Every 12 Months

Understanding the PCS

Military families PCS (“Permanent Change of Station” or, in civilian terms, “move”) approximately every three years.

Air Force families tend to PCS a little less frequently, while Army families tend to PCS a little more frequently. The stage of a service member’s career can influence PCS frequency, as can specific military job opportunities, deployment cycles, and other variables.

Frequent PCSs

My husband is in a stage of his career that requires us to PCS more frequently than the average family. We arrived in Germany in May, and we’ll PCS again one year later. Thankfully, the next PCS is within Germany (moving internationally is a bigger challenge than moving inside a country is).

If we were civilians at the same stage in our lives (early 30s, good jobs, expecting our first child), we might be painting nursery walls or making sure our home were in a school district where we’d be comfortable sending our new baby to Kindergarten in a few years.

But we’re not a civilian family. We’re an Army family, and since Fall 2010, he’s averaged a PCS every 13.5 months. Since 2006, he’s spent more than three years deployed. When you subtract those years from his eight active duty, he’s had six duty stations in five years.

Managing the Craziness

If we were civilians, we might be painting nursery walls, considering school districts, or preparing our garden for spring. But we aren’t. We’re an Army family who’s PCSing again after less than a year — this time with a weeks-old daughter — so here’s what we are doing:

  • We’re making the most of being together. (I’m so thankful for no impending deployments!)
  • We’re staying on the same team, working together at home, with our daughter, with family, and in regards to move preparation.
  • He’s staying in touch with his leadership in our current duty station as well as our next one for mentorship, for official orders, and for professional continuity.
  • We’re planning for having an infant in the car, in Army lodging, etc. during the move (thank you Mom and Dad for the Pack & Play with the infant sleeper!!).
  • We’re talking. A lot. We keep each other informed, and we share when what we’re feeling. This is important (new spouses, take note).
  • We’re clearing the calendar: No trips, no house guests, and no new freelance clients for me during the 60 day window when we expect to PCS.
  • Finally, we’re taking things one day at a time. There will always be unknowns surrounding PCSs and new duty stations. Letting those unknowns overwhelm us won’t help anything, so we roll with the things we do know and try to embrace the unknowns as best as we can.

How often have you and your spouse PCSed during his or her career?

What advice do you have for newer milsos who aren’t sure what to expect from PCSing for the first time?

Was there a point in your spouse’s career when PCSs were more frequent? Do you have any tips for managing all of the change that comes with frequent PCSs?

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  1. Wow, crazy! We should be PCS’ing this summer, it will be our second, technically, if you don’t count me moving from VT to NC after we got married. All I know is, waiting for orders is driving me nuts.

    Good luck with your move! I can’t imagine moving with a newborn on top of everything else!

  2. We’ve only pcs’d 4 times in the 16+ years he’s been in. They have all been since 08. Plus we moved ourselves 4 other times since 2002.

    Hubs was stationed at Bragg from 1997-2008. Then Fort Sam 08-09. Benning 09-10. Wainwright 10-13. And now he’s back at Bragg till 2016 ( hopefully a little longer so we don’t have to move once more before retirement).

    We pcs’d more when he was going through PA (physician assistant) school. We were lucky when he went through Special forces we got to stay at Bragg after.

    Pcs’ing has never bothered us. They come pack you and move it. You find a house and unpack. We have met so many great friends that we wouldn’t have if we never pcs’d. And have had so many great adventures. I never thought I would go to Alaska let alone love it there.


  3. I’m sure PCSing this go around is going to be a whole new experience with your little one. Maybe it won’t be so bad since she’ll still be in that “just lay there’ stage of babyhood. (Of course, this is coming from a woman with no kids, so what do I know!)

    Our two PCSes (from Texas to Germany and from Germany to Texas) were only 8 months apart. I don’t recommend it. The day our household goods arrived was the same day that we found out when we’d be moving. It sure took the wind out of our unpacking sails. We are not closing in on a year in Bliss (it went by fast!) with no PCS for a while. I’m glad. Moving is exhausting! I get the feeling that once my husband’s deployment is over, we are both going to be itching for a change of scenery.

  4. Oh Melissa, it takes a special kind of family to be able to do this so often. And I believe you and Nick and baby are that kind of family. You will look back on all these experiences down the road with fond memories of those you met and places you visited. Where you are now will forever hold a special memory for you as your daughter was born there. Of course I wish you much luck, love, and happiness.


