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Supporting Your Service Member Before a Military Move

child playing in moving box

Service members typically move every few years in what is called a permanent change of station, or PCS. After PCSing a few times, military families tend to become moving pros. But even pros can use a little support when facing a move.

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 from civilian moves. Learn the basics about PCS so you can better understand your service member’s experience.

PCS moves can be to locations either inside the continental U.S., known as CONUS, or outside the continental U.S., known as OCONUS. Preparations will differ depending on where your service member is heading, but typically overseas, or OCONUS, moves require a bit more planning and preparation.

The Defense Department provides an array of relocation services to help your service member before, during and after their move. Trained relocation assistance service providers can help with everything from information about housing, child care, schools, spouse employment, financial counseling and more. Learn about the military’s Relocation Assistance Program.

Your service member will receive a PCS notification before official orders arrive but will not be able to actually schedule their move until orders are in hand. Military families may feel in limbo during the time in between because plans can change, even at the last minute.

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 they have official orders in hand.

Other important differences between military and civilian moves include:

  • For military moves, there is a weight limit on the total amount of personal property that may be moved to the new location at government cost. The weight limit increases with rank and number of dependents. Learn more about weight allowances and PCS entitlements.
  • Service Members who are transporting pets are limited to JTR-authorized expenses for one pet only. Some or all quarantine costs may be reimbursed in countries mandating it. Your service member should make sure to find out about these and other pet regulations for their new duty station well before their move. Learn more about moving with pets.

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. Learn how to explore your base and beyond with MilitaryINSTALLATIONS.
  • Encourage your loved ones to stay positive and reach out for support if they need it. Their local Relocation Assistance Program offers an array of services to assist with their move. They can contact their installation Military and Family Support Center for more information.
  • 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

The Defense Department provides 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.

  • The Military OneSource PCS and Military Moves webpage is the Defense Department go-to location for comprehensive moving resources, information and services.
  • Military OneSource consultants are available 24/7/365 anywhere in the world via phone and online chat to help answer service member questions and connect them with resources they need to master their move. Service members and spouses can call 800-342-9647, use international calling options or schedule a live chat.
  • Plan My Move is an online tool that helps military families create personalized moving checklists and offers tips about housing, transportation, finances and more.
  • MilitaryINSTALLATIONS provides detailed 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.

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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