Tag Archives: PCS

To the Military Spouse Unpacking Boxes…

This is likely not the first time you’ve packed up all of your earthly belongings and relocated across the country (or across the globe) to a new installation–one you’ve probably never been to before. You’ve painted walls and planted roots in so many homes in nearly as many years. You’re an expert at the art and science of PCSing.

Exciting opportunities await you and your service member at this new assignment, but getting there implies goodbyes, packing, traveling, and living out of a suitcase for a few weeks.

After long hours in the car with kids (and maybe a dog and a cat), you survived the journey along a path that connected your old home to your new home. And you kept track of all the kids’ school enrollment paperwork, teddy bears, and tablets. You navigated backseat sibling rivalry, and developed innovative answers to the age-old question, “Are we there yet?”

And now you’re here. Your new home. The unpacking begins.

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You’ve wondered to yourself, “How many more boxes?” and “When did we accumulate this much stuff?” and “I just need to unpack my right shoe. Where is my right shoe!?” And if you’re like me, you might have lost your cell phone among the jungle of cardboard that has swallowed your new home. Twice. A day.

You’re feeling a bit peeved because you still can’t find the box that has the hand-embroidered heirloom Christmas stockings. Of course you carefully checked for each numbered box when the movers unloaded, but this one seems to have somehow escaped roll call. But you have found the box where the movers packed your plunger. As in, your toilet plunger. WHY, movers, WHY?

You worry about the kids. How will the moving affect them? How soon can they make a new friend? The preschooler has asked a hundred times already when we can go back to the “old house.” You gently remind them that there’s a “new house” to be excited about. But in the pit of your stomach, you feel homesick, too. When it it’s time for your service member to go back to work with his or her new unit, and you stay home home unpacking the remainder of household goods alone, loneliness creeps in.

We know what you’re going through, dear military spouse. We see your strength. We see the way you carry on and just simply make it all work.

Dear friend, this is what we want you to know: You’re doing great. The kids will be okay. They will make friends. And you will, too. Take a deep breath. You might even find that pesky box of Christmas stockings hidden among other identical boxes in the garage. This season of unpacking opens the door to a new season of life in your new garden. Paint those walls and plant those roots. Grow and bloom, friend.

Do you have a friend who could use encouragement? Share this blog post with them!

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Military Housing: An Experience of Then and Now

As a child, I remember the days when military housing was run by the installation. We had to make sure the grass was cut regularly, and there were self-help centers where you could go to get supplies to make sure it happened. There were sports leagues, like softball and volleyball, grouped by neighborhood communities, and the pride that came with winning the neighborhood trophy was contagious. Each neighborhood had Mayors who had administrative responsibilities, and assisted with relaying information to residents.

Those days are long gone.

Now, as a military spouse, I can tell you: housing has changed. The majority of military installations have privatized housing, which means, for the most part, a private housing company is in charge of handling the day in and day out responsibilities of housing.

Once we received orders to North Carolina, I went to the housing website I was given by our current installation. On the website, I had to fill out an application and a provide a copy of our orders. That seemed pretty easy…so far so good. We were sent housing options and floor plans, and were given options based on my husband’s rank and our family size. Because we received our orders early, we were able to choose a more desirable neighborhood, but it had a longer wait list. Once we received our final clearance from our current installation, we were all set to head to North Carolina.

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The day finally came for us to go to the welcome center on our new base. We went straight to housing with all of our required paperwork, and toured the neighborhood we would be living in. There was a neighborhood center, with rooms to rent for birthday parties, Bunco nights, or whatever else, which was very different from what I was used to as a child.

And no cutting the grass, either. They’d have the grass cut for us. And gone are the days of self-help centers. Oh, my husband was super happy about that one! Instead, now maintenance workers would come to my house to fix any crazy problems that we may have. There were monthly activities that we could attend as a family, too. I could really enjoy this new privatized housing thing!

But what about the housing from my childhood?

We could definitely get used to not having to cut our own grass, but as an option, we were told we could cut our own grass, and we would be added to a “do not cut” list.

“That’s okay!” we said and laughed!

“What about the neighborhood sports leagues?”

They’re are none.

“So, what about the Mayors?” I asked. Another no.

“How will we get information?”

