Issue - May/June 2022

U.S. DOMESTIC, MILITARY AND GOVERNMENT

The Military Customer’s Perspective on the PCS Process

By Megan Harless – Army Veteran, Military Spouse, PCS Reform Advocate

It is estimated that each year, three million Americans will make an interstate move. The average person generally moves 18 miles away and will traditionally make 11.4 moves in their lifetime (U.S. Census Bureau). In that same year, up to 350,000 military families will make a PCS move hundreds or thousands of miles away to an unknown location where they will most likely know no one. They repeat this process every 12–36 months depending on their job and the needs of the military. Using my own family as an example, we have completed 10 PCS moves in almost 17 years with number 11 coming this summer (June 2022), and are currently 808 miles away from my parents. In August, my oldest child will be 15 years old and will be entering his seventh school as a freshman after completing his ninth PCS.


Each PCS presents its own unique issues. We know the moving industry is there to move our household goods, but sometimes it feels as if they do not fully understand everything that goes into planning and executing a PCS, along with the transition that happens on the other end. While military services are working hard to issue orders as far in advance as possible, it is not uncommon for orders to get held up for one issue or another, or to even be issued as surprise orders with a quick timeline. What our civilian counterparts may take 6–12 months to plan, we often have 30 days to four months to handle everything involved in the process. That means finding new housing, new schools, new teams for extracurricular activities, new medical providers, new friends that we can list as emergency contacts at the school—new everything.


As a military family who relocates every 12–36 months, often to locations we do not choose, we often see our household goods as the one constant in our lives. In a way, it’s as if our roots, and especially the roots of our children, are found in our material possessions. They remember the grand kitchen table where many friends who eventually became like family would join us for meals during deployments and holidays. Their bedroom set provides much-needed comfort in a new home that may experience “settling noises” during the night. It’s the familiarity of the bookshelves filled with books that grandma would read to them, and the family pictures that help make the transition to a new home easier. When the housing market is tough, and we find there aren’t many kids in our neighborhood, it’s our household goods that help provide the comfort in the transition of a PCS. Moves in which items show up damaged or go missing can hinder that transition process.


Just as I imagine that some in the moving industry may have complaints over the changing PCS regulations and business rules, military families feel the same pain. Some families do not know that things change each year and can be blind-sided by the fact that that something that happened on their last PCS is no longer done the same way. Figuring out what can or should happen can sometimes be a daunting process. While we are counseled on the process and changes, some services do a better job than others. Many spouses and service members will turn to the numerous PCS or location-specific spouse groups to ask questions and find the answers they need for their PCS.


These social media groups that spouses and service members are a part of play more of a role in a PCS than just looking for the current set of regulations. These groups are also where families turn to find out the information on their next location—housing, schools, and activities. With word-of-mouth referrals being the gold standard in our community, it’s in these groups that many families will also ask about their experiences with the moving companies that service that area. Everyone wants to know who provided good service, and what crews they should ask for on the packing days, and who to stay away from.


Historically in the Blue Star Families survey results, PCS/Relocation would be listed as the number two stressor of military families right behind financial concerns. This is not at all surprising when knowing that much of that financial stress also comes from a PCS. Depending on the location and the needs of our family, we may end up in a house that costs more than our basic housing allowance. While there are some financial entitlements to assist in the burden of the PCS such as per diem, mileage and lodging, there are many things that are not covered, which come out of the family pocket. These costs include pet expenses, car rentals, extended lodging if we must wait for a home to become available, and many housing and utility deposits. When a claim for full replacement value or repair is not met, the family expenses increase even further.


While the moving industry is only involved in one segment of the PCS process, I hope they understand how much more is involved that they do not see. Having a move coordinator who is responsive, and a crew who can handle our items with care as if they were their own, can go a long way to relieving some of the stress we feel. Not everyone has a place or “home” they can leave the important things until military life is done. Families want be able to “live” where they are with their things, not keep them tucked away in a box until we can finally settle down 20–30 years later.


As much as we may complain about the constant moving, the locations, and even the medical side of military life, many of us wouldn’t change a thing. Our spouses choose the career of serving their country. They choose to be the less than 1% of our country’s population willing to go to war and lay down their lives to protect our way of life. There is something noble and special about being the spouse who gets to stand next to them and support them. Through all the ups and downs, late nights and early mornings, we wouldn’t trade it for anything. In it all, we only wish that when it’s time to move, the process be smooth and stress-free.