PCS families and deploying troops overseas. If there are seats left over, they may be used for space a passengers. PE terminals in the US are: Baltimore/Washington International Airport BWI, NAS Norfolk, NAS Jacksonville, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac), and Travis AFB.  

RON: Rest Overnight (or, Remain Overnight) – the flight will remain overnight at one of the stops enroute for mandatory crew rest – if you are manifested through, you are going to need to arrange for lodging.

SP: Seats Pending – the number of seats available has not yet been determined.

TBD:  To Be Determined – the same as SP.

T: Tentative – initial number of seats projected to be released…subject to change without notice.

SPAT: Space A Traveler – a term thoroughly detested by Lady Cat 6, as it connotes either the past tense of forcefully launching a wad of mucous-y spittle out of one’s mouth, or something intended to be worn over one’s shoe, EG (for example), “I found the scoundrel utterly despicable; therefore, I spat upon his spat!”

VRC: Virtual Roll Call – the process of conducting a Roll Call for a specific flight via the exchange of emails between the air terminal and PAX who have marked themselves present for the flight. Enables prospective passengers to avoid long waits in the terminal for Roll Call and Check In. Here’s a link to an overview of the process, from the Hickam Air Terminal:

Of course, since we are dealing with the military, we will no doubt run into a plethora of other initials and acronyms in our travels, but these are the basics associated with space a in particular.  Feel free to suggest or add others you’ve encountered orbiting about the space a universe!