by Chloe Moore , Guest Contributor
Ask a military spouse to list the top 3 distinct challenges faced in their military life and you can bet most of them are going to say PCSing. The constant relocation can do a serious number on a family’s ability to thrive.
This makes PCS news from the Pentagon eyebrow-raising: they’re considering limiting the amount of moves that a military family has to make.
In an interview with the Fayetteville Observer, the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness John Wilkie said that while “nothing is set in stone” (Is it ever?) it is “more than idle chatter.”
The idea is that large military installations, like Fort Bragg and Naval Station Norfolk, have the capacity to support military families for extended tours that stretch beyond the typical 2 or 3 years. Extended tours would ultimately allow troops and their families to enjoy fewer relocations and the associated challenges of those moves.
Today’s Military Family Is Changing The Department Of Defense’s Systems
At the core of the shift lies the military family. In Wilkie’s overview of why the challenge is being taken seriously, he returned repeatedly to the modern military family.
According to him, “It (the PCS system) was built at a time when less than 10 percent of the military had families. Today, 70 percent have families.”
So there’s that; there’s the fact that the family unit is a foundational part of the military like it has never before been in American history, and that families oftentimes suffer because of the manner in which the PCS system operates. Not only that, but we’re operating within a volunteer service model, which means that at this point the government has to acknowledge that if needs aren’t met, their volunteers will dry up.
Drew Brooks, the military editor for the Fayetteville Observer, wrote
“While many in the Pentagon are focused on big dollar programs that lead to new ships and planes, Wilkie said the readiness of the military is one of the issues that keeps him up at night. He said new planes are worthless if there are no people to maintain or fly them.”
At the very least, it’s refreshing to hear someone recognize that the driving force behind successful or unsuccessful military operations are its people.
The Potential Benefits Of Fewer PCSes
In terms of personal health, there are a plethora of positives. Most of us have felt at least a tinge of relocation depression as we’ve unpacked yet another round of boxes. Most of us know what it is to compare a new duty station with the well-loved one we’ve left behind. And more than that, we know what it is to have readjust relationally.
Professional Health: A few years ago a study came out that showcased the fact that a whopping 90% of military spouses are either underemployed or unemployed. Beyond the implications of that on a personal level, it’s been estimated the economy also misses out on nearly one billion dollars a year because of the trend.
There’s not a lot of upward mobility on the career ladder when frequent moves require you to constantly start over.
There are certainly employers who want to utilize military spouses. But, there are also those in military communities who recognize the trail of locations on a resume for what they are and become less likely to hire knowing that that individual is unlikely a long-term investment.
Do you want want a PCS proof career? Listen to the NGMS Happy Hour Episode 56!
Psychological Health: The PCS system can negatively impact the emotional and relational well-being of service members and their dependants in a vast amount of ways. It’s an overwhelming subject to tackle. In an overview of social work in conjunction with service members, the University of Nevada, Reno found that, “3.8 million veterans live with a service-connected disability.” For those 3.8 million who struggle with everything from PTSD to anxiety and depression, and for those still serving, by default they must consistently re-start with caregivers.
And, of course, beyond the service member, dependents suffer emotionally as well. While the research isn’t conclusive, there is some that points to the fact that military kids struggle to cope. When Healthline looked at a study that compared military kids with non-military kids, the military kids had “a higher prevalence of substance use, violence, harassment, and weapon-carrying than their nonmilitary peers.”
And a suspected core issue, up there with frequent deployments, is the reality of frequent relocations for kids who are typically less equipped than adults to cope with the upheaval of frequent moves.
It’s not difficult to see how fewer moves could potentially make things, even a smidgen easier for both the service member and the family that supports him or her.
Fewer Relocations Is Not A Brand New Proposition
There have been times when different government entities have suggested the same type of shift. Ultimately, while nothing substantial has shifted, it is still worthwhile to note that the problems military families see with the system are also seen among the very highest levels.
In 2012, the Army went public with its efforts to limit PCSes. In an attempt to strategize for the increased stability and health of troops they came to an unsurprising conclusion: one of the most straightforward ways in which to secure a force that would be more consistent and effective was to make sure that those troops remained in one local for at least 36 months.
The Cost Of Frequent PCSes
In 2016, Zachariah Hughes wrote for NPR that
“Every year, the U.S. military moves hundreds of thousands of service members and their families all across the globe. In 2014, the Defense Department spent more than $4.3 billion on moving costs, but officials don’t know where all that money is going.”
This statement, depending on how long you’ve been a part of the military lifestyle, may or may not surprise you. The hope would be that in a world where the paychecks of those who serve at the most nitty-gritty level are threatened whenever there’s a budgetary issue, the money would be streamlined.
However, that’s not the case. When Brenda Farrell interviewed officials for a report she authored for the Government Accountability Office she ran into an interesting something: “When we asked the DOD officials during our review ‘When was the last time an evaluation was made of the PCS program,’ none of them could recall such an evaluation being done.”
For those among us who may be skeptical that the family health angle will really inspire change, there is perhaps a greater degree of hope when considering that the government knows that there is a financial incentive to move military families less often.
The Drawbacks Of Fewer Moves
Obviously, this would not fix any and all duty station grief. In fact, in some cases it would likely only make some struggles worse. The reality is that while we can all call to mind duty stations that we loved and hated leaving, and friends we still miss, we can all also remember those wherein the goodbyes couldn’t come quickly enough, and we really never looked back.
Because at the core of the issue stands the truth that moving frequently as a way of life is hard and to some degree that can’t be fixed. There will always just be places and people who fit into our lives easier than others.
However, it’s also true that if the Pentagon does decide to implement longer tours, for some of us, one of those sets of orders may come just when our family needs it most.
How would your military family benefit for fewer PCSes? Share your thoughts in the NextGen MilSpouse Facebook group.
By day Chloe Moore writes content for an internet marketing company, and by night she freelances. She’s a parent and a Navy spouse who enjoys rereading “East of Eden” and rewatching “The Office” when the stars align and she has the time.