  5. You’re so level-headed and even-keeled that you’ll weather the chaos that comes with moving. I don’t even know how many times I’ve moved with the Navy before marrying David & trying to figure out how to deal with the 2 services trying to move us overseas right after we married. To 2 different countries, no less, with 2 different households. Looking back, I credit the fact that I’d moved at least 4 times with the Navy & twice on my own before Marrying Army. Since then, we’ve moved together 3 more times (twice overseas) and he had an additional year overseas in Saudi before joining me in Japan. Other than a critical small wheel on my antique English dresser that was lost somewhere between his condo in Virginia & our home in Japan, nothing’s really been a casualty of the moving process. Lessons learned from 20+ years of moving are at least a dozen. I’m sure there are more, but these come to mind. (I could probably and should probably do a blog post, eh, but since you asked…)
    (1) stage all your “not to be packed during this pack out” in a LOCKED area that isn’t your bathroom. It never fails that someone will need to use it and all the other bathrooms are blocked or being used.
    (2) know where your valuables & passports are at all times. Keep them in your locked car, for instance. I know a sailor who lost his watches that he usually “hid” in his suit pockets (why he didn’t just keep them in a drawer or jewelry box, I don’t know). He discovered it when he sliced open the tape on the cardboard wardrobe box to get them when he realized that he’d forgotten them. (He was eventually reimbursed but it took time)
    (3) don’t let them pack your trash/bin. (Personal experience: they packed my kitchen trashcan in San Diego and I finally got it, and the trash still inside, when I got to Maryland.)
    (4) IF POSSIBLE: get child care and/or kennel your pets somewhere outside your home when the movers come. (Dogs went to the kennel; we didn’t want them running loose or getting stressed out by all the commotion).
    (5) walk around with a video camera and take still shots of all your valuables. I’ve never had to use it for claims, but it felt good to have the mental insurance.
    (6) have a yard or garage sale before the packers come if possible (although in your case, you probably don’t need this… I’ve seen your neat & tidy place!)
    (7) PARTNER UP (Or have friends help you): when the movers come to pack as well as when they come to unpack, have a plan with your spouse (if he’s there) on who’s directing the guys outside where to bring the boxes as they come off the truck (this is the person with the checklist working with the lead guy on the moving team). The movers will want to get done quickly so this phase can be overwhelming. The other person needs to be inside directing where the boxes will go to be unpacked (each mover needs a fair amount of workspace to unpack, especially in the kitchen), what’s going to be unpacked/what won’t be unpacked, & where everything will be placed. This is part of their contract.
    (8) have the transportation (household goods) contact name and number on speed dial, just in case. They should also contact you at some point soon after the day is done. Good ones will actually visit your home while the movers are there. If something is broken during a move (i.e. a light fixture), you’ll have to sign paperwork so that the repairs can get made or damages reimbursed to you (or your landlord)
    (9) have food and drinks for a midday meal for your movers. They will appreciate it. Discuss this with them before they start unpacking. Usually their contract will require a lunch break. (For my German movers, I had typical lunch fare and they bent over backwards for us. American and German cheese and cold cuts, fresh rolls from the local bakery, American sodas–they can’t get Dr. Pepper here, American chips in single serving bags. In Japan, I did the same. In the States, I got pizza and canned drinks. When we moved to Germany, it was Christmas and since we couldn’t take our alcohol collection, they each got a bottle of liquor or wine from our collection at the end of the day to take home)
    (10) watch them seal the crates and sign the tape.
    (11) Prepack your electronics. Use the original boxes for large and expensive electronics. It’s worth the trouble.
    (12) Block off space for the moving truck to load and unload. Definitely let your neighbors know what’s going to happen and for how long (all day x # days). In the States, this may require some prep (i.e. no parking signs in our Texas neighborhood that the city provided).

    Can you tell I’ve moved a lot? As far as frequency and PCSing, this happens more often in the services when you’re more junior, whether enlisted or officer. It’s during those initial years of training and development, checking the professional boxes. I’ve noticed the moves slow down a bit around year 10 for some mid grade officers and enlisted, when jobs might have a 2-3 year time period. It’s something to look forward to. For those who hadn’t married yet (i.e. my husband), it was a good time to start settling down because he was at a duty station for 3 years and a staffer (not deploying or in the field as much either).

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