child playing in moving box

Supporting Your Service Member and Their Family Before a Military Move

Service members move every few years in what is called a permanent change of station or in short a PCS. After PCSing a few times, military families tend to become pros at moving. But even those who have relocated many times can feel overwhelmed when those official military PCS orders arrive.

Your support can go a long way in easing the stress of a military move. Even if you live too far away to watch the kids or pitch in with the packing, there are ways you can make it easier for your loved ones to prepare for a PCS.

Everything you need to know about PCS

Military moves are different than moving as a civilian. Learn the ins and outs of a PCS so you will understand your service member’s experience.

Your service member has two options for a PCS move, but can do a mix of both:

  • A household goods move, in which the government provides a moving company to pack and transport all household goods.
  • A personally procured move, in which service members hire their own moving company or pack up and transport all household goods themselves. The government will pay your service member 95% of their cost to hire a moving company. A PPM move is allowed only within the continental United States.

Your service member will receive a PCS notification before orders arrive, but will not be able to schedule the move until orders are in hand. Military families may feel in limbo during the time in between because plans are always subject to change. So, while your service member and their family may look at schools and homes in the new location, they shouldn’t make any commitments until orders arrive.

There are other differences between military and civilian moves, including:

  • There is a weight limit on household and other goods that may be moved to the new location at government cost. The weight limit increases with rank and number of dependents. For example, a single service member at the rank of E-1 may transport up to 5,000 pounds of household goods. They are allowed another 2,000 pounds for their work-related equipment and vehicle. At the high end of the scale, an officer at the rank of O-7 with dependents can ship up to 18,000 pounds of household goods plus 2,000 pounds of work-related equipment and a personal vehicle.
  • The cost to transport a pet is not covered. However, your service member may be reimbursed for some or all of the cost of quarantine in countries where that is mandatory.

Helping your service member prepare for a PCS

Ask your service member and their family how you can help them. If they don’t have specific suggestions, here are some ways you can ease their pressure and lift their spirits as they prepare to PCS.

  • Be a sympathetic ear to your loved one. When frustrations or fears build up, having someone to vent to can be a big relief. Talking through problems can also lead to solutions.
  • Become familiar with the new duty station so you will have some knowledge of the area before your service member arrives. You can find information on MilitaryINSTALLATIONS.
  • Encourage your loved ones to stay positive and to connect with their installation Relocation Assistance Program, where they can receive an array of services to assist with their move.
  • Put together a playlist of songs or podcasts if your loved ones will be traveling a long distance to the new duty station.
  • Create a photo album of your service member’s time at their duty station. Fill it with pictures of friends, important places and memorable experiences.

If you live close by:

  • Provide a few meals along with disposable dinnerware and containers. You might also organize a meal train where friends and neighbors take turns bringing meals. Not having to worry about making dinner can be a huge relief in the midst of packing – particularly when cookware is already boxed up.
  • Lend an inflatable mattress and linens to your service member and their family if they will be staying behind a night or two after the movers pick up their furniture.
  • Pitch in to help clean the home after it’s emptied out for the move.
  • Watch your service member’s children or pets on moving day.

If you live far away:

  • Arrange for meal delivery from a local restaurant or takeout place on a night when you know your service member will be busy packing.
  • Give a gift of a cleaning service to deep clean the home after everything is moved out.
  • Send a gift box of activities for the trip.

Resources for a smooth move

There are a variety of resources to help make military moves as easy and safe as possible. Pass these along to your loved ones if they’re not aware of them.

  • Move.mil is the Department of Defense customer moving portal. Your service member can register as soon as the PCS orders arrive.
  • Plan My Move is an online tool that helps military families create personalized moving checklists, offers tips about housing, transportation, finances and more.
  • MilitaryINSTALLATIONS is where you can find information about each military installation, the surrounding community and more. Your service member can also create a customized installation booklet with key resources and installation information.
  • HOMES.mil lists housing near military installations.

No matter how you support your loved one, the important thing is that they know you are there for them. Text messages, letters or emails from you will remind them that they’re not alone, no matter where they are.

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