PCS is Coming – Prep 101

I’m pretty typical in the military wife department. I met my husband while he was at his first duty station, which happened to be Fort Carson, in my home town of Colorado Springs. Now, I’m a dual military brat, so it’s not like I didn’t understand what marrying a soldier meant: we’d be moving - a lot. 

We were lucky, and spent six years, and Jason’s first two deployments, at Carson. We were with the comfort of family when our first boys were born and when Jason was wounded during OIF 1. But, orders came, as they always do, and we PCS’d eight years ago. When I say it like that, it feels like forever.

I haven’t been home in 18 months, and I hate to sound like a petulant toddler, but my homesickness level is approaching DEFCON 3. Man, I miss the mountains, and my friends and family, and local restaurants. So why not just go home and visit? Because we’re expecting PCS orders any week now, and every military family knows that you don’t spend money frivolously when prepping for a PCS.   

We’re at this awkward stage, where we don’t know where, or when, but we know we’ve been told we’re going to move. A bunch of our friends have orders, that’s expected at PCS season, but we’re still waiting. What the heck kind of prep can you do when you have no details on anything? You can get started where you’re at, to get ready for where you’re going.

So here’s the guide to PCS Prep to . . . well, anywhere.

1.     Do you own your home? If so, that’s a whole can of PCS worms, but in brief: start looking at realtors. We’re planning on having a realtor walk through in the next month or so, to give us an idea on where we need to price, and what repairs/upgrades need to be done so we can sell our home quickly. We’re planning on putting it on the market the moment orders are in-hand, but that’s a personal decision. Start knocking out these projects as early as you can, and you’ll be one step closer to prepared for PCS. Same goes for living in housing. If you know you’re going to get dinged for that screen door, repair it now.
2.    Buy a PCS Binder. We use a bright red zippable file folder, which is known as the “red folder.” During a PCS, it’s our hub. It contains the kids’ birth certificates, any important records like school and medical, and of course those dozen or so copies of your orders you’ll inevitably need.  We use it in sections, for records, PCS details, hotel reservations for the route, receipts, old base info for move-outs, and new base info for move-ins. Having everything in one location makes it easy access and hard to lose. It also means it’s easy to accidentally pack, so make sure you keep it in the box marked “Pack LAST,” if you’re doing a DITY, or you lock it in your car if the movers are coming to pack you out. 
3.    How much do you weigh? Oh, don’t look at me like that – I’m talking household goods, and you know it. Know your weight limit and start peeking around your house. A good rule of thumb is 1,000 lbs. per room, and leave wiggle room for the larger objects. After four years at Ft. Drum, we’ve picked up more than our share of weight. Like a piano. Yikes. So we’re taking a few minutes at a time, and discussing what is and is not making the PCS. We’re not ready to make the kids sit on the floor in their play room (they’re couch will NOT be going), but it is “tagged” in our mind. We have the discussions now so there’s no fight later.
4.    Organize and Purge. Nothing is worse than trying to sort through all your stuff the week before the movers come, going through a year’s worth of your kindergartener’s school-drawings to pick which ones you keep. Take a room a week (if you have that time), and start to purge NOW.  Start thinking like you’re on an episode of Hoarders. No, you do not need two toasters. I take this time to purge out everything from outgrown clothes to broken toys. Every pound is precious (especially when you have six kids like we do), so make sure you’re only taking the items you’d buy over again if you lost. If you can live without it, get rid of it now and stress less, later.
5.    Start saving money. Yes, we get dislocation allowance, but I’ve never known a more expensive time for our family than when we’re PCS’ing. This is uber-important if we’re planning on buying a house at our next duty station. We like to vacation mid-PCS, stop along the way for fun with our kiddos, which means we need to have the funds readily available. Plus, any time you move into a new house, you’re bound to discover a whole array of things you just “have” to get for it. Save now, be thankful later. 
6.    Talk to your kids. If you know you’re going, then tell them it’s happening, you’re just not sure when. You might think it’s preemptive, but as a military brat who had a two week PCS notice once . . . well, your kids will thank you. Our boys are heavily involved in hockey, and we take that into account, so they already know there’s a chance they won’t be playing on their team the whole next year. In my experience, our kids handle change better when we’ve addressed it for a while and they know it is coming. 
7.    Relax. It’s about to get hectic . . . well, when you finally figure out where you’re going. Just do a little prep work now, and you’ll set yourself up for a smoother ride when those orders show up.  But don’t fly off the handle just yet. Pack away your crazy for another day, because you’re going to need it. Eventually, but today is not that day. Enjoy where you’re at and make sure you’ve visited everything you’ve wanted to at this duty station.

Oh, and we’ll let you know where we’re headed once we know. Who knows, I might just end up at your duty station, and I’m sure I’ll need all sorts of advice.  

Until then, I think I’ll enjoy Drum just a little bit longer.

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