Would Fewer PCS Moves be Better for Military Families?
The new Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Robert Wilkie, recently told the Fayetteville Observer that the Pentagon is considering limiting moves made by military families, largely due to the stressors that constant moves put on military families. Wilkie told the news outlet that not every base is large enough to support families for long periods of time but there are those, like Fort Bragg and NAS Norfolk, that are large enough to support families for extended tours.
It sounds like a good thing.
In his conversation with the paper, Wilkie noted, “It (the PCS system) was built at a time when less than 10 percent of the military had families. Today, 70 percent have families.” Further, he acknowledged the reality that in a lot of cases if the family isn't happy, the servicemember won't remain active duty.
Most would read this and feel zero amount of surprise. The constant moves we're required to do has so many impacts that are clearly harmful. In my own experience, the difficulty to find a good employment fit has been a major challenge. Indeed, in the civilian career force, one of the most commonly cited reasons for turning relocation down is the other spouse's career. Companies have started going so far as to provide incentives that will assist the spouse professionally.
I've been told before at bases located in rural areas not to disclose to prospective employers my status as a military spouse. Employers want longevity, something that the milspouse can rarely offer. And then there's the emotional work: The work of starting over with new people and a new town. The work of helping our children to thrive as they adjust. The work a spouse puts in to deal with new coworkers and bosses.
It seems the orders always come down the pipes as soon as our kids have made friends; as soon as we find that one restaurant that reminds us of the tacos we love back home; or we get into the base housing neighborhood we've been on the waiting for for months.
The thought of having more time is so alluring.
But would it be as great as I'm imaging? Probably not always.
I've always been the type of person who believes that much of life is what we make of it. There are absolutely seasons when depression or circumstance take that from us. But ultimately I think that thriving as a milspouse is largely about making my perspective a skill. With that being said, I can speak to my experience; I know there are times when the most effective way to have a new outlook is to have new orders.
NAS Fallon gave me a run for my money. We moved there from NAS Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor. Washington is lush and green; it's beautiful. I made one of my closest friends there, and several other good friends. We would make frequent trips to Seattle and the surrounding islands. It was place we likely could not have afforded to live in if it weren't for the military.
And then my husband got orders to SFWPD (Strike Fighter Wing Pacific Detachment) — or Top Gun as it is more commonly known — which no longer resides in coastal Miramar, but in Nevada's northern high-desert. Fallon is small like Whidbey, but that's about all they have in common.
Because Fallon's two biggest operations are hosting those who come to train at Top Gun and the CAGs (Combat Air Group: the group of planes and personnel that fly together on carriers for our non-Navy friends) who train at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, there are very few with permanent orders.
In Fallon, the military community is tiny. The civilian community is most familiar with the Sailors and Marines who come in the thousands temporarily, inevitably start bar fights (permanent party is not allowed to visit Fallon's bars when CAGs are visiting, they can be so disruptive), and seduce local ranchers' daughters, and then leave weeks later.
The high desert landscape is barren and brown with little to look at beyond their admittedly glorious sunsets. I struggled mightily to form meaningful relationships. I was so ready to leave and I don't miss it, at all.
The reality is that moves are hard, and they're always going to be hard. There are certainly situations where an extended tour would be welcome; if the DoD does implement a new policy, it will hopefully come to some who need it most. To the spouse about to receive the promotion, to the service member on the verge of making a breakthrough with a therapist, or to the child forming their first long-lasting friendship.
What I do know is that whether on Whidbey Island or in Fallon, I will have the most important parts of my life with me. I'll still be writing away on this laptop. I'll still call my mom — my best friend — the day we arrive to tell her whether or not the living room is big enough for our couch. Whether I like the place or not, I'll still drive everyone crazy with my beloved camera. Most importantly, in the words of Tim Coulson, “If I could only take photos of one thing for the rest of my life, it would be my family.” And I'll get to; whether in the sagebrush or the tide pools, we'll go together. I don't know if fewer moves would always be a positive, but we'll be alright regardless.
Would your military family benefit from fewer PCS moves? Or do you think it comes with the territory of military life? Leave a comment and let us know!
Posted by C.N. Moore, military spouse, parent, and writer