PCS Moves During COVID-19: Military Families Share Their Experiences
It’s a well-known fact that military families are great at multitasking!
A military PCS move is a study in organization, timing, and flexibility. Military members and their families become adept at managing to-do lists, dealing with various organizations for required paperwork, juggling the details of transferring kids’ schools and other activities, looking for spouse employment--all while they may also be needing to sell, rent, or buy a home.
But with the constantly evolving reality of life during a pandemic, the typical PCS move season has also been greatly affected. MilitaryByOwner has been dedicated to providing you with timely information during the COVID-19 pandemic. Get more information in these posts:
- The Impact of COVID-19 on Military PCS Moves and Travel
- Updates on Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the Military Community
- Financial Help for Military Families Affected By the Coronavirus
- 8 Updates for Military Families As the Coronavirus Quarantine Continues
- The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Real Estate and Home Sales
- Should You Buy or Sell A House During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
- What Military Families Should Look for in the Post-Quarantine New Normal
- What Will Back to School Look Like for Military Kids During the Pandemic?
As of the latest DOD update, 94 installations out of 231 have lifted travel restrictions. Current guidance states that:
“Unrestricted travel is allowed for Service members or civilians between installations that have met the criteria of the Secretary of Defense memo on the conditions-based, phased approach to personnel movement and travel dated May 22, 2020. If either installation does not meet the criteria, an exemption or waiver would be required.” (Source: Defense.gov, updated weekly)
One concern, with military moves slowly beginning to pick back up, is that of safety during the move itself and while traveling. Find out the latest about measures being taken for your health and safety during a move at Military OneSource.
While the pandemic and ensuing quarantines have caused major delays for military moves worldwide, many military families are either currently going through a delayed PCS or have experienced one recently. In this post, we’re sharing some of their stories--along with a few tips and what you might expect if you’re also facing a PCS move during this strange time. Many thanks to those of you who took time to share your experience!
PCS Moves During COVID: Military Families Share Their Experiences and Tips
Unexpected Changes and Delays
We’re all used to the “hurry up and wait” mindset that can be part of military life, but add in a pandemic, and it takes it to another level. Expect delays for everything-- from getting official orders to finding a new place to live.
“We are gearing up for our PCS next month, and everything feels like it’s up in the air. We should be 40ish days out and we still don’t have a definite date” @findingmandee
“Every PCS comes with stress, but the uniqueness in "pandemic PCS'ing" was the rolling shut-downs combined with minimum office manning (for social distancing/safety). This meant any out-processing appointments (Medical, TMO, Finance, anything) were 1) difficult to get in a timely manner, and 2) changed frequently as in-office staffers were drawn down. Orders were much later in coming, and then it was a wild scramble to get anything scheduled.” -Kristi Adams
“We started our PCS in D.C. back in June. Unfortunately, our family got caught up in the military ‘no fee passports’ backlog. But, we just found out our flights have been booked in October to Stuttgart, Germany. Hooray for progress! And hopefully we get there before we need more than the summer clothes we have in each of our one suitcases! @carrie.eltringham
“As COVID cases continue to spike, military installations (and the DoD) may institute another ‘Stop Movement.’ If you are in the middle of a PCS, this is a huge wrench. If you are deemed ‘Essential or Critical Personnel,’ you can apply for an ETP (Exception to Policy) to still PCS, but it is granted on a case-by-case basis, and must be routed through your command. (Hard to fill positions, humanitarian reassignments, critical manning, certain job fields, mission requirements can all contribute to an ETP).” -Kristi Adams
"This unusual PCS season has certainly affected our family this year...the delay in orders/waiver and lack of a firm move date caused some complications, but it all worked out. It's hard to walk through situations when we don't know what will play out (including day-to-day life in the military), but with a little faith we can get through them and look back on yet another memorable experience with the Navy." -Heather Goffrier
Don’t Procrastinate Moving Tasks
Offices that you’re dealing with may not be manned as usual, so allow plenty of time for your moving checklists. Kristi Adams and her active duty spouse recently moved from Germany to Elmendorf AFB in Alaska and she shares some advice:
“You might need an ETP to leave. We had to get one. Your chain of command/first sergeant/supervisor will know this, but you may need an ETP (Exception to Policy) to PCS. This memo takes time, and it is routed by your command up to a commanding officer for approval and signature. Our #1 tip - do not procrastinate anything, particularly getting medical clearance appointments for EFMP families. Medical appointments are hard to come by. On this note, get any outstanding prescriptions filled and pick them up. Have a surplus of your prescription, 3 months’ worth if you can.”
Plan for a Different Travel Experience
More than ever, it’s important to plan ahead for stops and lodging, especially for road trips. Also, stay updated on the receiving installation and area, so you’re prepared for any required COVID-19 testing or time in quarantine after arrival (more on that in a moment), as the situation is constantly changing.
