Getting Ready For Your First Military Move: PCS Moving Tips (Permanent Change of Station)

You know how it is with the military. Rumors always precede the paperwork. At least that’s how it went with my husband’s PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders. We heard the “rumors” in January and he got his papers three months later. Which meant that it was finally official: We were headed for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

As soon as my husband Wade hinted that a move was probable, I began worrying: Where would we live? How do southerners survive bitter cold winters in the Midwest? And was it too early to book my flight home for Christmas? Wade warned me against planning ahead for the move. He reminded me that in the military, plans change overnight. So I knew not to start packing until we had a more definite sign. A parting of the seas, for instance. Maybe a bolt of lightning. A rainbow, even. Proof of some kind that we were to begin preparations for a long journey. And, just like Noah, we did get our sign. But ours was more of an act of Congress than an act of God. Wade’s name was on the list of those assigned to the Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth.

This list was all the official notice I needed. I began planning the most daunting move of my life – my first military move. I called real estate agents. I called friends and family. I even considered calling the Psychic Network (“Do you see any scratched furniture or broken china in my future?”). I had moved 14 times in my single life, none of them military moves. From mom and dad’s to college, dorm to dorm, apartment to apartment. And my parents helped me make each move. So when I married Wade and moved to Ft. Bragg, I promised my parents they had moved me for the last time.

But I knew I hadn’t made my last move. After all, no military marriage is complete without at least half a dozen or so moves. I must admit, though, after years of hearing horror stories over finger foods at wives’ coffees, my first military move terrified me. Those horror stories were from wives who had been moved by the military even more often than I’d been moved by my parents!

We’ve all heard such stories. There’s the one about the soldier who left his orders on the coffee table and arrived home just as the moving truck drove away. Naturally, the living room was empty, with no trace of his orders or the coffee table on which they sat. PCS orders, along with other important documents (like medical records, power of attorney, birth certificates, resumes, financial records, and moving documents), should all be packed and moved by the service member, not the moving company.

One friend warned me that anything left in a room would be packed, including trash. She discovered too late that the movers had packed her baby’s favorite toy – the toy that calmed her son’s worst tantrums – so she made the long flight to Panama with a crying baby. Another friend told me about the day that movers unloaded her husband’s crushed canoe and a three-legged antique coffee table. By the way, the claims office requires that you file certain paperwork on damaged or missing items by specific deadlines. Don’t throw away that broken china until the claims office recommends it either; the moving company has the right to salvage items that are replaced through the claims process.

Even if my belongings survived the move, I was afraid I wouldn’t. So I went to a PCS pre-move briefing sponsored by the Community and Family Services Relocation Assistance Program (RAP). These pre-move briefings are held regularly on most military installations and are open to all military personnel and dependents preparing for relocation. The briefing helped me by answering many of the million questions I had.

But I did have a couple of questions that weren’t answered at the briefing: I wondered if the military had moved Noah, would giraffes today have only three legs? And would the ark have been crushed in the move? I called the Community and Family Services Office to find out.

By Sonya Murdock