Now, there are monthly newsletters delivered by the housing staff. We could even read them on the neighborhood website.

To stay positive, I would give this new type of housing a chance, and not be stuck on what I remembered as a military child.

Although I do miss the neighborhood sports teams and the Mayor, my first experience with privatized housing has been a great experience! There have been definite upgrades to what I remember as a child. I don’t know if I can say that privatized military housing is better, but I can say, for my family, we enjoyed our first experience.

Did you enjoy your first experience with privatized military housing?  Do you have any tips to help others with a smooth transition?

Posted by Elizabeth H., military spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

Military Money Matters: 4 Tips for PCS Budgeting

Mil Money Matters

PCS season is upon us, and almost every military family can agree that a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move is difficult for even the most seasoned service families! One of the biggest concerns during a move is the impact it can have on your budget.

Each time we PCS, it presents us with an opportunity to break out our budgeting tools, crack open our family’s trusty budget spreadsheet, or just bust out the paper and pencil and re-visit that tried and true paycheck planner. Whatever your method of choice, it’s imperative that you prepare for your move in advance by making a travel budget.

Having sufficient funds on hand to make the move is critical to alleviating unnecessary stress. While your branch of service will reimburse you for many travel expenses, crunching the numbers before you back out of the driveway or hit the runway will make your PCS much more enjoyable! Thankfully, there’s a wealth of information out there; here are a few tips to help you navigate the sea of great financial resources:

  1. Start with the basics! Begin gathering information on the cost of living at your new duty station by visiting the Department of Defense BAH Calculator. Simply plug in your service member’s rank, your new duty station’s zip code, and the year, and the calculator will provide you with the BAH rates for your family. Once you have this information, take a look at area housing and compare costs. Remember to consider the cost of utilities, too. Call the local cable company and lookup the average cost of electricity, gas, heat, etc. for homes in the area. Knowing your basic housing costs is an excellent place to start!
  2. Take a look at the distance between where you might like to live and the nearest commissary. Commissaries save military families an average of 30% on their groceries, so most of the time, it’s worth the trip! If you will be quite far from the commissary, locate some information on what basic food items in the area cost so you can estimate your monthly grocery bill. Housing, utilities, food and vehicles make up the bulk of a military family’s monthly expenses, so starting here will give your budget a solid foundation.
  3. Speaking of cars, check your vehicle expenses. When you move, insurance rates can change, along with taxes paid on your vehicle each year. This is especially important for leases. Car insurance will fluctuate, and remember each state has different laws regarding insurance coverage. Take a moment to look up this information and adjust your plan accordingly. Planning for possible insurance cost fluctuations is much cheaper than paying the ticket you’ll receive if you drive without the proper coverage! Also, don’t forget to factor gas prices and commute into your budget.
  4. Get the scoop from your Admin section before you leave your current duty station. Take a moment to visit with your personnel office and learn your entitlements before you go. Many military families don’t ask about Dislocation Allowance (DLA), which they are entitled each time they move. DLA’s purpose is to offset the cost of a military PCS, so that families don’t spend an excessive amount of money out of their own pockets when they move. In addition, make sure you understand what receipts to save and what expenses are covered as part of your move. When travel claims are filed, you want to have the necessary documentation so that any monies you are owed are returned to you as quickly as possible.

In the end, no two military families PCS in the same way, so choose the methods which are best for you. Just be sure that budgeting is a part of your process! Having a financial PCS plan will go a long way toward starting your new tour off on the right foot.

What are your best budgeting tips for a PCS? Leave us a comment and share!

meredithPosted by Meredith Lozar, MHR, AFC, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager

Where are You From? Hometown: EVERYWHERE!

Growing up as a military kid, I sometimes puzzled over the question “Where are you from?” I never struggled to answer, but maybe that’s because I had a lot of possible answers. And yet, I never envied the kids that had just one answer. I still don’t envy those kids…and here’s why:

My father was a career soldier–first as an Army aviator, and then later with the Corps of Engineers. It was a path that took him, and our family, to places as far and wide as Germany, Virginia, Japan, Iowa, South Korea, Kansas, South Dakota, and Maryland. Along the way, we vacationed in Savannah, Georgia–my parents’ hometown. My folks later explained that they figured that we needed a hometown, too.

