A PCS, or permanent change of station, is a fact of military life. At some point during you or your spouse’s military career, you will receive PCS orders, and that means you’ll need to pack up your life and start over at a new duty station. Every branch of the military can issue PCS orders, including the army, air force, navy, marines, and the coast guard.
PCS may stand for “permanent change of station”, but a PCS is never truly “permanent”. PCS orders accompany longer-term assignments that generally last about 2-4 years, and they can be inside the continental United States (referred to as “CONUS moves”) or outside the continental United States (“OCONUS moves”). While you can’t influence where your next PCS will take you, you do have options when it comes to how you’ll manage the logistics of your PCS.
- A military-managed PCS, where a government carrier will handle the packing and transport of your household goods.
- A do-it-yourself (DITY), or “personally procured moved” (PPM), where you arrange for your own movers and receive reimbursement up to 95% of the government’s estimate for the cost or your move.
- A combination of military-hired movers and partial PPM.
Whether you’re facing your first PCS or you’re a seasoned pro, the process always comes with its share of disruption and stress. To help you navigate your next permanent change of station, we reached out to milspouse bloggers across the country and asked them to share a story from their last move. Here’s what they had to say:
Amanda Huffman, Airman To Mom
“My husband’s car was totalled shortly before the move so we waited until our next assignment to buy a new car. Having only one car with two kids made fitting everything in the car a challenge, but we have a minivan. Running out of space wasn’t our problem. We didn’t realize how much the weight of the stuff in the car would actually be and ended up having to downsize and give away a few extra things. But we made it work.”
Kelsey Ramirez, By Land, Air, or Sea
“We recently just PCS'd within the last 6 weeks. I expected through all my preparation that it would be an excellent opportunity to see the country while moving ourselves. I chose locations that we had not visited that would be interesting.
However, when our truck broke down on day two, the relatively slow speeds, and with children and pets, we learned quickly that our trip was just enjoy the sights while driving and ultimately, get there. Flexibility was definitely essential!”
Erica DeSpain, Whimsical September
"Our most recent PCS went mostly according to plan, though we experienced a few hiccups we had to navigate for the first time. For starters, our household goods were over the allowed weigh limit for the first time in our military career. We weren't expecting this issue, but the piano we acquired during our time in Kansas as well as my husband's new home gym threw us over our weight limit. Also, we were expecting our movers at our destination to unpack our boxes, but we found out on move-in day that we would have had to give them a heads up about this several weeks prior."
Bridget Carlson, Antics of a Nutty Hiker & Military Spouse
“I consider myself a seasoned pro (18 years of PCSing under my belt) and had everything lined up and ready, and PCS Binder was complete; or so I thought! I really expected this move to go smoothly, however the packers did not arrive on time. In fact, they arrived 3 days late and only one day before the movers were supposed to be here. They estimated it would take 3 days to pack my house with 2 packers and now they had to get it done within 1 day, so they sent 5 packers instead of 2, which means I did not have enough friends to watch over them. Needless to say, when my items arrived at the new duty station, I had $10,000 worth of damages and none of the pro-gear was labeled which made us go over our weight limit. It was a nightmare and it took almost 6 months to close out or claim and travel through the military.”
Stephanie Bates, Military Travel Mama
“Kids of all ages and backgrounds like routine – it makes them feel safe and comfortable, and knowing their environment is a big part of building their confidence. For military families, on the other hand, there is no such thing as the promise of a permanent stay in a single location. You never know when a PCS is in order, and the simple truth is that some kids adapt with greater ease, while others never truly embrace the regular moving lifestyle. Make sure to research the new location, reach out to the parents whose kids already attend that school, and even ask your kids to join the decision-making process - it will be a family project, and not something imposed on your family.”
Sybil, Mamas and Coffee
“We received early orders to PCS from Hawaii to D.C. My husband decided we should purchase a home, but there was no time to fly to D.C. to look at homes, nor did we want to live in a hotel with three kids and a dog looking. We decided to purchase a home from across the ocean and put all trust in our realtors. The walk thru and closing were on the same day, which was the first time we laid eyes on our new home. No regrets! I won't lie, I was expecting some hiccups, but everything was smooth sailing. Now we are just waiting for our household goods. Summer is a busy time, and although we shipped our belongings as early as possible from Hawaii and our shipment has arrived, the scheduling of delivery is backed up a bit. That's ok; it's great family time and an excuse for me to shop.”
