Often, military families have months to anticipate and plan for a PCS move. Even when you don’t yet know the exact location, you can take preliminary steps to get ready. Other times, however, the military changes PCS orders or amends them to occur at a much earlier date.
That’s what happened to our family this summer. After we originally received orders to remain at the same base for the next three years, those orders were suddenly amended. We had to pack up and move ourselves to a new base in just two weeks.
That’s right—14 days after receiving surprise orders, my husband and I had packed up everything in our house, loaded over 10,000 pounds of household goods onto a U-Haul truck, driven it to the next base and unpacked it all. Oh, and this was in the summer, when all four of our young kids were out of school, which made things…extra fun.
The good news is that we all survived and made it to our new location. If your family is surprised by short-notice PCS orders, here are some things you need to know and some secrets to get through it.
1. You will probably have to move yourselves.
Even if you are approved to use government movers, scheduling a pack-out date could take several weeks, especially if it is during peak PCS season (March- September). Packing yourselves will be time-consuming and frustrating, but it will be the fastest way to get all your things from point A to point B. One big benefit is that the service member should receive a huge reimbursement from the military after the move.
2. Look for housing “hot-fills.”
Getting short-notice housing on a military base can be very difficult, when wait lists are often several months long. A quick solution is to request a “hot-fill” sheet from the base Housing office. These are homes that are available for immediate occupancy. If you can find one that matches your family size, you will be able to move in right away.
3. Don’t scrimp on moving supplies.
Purchasing moving supplies from companies like Budget or U-Haul can get expensive quickly. Even in a Personally-Procured Move (PPM), you will not be reimbursed for the cost of moving supplies like boxes and tape. You are only repaid for the truck rental. However, in a short-notice move, professional tools are totally worth it. Not only will they protect your things, but standard size boxes will pack better into a moving truck than those random boxes you picked up from the Commissary. Use plastic mover’s tape and furniture pads to wrap furniture and prevent scrapes. Use bubble wrap on china, pictures frames, and other breakables. Custom sized boxes for dishes, electronics, and appliances will make the packing process go faster. Stock up on various sized boxes and padding so you can get into a groove and pack quickly. Don’t worry about buying too much—you will use more than you think you need, and you can re-sell unused materials to the original store.
4. Divide and conquer.
With new PCS orders, the service member will be busy with tasks like checking out of a unit and turning in gear. When discussing moving tasks, determine who will be able to run which errands, and how to split up the kids to make things go more smoothly. If you work together, it will help reduce your stress levels.
Since military families never know when they will be asked to move, you should be aware of things that might slow down your moving process. If you take the time to get your house in order, a short-notice PCS will be easier to handle.
5. Build up your savings account.
Moving yourself and buying new furniture may cost thousands out of pocket. The government will reimburse the service member after a move, but that money won’t arrive until several pay periods. If you prefer to live off-base, you will need to pay the first month’s rent plus a security deposit all up front. Some of your furniture may not make the next move and will need to be replaced. Increasing your savings will make moving less stressful and give you more options.
6. Get rid of excess clothes and furniture.
Don’t wait for a neighborhood yard sale before you clean out the garage! Get rid of items like outgrown clothes, broken toys, and baby gear you no longer need. Make your annual spring cleaning a time to go through closets and purge excess so that you are better prepared for future moves.
7. Keep important paperwork in one location.
Military families should always have a portable binder that contains important paperwork such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage license, housing and car paperwork, children’s shot records, and passwords for banking websites. If you hand-carry this in the car during a move, you won’t need to dig through boxes to enroll the kids at a new school or to set up a doctor’s appointment.
8. Keep renter’s insurance.
When moving out of base housing or rental properties, you can be charged for things like stained carpets, holes in the wall, or pet damage. Renter’s insurance will cover damage you make to the property of others, but it must be active before you move out. It’s best to keep renter’s insurance active at all times.
9. Hold onto your kids’ report cards and school work.
Since we weren’t planning to change schools, I hadn’t taken any steps to check out with my kids’ teachers and get transfer paperwork. Luckily, I always hold onto their report cards and a few samples of their work from each year. Keeping these in a convenient location made it a smooth process to enroll them at the new school.
Resources to help during a quick PCS move:
My Ultimate PCS: This app gives you checklists, resources, and places to take notes, so you can keep all your PCS info organized in one place.
Plan My Move: This tool is available on Military One Source’s website. You can enter your PCS info to get personalized timelines of PCS tasks, plus info about your next duty station.
PCSKid: This app can help your kids connect with new friends at the next location. Find local military kids the same age, with mutual interests, then use the app to schedule play dates or activities.
Seasons of My Military Student: Changing schools can be rough, especially when you don’t have time to research locations and state laws. This book summarizes the legal rights of military families moving to new schools, and provides helpful tips for each stage of the moving process to help your child succeed.