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Growing up, South Dakota was the place that we called home the longest. My father taught ROTC at South Dakota Tech, in the small Black Hills town of Rapid City, for three years. I’m sure my siblings would agree that we found ourselves more at home in Rapid City than at any other place, including Savannah. There were awesome winter sports, the place was obsessed with baseball (just like I was), there was a strong sense of community, and the city was genuinely welcoming to outsiders.

Of course, it was all temporary, and our next move was to be to South Korea, a place that I’d never even heard of (hey, I was only seven). My folks sold me on the move, as military parents often do, this time by telling me that bicycles were very cheap in Korea.

My older brother and sister were teenagers, so they weren’t as excited about bikes, and they weren’t excited about leaving their friends, either. As we drove through Wyoming on the way to drop off our car for shipment to Korea, there was no shortage of tears. But things got brighter as we made our way further west, and there was building optimism and excitement as we reached the coast.

We arrived in Seoul in the middle of summer, before school started, so it took a little while to get connected. Our household goods (and my toys) seemed to take a long time to arrive, but I guess time is on a different measure when you are a kid. We all managed to find new friends at our new post, as we always had. And sure enough, I was tooling around Yongsan on my new bike in no time (never mind that we got it at the PX for probably the same price that we would have paid in the states).

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Occasionally, I’m asked if growing up as a military brat was hard, if I missed having a true hometown. I respond that “hard” isn’t the word I would choose. Looking back, it was an incredible opportunity, and I experienced things that have changed me forever, and for the better. In just a single two-year slice of time in Korea, I became familiar enough with a new language to pick a soccer team with kids that spoke no English (kids just like me, I learned, except from a different country), I bargained with local shopkeepers over important things like chewing gum and yo-yos, I took field trips to 1,500-year-old temples, and I watched hundreds of local children sneak onto post for the promise of free Halloween candy (security was a little bit different in those days).

It wasn’t perfect, of course, and moving was never what us kids wanted at the time. But we tried to make the most of each assignment, learning to ice skate in South Dakota, touring castles in Europe, even speaking a little Japanese along the way (ok, very little, maybe just a skoshi). And we made new friends at each stop, some of which we are still in touch with (and without the benefit of social media back in the day).

My dad’s next assignment after Korea was Fort Meade, Maryland. On the way, we set it up so that we could pass back through our former hometown of Rapid City. During our visit, I asked my parents “Why are my old friends all still here? Shouldn’t they have been sent to live somewhere else like we were?” When they explained that not everybody has to move every few years, I thought, “Wow, they are missing out.”

Are you a military kid? What do you remember most fondly about growing up?

courtPosted by Court Ogilvie, Chief Operating Officer

My Military Kid is Still Struggling in School: Now What?

You moved last year, last month, last week. As directed, you handed over those official and/or unofficial school transcripts, letters from past teachers, and test results. You met the teacher, the principal, and a few other parents. You’ve tried to enroll your child in enough sports and extracurricular clubs to help build new friendships.

But something is still not right.

So much can go wrong when transferring schools, even if you check all the right boxes. But what can you do, as a parent, to help remedy some of these situations? A whole lot as it turns out!

First, get familiar with the laws…and there are a few.

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The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission, applies to all students of active-duty or activated Reserve/Guard families. It also applies for one year only to children of medically retired service members, and children of service members who were killed in action, or are deceased as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty.

This is most helpful in terms of placement in the correct education categories and classes. For states that have adopted this compact, public schools are required to accept official AND unofficial records, test scores, and placements when the student arrives. Schools should operate under “trust but verify.” Students arriving in public schools in member states (which is all 50 states), even with unofficial records, should be placed in courses and programs equivalent to their previous placement. In short, if your child was in the gifted program at Camp Lejeune, she should still be enrolled in the gifted program in Camp Pendleton. Your child might be retested by the new school, and placed differently based on those results, but initially she should be kept at the same level as her last school.

If they try to fight you on this, be sure to direct them to this interactive map that shows all 50 US states as members of the Interstate Compact. Then direct them to the guiding documents that outline how schools should operate upon receiving new military dependent children.

