Stress-free PCS possible with planning, preparation

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Brian Boisvert
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Relocating as part of a permanent change of station is one of the best perks in the military and something most people look forward to, but it can be stressful and an unpleasant experience if not planned for or done properly.

Presuming a PCS will be routine, lacking organization of the paperwork or having a poor judgment of time can cause a complicated system to break and increase the stress on all involved.

The standard, run-of-the-mill, "routine" PCS is anything but routine and can lull those selected for reassignment and their families into a sense of "been there, done that," attitude, assuming nothing can go wrong. Then that one chance in a bazillion happens or Murphy comes to talk about his law.

I have heard rumors about the dreaded phantom Airman whose redlined orders diverted his family to a new location amid travels, but I have never met anyone who had this happen. That is until this past March when my inbound Airman was diverted to another location less than a week from his scheduled arrival. My office was stressed and had to reassess the situation at the last minute.

For me, I approach every PCS with caution and pour over every inch of my notice instructions to make sure I don't miss any critical details about my new assignment and then try to keep every bit of paperwork and electronic correspondence organized.

In an era where most documents are available online and are virtually accessible, all one needs is the standard blue folder, right?

Years ago when I did not even know what a "routine" PCS could be and there was no virtual checklist, my supervisor gave me a binder, some document protectors and a kick in the rear for good luck as I went out the door for my first mandatory move.

Now we receive PCS notices via e-mail and out-process virtually on the computer. A few appointments, some digital checkmarks and suddenly you are ready to go.

But are you really ready?

The virtual out-processing system has made our lives a bit easier by not having to go office to office collecting signatures, but while you are in transit, finding the number to the random lien holder on your car or accessing the virtual personnel section can be difficult if it is down for system updates. Reduce stress by having a roster of contacts, hard copies of information and important documents at your fingertips neatly organized in a standard binder.

My binder contains orders, checklists, information about the movers, instructions on filing claims, contacts at my old base, contacts at my gaining installation, passport information, medical records and every training certificate I can think of. Most importantly, the information assurance course completion certificate and other paperwork that helps me get quicker access to my new work computer account is a must.

Now it is time to sit back, relax and wait for the days to bring me one step closer to leaving, right? There is time and after all, I am ready.

If you are truly ready, take a breather and relax but don't let your guard down. You may have heard "time flies when you are having fun." So flies the PCS calendar and moving day closes in fast.

Did you take time to say good-bye to the neighbors? Do you have addresses of that person you want to stay in contact with? Did you make that reservation at a hotel that accepts pets at your new location? If you wait, it might be too late. In a PCS, the earlier you start the better.

Take the time to call your friends and set up good-byes. Inform your bank you are moving and make the reservations if need be for a pet-friendly hotel room now and keep the confirmation number handy.

Most importantly, plan early and get in contact with your relocation advisor as soon as you can because the longer you wait, the more stressful it will be, said Lou Randal, a relocation readiness program specialist at Army Community Service.

It makes no difference if this is your first or last PCS, every PCS is different and the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the Navy Fleet and Family Support Center or Army Community Service should be your first stop after receiving orders and your first stop at your new location, regardless of service.

A PCS can be as stressful as we make it or smooth if we plan for it. First-time movers should sit down with their supervisors and comb over every detail together, and it doesn't hurt for experienced movers to do the same.

Start a relationship now with your local and gaining installation relocation office and check out before the movers show up next week.

Regardless of whether you are new to the PCS process or it is as familiar as your own backyard, having information from your local relocation office and being prepared are key to ensuring you and your family experience a smooth move.