Check the CDC list of each state’s health department for more information. Kayak has an easier to read map with travel restrictions listed state by state, and it's updated daily (always verify with your receiving installation!).
“The actual move was very different because we couldn't just stop anywhere to use the bathroom! We had to crunch it out a 24-hour drive in two days which was tough with toddlers + dogs. My advice is to plan your stops in advance to find big rest areas/gas stations, and save more $$$$ than you think you'll need, because the housing situation is crazy in some places and you may need more time in temporary living.” -Shea from @teamboxops
“We just moved in June! It was chaotic, since we sold our house and did a full DITY from MN to DC. It was weird. We usually turn our PCS into a mini-vacation and didn’t do that at all this time. Did it in four days, with no fun stops, a lot of hand sanitizer and hand washing!” @sandeelbooth
“As soon as you are notified of an assignment (even before you have hard orders in hand), find and book lodging in your new duty station. If you can stay off-base in an extended-stay hotel/motel, do it. (You will need a non-availability letter from the on-base lodging facilities to get reimbursed for an off-base lodging stay.) Most hotels are nearly empty and need the business -- meaning you won't play musical chairs to stay in the same hotel room for days or weeks on end.
Lodging on base filled up (and stayed full) QUICKLY, as many hoping to leave the base got stuck or had to take the first available pack-out date and moved into temporary lodging sooner than expected. So if you needed to extend a few days in on-base lodging, that often meant being shuttled to another building with a vacancy to accommodate you. Hotels/motels are booked far under capacity, so staying for a lengthy block of time isn't a problem.” -Kristi Adams
Quarantines and COVID-19 Testing
After arriving at your new duty station, you'll be subject to your installation regulations, as well as any state/country/local laws, which means you may be required to get a COVID-19 test, undergo a time of quarantine, or both.
“We had to get a COVID test within 72 hours of arriving at the gaining airport. This test was done for free at our outgoing clinic - but some states are now charging in-bound travelers to be tested. Anchorage Airport is one such place, and COVID tests at the airport are $250/per person. Some states did allow quarantining for 14 days and the option to opt out of the COVID test. [At the time of this writing], Anchorage is now COVID test + 14 days quarantine, no exceptions. TIP: Verify your in-bound state AND base's COVID testing and quarantine process weekly! Military installations also have Health-Cons (if an installation is in HPCON--Charlie). Expect testing and quarantines.” -Kristi Adams
Househunting Gone Virtual
Househunting will also look different! Expect to do the bulk of your home search online. Take a look at our tips to help make long distance househunting a success, and then browse the home listings on MilitaryByOwner--many homes also feature virtual tours.
“We are in the middle of a move! Currently living Airbnb style (for about a month) and we finally close on a new home tomorrow. Our home closing had been pushed back many times unfortunately due to COVID and lack of housing supplies, so for anyone thinking about buying a new construction home, something to consider is major shortages for fencing/housing materials and appliances.” -Shea from @teamboxops
“If you are expecting to live in military housing at your new base, keep the in-bound housing offices in the loop! As you experience delays, notify the housing office immediately of your new expected arrival date. (Some folks were delayed, matched to a house that they could not take as they weren't in the area, and got bumped down the list.) The housing offices won't know that you've been delayed (unless you tell them!), and they cannot hold a house for you, once you've been matched.” - Kristi Adams
No Welcome Wagon
If you’ve made it to your location, you won’t find the typical outlets for plugging into your new community. Thankfully, military spouses are accustomed to finding creative ways to connect, whether it’s for friendship, networking, or school concerns. Take a look at 5 Tips for Settling In Virtually and What Will Back-to-School Look Like for Military Kids During the Pandemic? for some tips. Kristi Adams offers some advice for fellow military spouses newly arrived:
“[One difference during this PCS move has been] ....the isolation. There are no welcome wagons, base meet and greets, spouses' luncheons, or newcomer orientations. I finally saw one here for JBER, a newcomers’ orientation that will be done via Zoom. But from my experience, that has been the extent of it.
Spouses without children, I believe, will have to actively try harder to plug in and find a community. That might mean looking for new hobbies or Facebook groups in the area to join/link up. Hiring might be difficult, as many offices have also moved to minimum/remote manning, so those looking to get a foot in the door might struggle.
There aren't many opportunities to ‘just stumble’ across new friends, so spouses--particularly without children--will need to actively seek out new connections. That may be virtually for awhile, but that's ok!
I've personally tried to mitigate isolation by finding local base-affiliated spouses' Facebook page groups, and plugging into those. This lets me see what questions/pain points others are dealing with, and folks are pretty open with sharing information. I have the great fortune to write from home - something that makes a bit of money, and that I enjoy doing - so I've been working on new assignments, articles, and ideas.”
Pandemic or not, military and their families will continue to answer their nation's call. MilitaryByOwner stands with you as you face a PCS move during this unpredecented time. And we want to hear from you! Are you moving right now? What tips would you share with other military families?