For students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or other special education needs, receiving schools (public schools including DoDEA) must comply with the current, legal IEP until such time as testing can be conducted to create a new IEP. The important thing to note is that this helps to provide comparable, not identical, services. So if your child has PT services provided, they will still be provided, but maybe not at the same frequency or duration as they previously were. The new district will conduct updated assessments, and convene a new IEP committee to create your child’s new plan.

Another important tool for families with children who have special education needs is the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This program is designed to identify and assist families and individuals with medical, emotional and educational needs. Enrollment is compulsory, but there are definitely more than a few families who skirt around this. Honestly, it is in YOUR best interest. Not only will EFMP do the legwork for you on determining which schools are best for your child, but they help with the transfer process. If your child has an IEP, 504 Plan, or any other educational plan, enroll in EFMP yesterday (a.k.a., NOW!) Each base has a local office and representative to walk you through enrollment and assist you with the paperwork.

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To go along with this, look into the School Liaison program at your new base. Every branch of service, as well as reserve components, maintain an active School Liaison program. These education professionals are employed to help build connections between the military and schools. They are there to help you transition into and out of schools, as well as to help handle any sticky situations that might pop up.

With the legal stuff taken care of, what do you do when everything else happens? Regression. Failure to adjust. Emotional concerns. These, and many more, can seriously impact a child’s academic and social life. Even one “off” aspect of life can severely affect others. A depressed child might exhibit academic regression or fail to make friends. A child who is struggling academically might lash out with anger or retreat into sadness.

There is help out there.

For families with academically focused concerns, Military OneSource has special education consultants. These are fully licensed, master’s level education professionals ready to help walk your family through the special education system. This service is free and unlimited.

Actually, Military OneSource is a one stop shop for so many things to help military families and children. Through this service, you can arrange for non-medical counseling. This can be an awesome and powerful resource for children who are struggling emotionally with school, moving, anxiety, depression, or just need someone other than a parent to talk to. The help is confidential and free.

Sometimes, even though a child is doing well in school and seems to be adjusting to their new home, they struggle to form connections. Let’s face it, Military Kid Life is like no other life out there. Sometimes our kids just need to connect with other military children. Now, they can. Military Kid Connect is another free web service that allows kids from ages 6 to high school to connect with each other through videos, games, and online (parent-approved) message boards. There are even resources for parents and teachers!

Moving with children, especially school aged children, can be challenging and difficult. Armed with the law and with an arsenal of free resources to help support your family, it can help to ease your burden a little and work to guide your child toward success academically and socially.

The help is out there. Now, go use it.

Have you ever had a child who struggled after a PCS? How did you tackle the problems?

meg-flanaganPosted by Marguerite Flanagan, M.Ed, founder of MilKids Education Consulting, a blog focusing on military and special needs children offering practical tips, fun ideas, and advice on decoding the very dense special education laws

Saying “Hail and Farewell” to Our Geo-Bachelor Adventure

A few weeks ago I found myself in the dimly lit party room of a Norfolk, Virginia restaurant, sipping a Diet Coke, and watching a group of sailors laugh and reminisce. I traveled down to Norfolk to attend my husband’s Hail and Farewell–a party to celebrate the end of his tour on-board a cruiser. The following day, we would load his gear into our car and drive back to our home in the DC suburbs. It was hard to believe, but after more than two years, our family’s adventures in geo-bachelorhood were finally coming to an end.

Geo-Bachelor Horizontal Graphic

While it wasn’t an easy decision, the choice to live apart during my husband’s sea tour made a lot of sense at the time. With two kids approaching high school and me finally in a job I loved, it seemed like a bad time to move our family, yet again. We had the added benefit that his job in Norfolk was only four hours away from our home, which would allow him to come home most weekends. After talking it over, we decided to give the arrangement a shot. Privately, I told myself that if we were too miserable or it proved to be too hard, we could always PCS to Norfolk later.

It didn’t always go smoothly, but over time we figured things out and got used to our new routines. My husband became an expert at navigating the I-95 corridor, discovering back roads and alternate routes to make his weekly drive easier. He rarely complained about the long drive, although I know it was exhausting for him, especially during the summer when tourist traffic could add an hour or more to the trip. I tried to keep this in mind when making our weekend plans and remember to set aside some time for rest and relaxation – but often that seemed impossible with a house to maintain and two busy kids to keep up with.