Sierra Redmond, The Daily Impressions
"Each PCS is different, you'll either like your duty station or not. The reality of PCSing Iis that you'll NEVER actually know what to expect even if you ask others their experiences. My best advice is to not allow other people to dictate your experience for you. People were shocked to find out that I loved Fort Leonard Wood, MO more than being stationed in Miami (currently). I often see people in Milspouse groups who ask about their new duty station and let people rip it apart without experiencing it themselves. I say that it's your job to make the best of every single duty station and never let others dictate your expectations. Move to your new duty station with an open mind and adventurous spirit!"
Christina Youngblood, Hearts and Stripes
“Our previous PCS to OCONUS was logistically a bit of chaos and could have been considered a nightmare. Therefore, this PCS back to CONUS I decided to do a lot more prepping which made it smoother not just for my family and I but logistically as well. I learned a long time ago, as an Army Veteran and now an Air Force wife that the military life is chaotic therefore organization goes a long way. My best advice is to get organized, prep by purging unwanted and unneeded items prior to the move then prep again by having “household goods”, “unaccompanied” and “do not pack” items separated prior to packing day. Also, have items out and accessible for your kids to stay occupied during the packing. This will make your move logistically smooth and make your PCS easier.”
Get ready for your next PCS
Preparing for a PCS? Visit military.com for more PCS resources.
Meet the Contributors
Amanda Huffman is military veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer including a deployment to Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career. Which currently has them moving from California to Virginia. Her blog Airman to Mom incorporates stories from her past military life and how she views life through her unique life experiences of both a veteran and military spouse. You can check out more about Amanda on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Kelsey Ramirez is a veteran elementary school teacher, military wife, and mom to two daughters. She is the founder of Anchored Together ~ By Land, Air, or Sea, a military-based website to help families in the PCS process. She is also working towards helping families make the best fiscal and home decisions as a Washington based Realtor. She has her Masters in Technology, which she uses to learn all new things digital. With three decades of military support, Kelsey's mission is to help new and existing military families in their unique adventures through all military topics including PCSing, budgeting, school choice and rights, housing, and especially just being a military spouse.
Erica DeSpain is the author of Whimsical September, a family and lifestyle blog that desires to inspire and entertain readers through her light-hearted story telling. She is married to her college sweetheart and thrives on the chaos of staying home to raise her two preschool-age daughters. She has been featured on the The TODAY Show, HLN's The Daily Share, Scary Mommy, the Motherly, and numerous print publications.
Bridget Carlson Bridget Carlson is the author of Nutty Hiker. She married into the military as a young adult, has lived up and down the east coast. After almost a decade away from her home state of Texas, Bridget and her husband Jerry have returned to Texas to raise their four kids and two pets.
Stephanie Bates is the founder of Military Travel Mama; she is the wife of a military professional and mother to two children. Follow her blog for more about military life, military discounts, family trips, healthy eating, and parenthood.
Sybil is married to a U.S. Naval Officer, mother of 3 (welcome to raising tweens and teens, oh my!) and owner of a lively Maltese. She blogs about the reality of life over at Mamas and Coffee and her number one goal is to empower and inspire other women to live life to the fullest.
Sierra Redmond is the 23-year-old mom and army wife behind the Daily Impressions lifestyle blog. Sierra went to college for Broadcast Journalism TV/Radio and Media, and was set on being a correspondent. In 2014, she married her high school sweetheart-turned-US-Army soldier and knew that it would change her life. She discovered blogging after moving to Fort Leonard Wood, MO. She is currently serving as the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year base winner for USAG Miami and uses her platform to show military wives everywhere that they can live their best lives. Aside from blogging, she's also a freelance journalist and photographer, and military community volunteer.
Christina Youngblood is an Army Veteran and a military spouse currently transitioning from Belgium to Utah with her husband and two daughters, ages 4 and 6. She has always loved writing and has found a home for it on her blog Heart & Stripes. She has a true passion for helping fellow veterans that suffer from PTSD as she does. Christina also enjoys providing support to other military spouses. If she’s not writing or tackling everyday tasks then you can find her with a coffee and book in hand. No matter where the military sends her and the family, Florida will always be home.