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26 Apr 2022

It’s Hard, But We All Do It: PCSing in the Military

Summertime is upon us! The sun is coming out, temperatures are rising, and, for many military families, this time of year also means Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season. Many military families move every 2-3 years and sometimes even more. So, how do we, as military families, prepare for a PCS, and where can we go to learn about our soon-to-be new town? To help me gain more insight into this question, I spoke with a previous active-duty service member and current Reserve member Elizabeth "Liz" Lambeert about her PCS experiences and the journeys of navigating this process. As it turns out, since my time as a military brat has ended, the military has added excellent online and in-person resources for families and their service members to prepare for a PCS.

In her 5½ years of active-duty service, Liz PCS-ed 3 times, including once overseas to Sasebo, Japan. Liz explained, “When you get your orders, it tells you where you’re going and gives you what we call the CNIC (Commander, Navy Installation Command) of your base. So, the first thing that most people do is they go look [up their new duty station].”

Our team created a brief survey, asking service members for their go-to PCS resources, and sent it to Auburn’s Student Veteran Association members and others connected to Military REACH. From the 45 survey responses we received, we found that roughly 78% of participants relied on the internet to access resources about PCS-ing, with a common trend of using social media pages specifically. During my interview with Liz, I learned her experiences overlapped with the survey results – she also used social media to learn about her PCS location.

To prepare for her move, Liz joined a private Facebook page for female officers and created a post that explained a little bit about herself and her situation. Liz commented, “They were able to help me, or at least give me ideas, like ‘Hey, don’t bring a king size bed, because if you live out in town your apartment door frames are smaller (and) your rooms are smaller.’ So, it helped to know what to put into storage and what to bring.”

Social media can be a helpful platform when PCS-ing. However, what if you don’t have a social media page? Where can you go to access resources? One go-to resource is the National Military Family Association (NMFA). They have created a collection of resources such as comprehensive PCS checklists for military-hired moves and personally procured moves (a do-it-yourself move). The NMFA website also has area guides created by military spouses, on and off-base housing reviews, blog and informational articles for PCS/Military life support, and much more, all located in one place.

Checklists from the NMFA are helpful, but Liz explained that a before-PCS checklist (leaving checklist) wasn’t comprehensive enough to make sure the transition was smooth. “The leaving (from base) part was really difficult for me. I’m actually still dealing with my car in Japan. I junked it eight months ago and they’re telling me I didn't junk it correctly....Having that leaving checklist is just as important as the arrival checklist.” For Liz, the experience of relocating 7 times within a few months before arriving at her final duty station in Japan was quite difficult. She helped herself by packing necessary items ahead of time, like cooking utensils (due to her long stays in hotels, she noted her college dorm cooking skills came in handy!).

For many military individuals, internet access may not be readily available even in our technology-friendly 21st century, so, even if you have a social media page, you may be unable to access it. Growing up overseas our PCS-es back and forth from Europe were made even more difficult without immediate internet access. This is a struggle for many Navy and Marine service members who are underway (not at the shore), especially during the months leading up to a PCS.

“Because I was on a ship and we were underway,” Liz said, “we spent a lot of time with limited broadband. So, I was emailing my mom and telling her what I needed. I’m a Navy brat by trade; (my mom) is a 20-year officer and my dad is a 20-year chief…I gave them power of attorney before I left for deployment to help me with my move. And my mom was separating things (to take to Japan and leave in storage). While I was underway, I didn't have access to my Facebook group because [The Joint Force Headquarters for Department of Defense Information Networks (JFHQ-DODIN)] didn't want us on Facebook.” Because internet access and content blocking were an obstacle for Liz during deployment, her familial support network became just as important as the official resources. This notion of familial support was felt by our survey participants as well.

To aid with familial support networks, the military sets up official military sponsorships between service members. As Liz explained, the PCS paperwork “told you to reach out to your ships and it listed the ombudsman (volunteers appointed by the commanding officer to serve as information links between leadership and families). My XO (executive officer) set me up with a sponsor…when we get sponsors, we try to pair up like single female – single female, [or] married – married.”

As difficult as the PCS process can be, there are many places service members and families can go to find helpful information. Below are a few resources for military families and service members across all branches who are PCS-ing.

All branch resources:

Find Information regarding your next installation: https://installations.militaryonesource.mil/

Special thanks to Lily Annino for the vital resource gathering assistance and help in the early stages with content planning and organization.

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