The PCS Reality Of Military Service : My Duffle Bag, My Family, My Soul

by rabbitagent99

This is a stream of consciousness piece from a Military Personnel point of view to help civilians understand the numerous challenges of the Permanent Change of Station.

Waking up, from an already scary dream is a nightmare, especially when you have to convince yourself you are really awake, because you have no clue where you are. However momentary, waking up and not knowing where you are is one of the most unsettling reasons why the PCS process is so difficult. In your lucid sleep state, you reach for a light switch, but you don't know where the light switch is because you don't know where YOU are. Friends and family have suggested keeping a night-light with you, yet you don't want to feel like a helpless scared child.

PCS Life in A Duffle Bag
PCS Life in A Duffle Bag

Another big issue is orientation. You wander the streets looking for the sandwich chain you just ate at last week. You are certain you are looking in the right direction, then you realize that the sandwich chain, you are thinking of, is in the city you were in last week. Thankfully, you have a smartphone so you can find the nearest food place, from where you actually are, but first you have to remind yourself where you are. You remember that unlike your father and grandfather, you have a GPS and you try very hard to realize how fortunate you are, even if what you feel, in reality, is lost. You really want to find this sandwich chain, because despite growing up in the military you like to eat real food. One of your entitlements, during a permanent change of station transition, is reimbursement for meals.


Military Women are Overlooked
Military Women are Overlooked

Worst of all is the fact that your spouse insisted on moving around, on a moment's notice, when your child was born. The logic was that you would be a stranger to your child if the family separated. At such a young age, she would not know or recognize you as her parent. Your spouse insisted on this and you could not imagine watching your baby crawl and take her first steps on a screen of any size. It was a wise decision, though it was often a nightmare during infancy, since babies require tons of provisions and baggage. If you are the parent carrying the baby, you only have one arm left to carry things. If the baby cries you have to stop and tend to her needs.

This notion changes when your child is five and your spouse wants them to start kindergarten and go through grade school without moving. By this time, you and your spouse can explain why her military parent moves around, sometimes on a moment’s notice, but she lives in one place with her civilian parent. You and your spouse have discussed, but are still uncertain, what will happen if you are deployed overseas. On one hand, your child can live in a foreign country and online study is easier than ever for kids in school. Then again, she is finally making friends with other kids and feeling like part of the community. She has her own room, she does not have to wake up and wonder where she is, though she still has a special butterfly night-light just in case. Afterall, kids are very sophisticated at video chat, so she can keep in touch with her new friends, even if she can’t attend a birthday party or take an after school pottery class with her best buddy. If you have to move overseas, as a family, you will have military family entitlement, Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA), which covers temporary lodging and meal expenses for up to 60 days.


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This is how your mind wanders, when you are lost and fumbling for your smart phone that has little battery charge left. You ask the kindness and hospitality of the customer service desk to charge your phone hoping they have a soft spot for soldiers. By the way, is this the store with that kind sensitive customer service gal, whose grandfather died in Viet Nam, in this town or the town I was in last week?

My phone is charging, at the photo counter at a grocery store, as I wait at the deli for my sandwich, which will be today’s breakfast. As military personnel, I have “...permissive TDY (Temporary Duty) for up to 10 days in conjunction with a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move between and within the 50 states & District of Columbia.” that does not include travel time, I mark this on my calendar and create a to do list. This concession, courtesy of the military, is to allow time for the house hunting portion of my Permanent Change of Station. This is the first time I am making use of this entitlement. Initially, when my spouse and child settled in one place, I opted to stay in the barracks. Being in my later twenties with a child, it felt like I was in a college dorm, which I have outgrown.


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Once my cell phone is fully charged, I will use the resources available to me to find a place to stay for this leg of my tour of duty. Wifi Access is the key to connecting with my family and the shrill of my five-year old’s voice greeting me, at the android screen, is like music. The last painting she showed me from kindergarten is bright, clear, and colorful in my mind and I can’t wait to see the next creation of bright colors and painterly gestures that I could easily get lost in!

Updated: 02/19/2016, rabbitagent99
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