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


Add yours
  1. 1

    I would be SO disappointed to move less. The draw of moving every couple of years and “seeing the world” is what keeps my family invested in military life. Without the prospect of “dream bases” (for us, Hawaii, Europe, Asia, Florida) we wouldn’t have much of a reason to stick around. I start to get the itch to move around year two, and am READY to go by year three.

  2. 2
    Pamela Wilks

    Don’t assume that all kids will react the same way. In a study I did for Grad school; MILITARY DEPENDENTS WHO EXPERIENCED MULTIPLE MOVES, I asked adults 18+, questions about their lives during and after moves the responses were varied and thoughtful. The responses provided insight into effects of making multiple moves from those that experienced it.

  3. 3

    Yes I agree 100% fewer would be better! There are those that would argue that fact but don’t think about yourself and the new places to checkout. What you need to focus on is the children! My children are 9, 12 and 15 and they HATE moving. They hate saying goodbye to friends and making friends is not easy for everyone. My 11 yr old has ADHD and it can make it very hard for him to make new friends. And the 15yr old doesn’t want to do much because he says what’s the point in making a connection with people if we are going to have to move! Children NEED stability they need a place they can lay roots and call home and know home won’t be a different place in 3yrs.

  4. 4
    Jeremy Thompson

    I do agree that when it comes to military relocation it could be a big decision as it would essentially be living a new life leaving all your and your family’s friends behind. That is something I am well aware of which is why I would like my son to have a deep thought about it first before he does pursue on being a soldier. Hopefully, a military relocation for his future family wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for them. Thanks!

  5. 5
    Kathleen Yonts

    I have friends all over the place that I met when we were stationed together. Now I can visit them when I choose to travel to their city. Two of my kids graduated from the same high school that they started at while one went to three high schools. The last one did two years while we were on active duty and then two years somewhere else after Dad retired. They were more than ready to tackle going away to college and couldn’t believe how hard others found it to adapt. We did this before the Internet but my kids have now found their friends on Facebook and stay in touch. Did we dislike some assignments? Yes–but we learned something everywhere. My kids are good friends with each other and learned how to be independent people. I was a stay at home mother so didn’t have to look for employment.

  6. 7
    John Woodney Otten

    I grew up as an Army Brat and feel so fortunate to have experienced so many interesting locations along the way. It was an invaluable life lesson that helped me succeed in life. My parents were always most positive about encouraging us to make new friends and also learning about our new surroundings. I now have lifelong friends from almost every place we lived…Bethesda, Maryland; Athens, Greece;, Ulm, Germany; West Point, New York; Alexandria, Virginia; Stuttgart, Germany; Nurnberg, Germany; and Washington, DC. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. However, everyone is different so I fully understand how for some, it just doesn’t work.
    After college, I moved to Chicago for my first job. To me it was just like another military move. Fortunately for me I was able to travel with my job and see the world, while keeping a home base in Chicago. I married and am raising a family here. What is interesting though is that I am now most content with our established Chicago roots and thankful that our boys have a place to call home and a solid education from our local school system. It is 180 degrees different than how I grew up but we feel it is working well for us. We try to expose our family through travel to what it is like to live in other places, so they will be open to their own exploring of the world.
    I am not sure how to close, except to say I am so thankful for my parents and growing up with the opportunity to experience different parts of the world and their respective cultures. I would also like to say to all those military families out there, “Thank You”, for what you do for the United States of America.

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