For the kids and me, the adjustment was a little easier – after so many years in the Navy, having Dad gone was nothing new. I quickly got used to cooking dinner for three instead of four and secretly enjoyed my sole ownership of the TV remote. Juggling my job responsibilities and the kids’ schedules on my own was sometimes a struggle, but what military spouse hasn’t had to solve the riddle of how to get two kids to two locations at the same time with one driver?

I did miss the close friendships I developed with other spouses during our previous sea tours. I traveled down to Norfolk occasionally to attend family events, but I wasn’t able to be there often enough to really get to know anyone. My local friends and coworkers were incredibly supportive and understanding about our situation, but there is nothing quite like bonding with another spouse who is going through the same experience.

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Sitting at the Hail and Farewell, I reflected back on our geo-bachelor experience. Had it been the right decision? Would I make the same choice if I had it to do over? As difficult as the past two years have been at times, I would have to say yes. Staying in Northern Virginia gave our family a degree of stability that we’d never experienced before. My kids have thrived and I am grateful that, so far, we have been able to spare them the stress of moving while they are in high school. And of course, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work and pursue my career in a way that would have been impossible had we moved.

However, I recognize this choice wouldn’t be right for every family. We made it work, and now we get to focus on a new challenge: adjusting to having Dad back at home again, and me saying my goodbyes to the TV remote.

Did you ever choose a geo-bachelor tour for your family? How did it go?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Moving OCONUS with Pets: How Hard Could it Be?

“It’s cheaper to ship our car than it is to ship our dogs,” I relayed to my husband as we finalized preparations for our move overseas. New kennels and veterinary visits for mandatory health certificates, along with their airfare added up to just over $3,000. Our car could have made the trip for about $1,200.

Not all military families will face a bill quite so steep. Our move was stressful enough for me, between inaccurate information from the transportation office, booked flights on carriers that never accept pets as luggage, and driving our dogs to an airport with an airline that would get them overseas, then trying to connect my family back to our original government purchased airfare, it’s safe to say, we’d been through the ringer.

We have two dogs, both too big to transport in either the cabin, or as luggage on US flagged carriers. This meant they’d have to fly as cargo. The contracted airline for our move overseas never transports pets, so the dogs couldn’t travel on the same aircraft as us (typically a less expensive option). Further complicating the process is the fact that fewer US flagged carriers will even accept pets on board these days.

Pets Oconus Graphic

Options are even more limited in the summer months (peak PCS season). Generally speaking, if temperatures exceed 80 degrees, pets can’t fly. What’s a military family to do? Our pets are a valued part of our family—they’ve helped my children deal with the stress of moving, among other things. And handing them off to someone else because we can’t afford their airfare would be heartbreaking. So, we chose to pay the fees and bring our dogs along on our overseas adventure. However, not all families can do the same and are left to find a new home for their pets.

Moving back to the US, we face a similar challenge. There’s not much information for pet owners. We haven’t been able to figure out if pets can fly unaccompanied as long as they’re met by someone in the destination city. I’ve been trying to connect with Ramstein AFB, but they keep referring me to their online brochure, which doesn’t give us any answers. Most families are getting their information from local Facebook groups. The question of flying pets unaccompanied is one that comes up over and over for military families, and for our family, has truly been one of the most stressful aspects of moving overseas.

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So, we’ve decided to get our dogs back to the States ahead of our move (thanks Mom and Dad!), but now must decide how we go about making it happen.

We have the option of using a professional pet shipper, who will collect our dogs and get them loaded as cargo on a flight out of Brussels. We could play “Space-A roulette” out of Ramstein when it’s time for our entire family to fly back to the states, or one of us can make the drive to Amsterdam to fly KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, with the dogs traveling as luggage (KLM has a higher weight limit than any US flagged carrier).

I’m not sure which option we’ll select, but the kennels have been hauled out of storage and the dogs know something is up. Our dogs are members of the family, and leaving them behind is not an option. And, these days, affordable transportation doesn’t seem to be an option, either.

Have you moved overseas with a pet? What tips could you share?

Posted by Kelly Henry, National Military Family Association Volunteer