It’s summer PCS season, when 40% of the 400,000 military and DoD civilian moves take place each year. This time brings back memories of our family’s final military move in May of 2017. It was our eleventh in 23 years of marriage, and it was pretty much like all the rest — a stressful experience involving tedious planning, unexpected crises, broken and lost belongings, and physical exhaustion.
Like most military spouses, I’ve told stories of PCS moves gone by to my friends, around kitchen islands, bunco tables, and backyard patios. Like the time the movers snapped the leg off our dining room buffet, or when they neglected to put our crib back together when I had a newborn baby and a toddler, or that move when my husband’s entire collection of military challenge coins disappeared. Within military spouse culture, telling tales of moving mishaps is a sort of competitive sport. Kind of like talking about childbirth. The spouse who has endured the most misery wins.
It’s hard to imagine the PCS experience getting worse for military families, but thanks to the coronavirus, moving hassles have reached epic new levels. The Stop Movement Order announced by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in April has been extended to June 30th, causing delays that could last until the end of the year.
Two thirds of PCS moves have been delayed, causing a massive back up. Some military families who had already started the moving process, got trapped in limbo between two locations, paying double housing costs due to leases or mortgages executed before the Stop Movement Order. Others shipped household goods and moved into temporary housing, then got stuck without their belongings. Parents can’t register their children for the 2020-2021 school year because they don’t know where they will be living. Kids who planned to enter new schools at the end of summer, may have to enroll mid-school-year, making it more difficult for them to adjust socially and academically. While Congress is working to pass legislation which would provide financial relief to many of the affected families, uncertainty and stress abounds.
To make matters worse, the back up is further complicated by the military branches’ efforts to offer incentives to delay retirements and separations, and to reenlist those who had already retired or separated. They hope these strategies will balance the drop in recruits caused by the COVID-19 shut down, and provide medical personnel and troops who can deploy immediately so that readiness is not further compromised. However, moving priority will go to those who can deploy or fill medical billets, while waiting families will be pushed back in the line.
The Pentagon says that it will allow 30,000 waiting families to be granted waivers to move before June 30th. However, those who are able to move will be required to follow mandatory coronavirus prevention guidelines that could further delay the process. No matter which way you cut it, military families will endure major PCS hardships this year.
One day, when life returns to some form of normalcy, military spouses will inevitably gather together like they always have, to chat around fire pits, bunco tables, kitchen islands, base housing patios, backyard barbecues and coffee shops. They will share bottles of wine and pots of coffee, they will laugh, and they will tell miserable tales about child birth, deployments, and PCS moves — just like military spouses have for decades. The only thing that remains to be seen is, now that the pandemic has upped the ante, who will win the unspoken competition over who has endured the most hardship?
I, for one, will resist the urge to offer up my often-told PCS stories — about our buffet leg being snapped off, our television being stolen, my favorite ceramic Christmas tree showing up in chards, the missing hardware needed to put our disassembled bicycles back together, etc. — while in the company of anyone who has endured a PCS move during the pandemic. Out of respect, I will graciously concede defeat.
But there’s no guarantee I won’t try to get back in the game with a good labor and delivery story. Our first born weighed over nine pounds, so it’s a doozy.