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Breaking Down the PCS Cycle

by Rebecca Alwine - September 21st, 2021

Breaking Down the PCS Cycle

Just like the real estate market ebbs and flows, the cycle for military moves does as well. The height of military moving moving occurs in the summer, affectionately known as “PCS Season.” For many of the same reasons that everyone else likes to move in the summer, military families like their moves to disrupt their lives the least amount possible. Since schools are out in summer and kids have an easier time transitioning then, summer is the most popular moving season. 

But as you can imagine, the military throws curve balls much of the time, forcing military families to move at a moment’s notice or during difficult times of the year. It’s important to know and recognize the patterns of the PCS move cycle.

“HONEY, I’VE GOT NEWS”

Military spouses around the world know that the above saying only goes one of two ways: Deployment or PCS. Both require planning and sometimes both involve a move. Most military families who are lucky enough to be on the summer PCS cycle start hearing about a move early in the calendar year. Orders start coming in the spring, and research begins now.

The most popular questions at this time revolve around:

WHAT DOES PCS MEAN IN THE MILITARY?

PCS stands for Permanent Change of Station. For military families, it means starting over. It means packing up life as you know it and venturing out into the unknown: a new military base, a new town, and often times a new state. PCSing is as scary as it is exciting. And depending on where you are currently living, it can be a good thing or a not-so-welcome interruption.

A PCS also means making decisions quickly. There’s a reason for that flurry of research that happens as soon as a family received orders. Military families have only 3 to 6 months to make decisions that will greatly impact their safety and security, children’s education, spouse’s livelihood, and potentially their financial well-being. The PCS orders will include a “Report No Later Than Date” for the service member to check in at their new assignment. The family is expected to be moved and settled in to a new home by that date. 

OFF WE GO!

After months (or sometimes only a few weeks) of planning, the family launches into their PCS move: household belongings are packed and loaded onto a moving truck. The family cleans their former home, checks into a hotel, and begins their road trip to the next assignment. After a few days (or weeks) on the road, they arrive at the next duty station with whatever they have packed into the car. They will most likely stay at a hotel or in temporary housing until they either purchase a home in the area or get assigned to a house on base. 

Summer is considered the main PCS season with nearly a million service members and family members on the move. Military communities are full of moving trucks in May, as families start packing up. Then the moving trucks return throughout June, July and August bringing new families into the neighborhood. While not all moves happen in the summer, hardly a summer day passes without a moving truck making its way through the neighborhood. This is the time of year when military families really need quick help.

Sometimes we move, and we don’t know where we’re going to live until we arrive. This can be due to a last minute PCS, or coming from overseas, or families who were waitlisted for housing on the military installation. This is when the exhausting period of looking for houses is made even more stressful due to a quick timeline.

We want everything settled as quickly as possible so we can have our household goods delivered, get our children registered for school, and get our life out of boxes. Real estate agents that work with us to look at houses on weekends, evenings, and all day long are the ones we remember to share with our friends.

MOVE. UNPACK. REPEAT.

The military PCS cycle never really stops. While the most significant chunk of families relocate in the summer, the winter PCS cycle in December and January is decent sized as well with nearly 400,000 service members and their family members on the move. In the spring, 15% of all military movers will relocate to a new duty station. Then you have the post-deployment moves which can be at any time, the moves for schools, and the last-minute we’re moving the second week of April moves.

Military families and the real estate agents that work with them must always be ready for a change to the timeline, or location. There are some great benefits to moving in the “offseason” for military families, and some for the real estate agents that work with them as well. But even after a military family is settled, they often remain at one location for just two or three years before starting their PCS cycle all over again. So wherever you are in the PCS cycle right now, know that PCSgrades is here to help!

PCSgrades.com is a community of military and veteran families helping each other with our most significant relocation needs through trusted reviews. Together, we can truly make a difference!

Rebecca Alwine

Rebecca Alwine is an Army spouse, freelance writer and mother of three. She’s a regular contributor to ARMY Magazine, Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, ESME, and has also been published in Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic. You can read her blog at www.whatrebeccathinks.com.

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