Webinar: Roundtable About PCSgrades Resources
by Lizann Lightfoot - February 4th, 2022
Todd Ernst: founder of PCSgrades and Air Force veteran
Daniella Valdez: Army veteran and Navy submarine spouse, who works as a PCSgrades Spouse Sponsor in Hawaii to support the military families moving there.
Watch the full interview here:
What issues are military families with PCS orders facing right now?
Todd: The housing market is going to be even more challenging than usual, and we definitely need to keep an eye on interest rates to see if they change. There are going to be problems with military moves as well. Families never have a lot of time to figure out the big decisions that will impact their family, so that’s why it’s so important to share the trusted resources of PCSgrades.
Dani: It’s going to be difficult to find a reliable moving company. Waiting on the delivery of Household Goods (HHG) is always a stressor to families moving here to Hawaii. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to find homes, whether you are trying to live on or off base.
What issues should “seasoned spouses” face this year?
Lizann: Even though it may not be your first move, things changed during the pandemic. It is still difficult to reserve moving companies. Your timeline may need to change from what you are used to, so continue to do research and be aware of your options. Also, technology is changing, and there are now more options for tracking moves, or for hiring out help to do a PPM (Personally Procured Move). The way you have done things in the past might not quote work this year, so stay on top of the changes.
How can PCSgrades support military families through a move?
Tessa: We have a lot of great military spouses and veteran writers who have contributed content to our blog, so there are so many details and discussions there about various aspects of moves--whether you are pregnant, moving with pets and/or kids, etc. There are also great Area Guides that give you an excellent snapshot of your new base--from housing and school options, to rental costs, local things to do, what to eat, etc. So I always go to PCSgrades first when I get questions about the moving process or someone is asking about a specific base.
Todd: A big part of PCSgrades is in the name--it’s the “grades” or reviews on the site, which are free and available to our members. These are so helpful, because they are all written by and for fellow veterans and military spouses, and they give you so much detailed information when you are researching an area. You can learn about base housing, off-base apartments, get reviews of moving companies, and more! Very soon, we are adding back the feature of reviewing real estate agents, so you can see who other military families recommend in your new area. We try to include photos of many military installations, and try to provide first-class information.
Lizann: We have been working on our Area Guides for the past few years, and now we have a distinctive guide for many bases, almost 100 across the country! It’s a great place to find information about housing, schools, and details for your new base. Our blog also has some high-quality information, and I want to highlight our new Know Before You Go series, interviewing families who have been to various overseas duty stations. They are talking about moving with pets, local schools and housing info, and all the numerous things you need to learn when you move to a new country.
What is the Spouse Sponsor program?
Todd: We currently have sponsors at 17 different locations, and are looking to expand in the next year. They are there to answer questions and provide free resources for families moving to the area. Anyone who is interested in becoming a Spouse Sponsor should email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us where you are stationed, and we will soon be announcing in the locations where we hiring.
Dani: I am a Spouse Sponsor in Hawaii, at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor/Hickam, and I have another Spouse Sponsor on the other side of the island. We have a lot of fun getting feedback from housing and gathering what people like about being stationed here. We run events to meet other spouses and share PCSgrades resources. We do amazing giveaways, and we just love sharing what we know and making connections happen!
Todd: The spouse sponsors do focus on asking for reviews. The more reviews we get for an area, the more unique information we will have to support our community.
What is the Lost During My PCS Facebook group?
Dani: I recently discovered this group, and it’s amazing to read all these stories about people connecting with all their lost items, sharing advice for PCSing, and really helping each other locate all these lost items--even their pets!
Tessa: The Lost During My PCS Facebook group is 40,000 members strong, and it not only helps connect people with things that were lost or damaged during a PCS move, or items that were delivered to the wrong address, but it also helps people who are feeling “lost” and confused during PCS. There are some great tips and advice in there!
Recently, a woman shared her strategy of using AirTags to track her Household Goods, so when the moving company told her it was still getting picked up at a warehouse across the country, she could see that it was actually sitting at a private residence only a few hours away! I also love the recent story of a couple who found an old box of World War II love letters in the attic of their house. They wanted to return them to the family, so they went onto Lost During My PCS to share the names and dates on the letters. The original couple was deceased, and so were their children, but their grandchildren are still alive! They connected through the group, and now these treasured letters are being returned to the family.
Lizann: There have been some incredible stories in the group. I always love hearing about pets being found, because there are so many times that cats go missing on moving day or dogs that run off, and it’s heartwarming when those pets are reunited with their owners. Some of the historic stories are incredible because we’ve had old photos, wedding albums, and medals returned to families. But a lot of the returned items are current and modern.
What a lot of people don’t realize about moves is that unless you are doing a door-to-door move, your items are packed into a moving truck, but then unloaded at a warehouse, until they are picked up by another moving truck to be delivered to you. So a lot of times in the process of packing and unpacking from the warehouse, that’s when boxes or crates get separated and items go missing. And that’s how people end up receiving a delivery that has someone else’s name on the box. Often, if they post a picture with the last name or include any photos or unique items from the family, that’s how people in the group are able to connect lost items to their owners.
One of our most personal stories of people being reunited with lost items is from milspouse Krista Simpson Anderson. When her soldier died from service injuries, she had a custom box made to contain all his uniforms, medals, and personal belongings, because those were the last things remaining from her husband. She eventually remarried into the Army and had to do another PCS move… and the box of her first husband’s belongings went missing. There was a massive search by the community, and we were eventually able to reconnect her with her box! It was so fulfilling, because everyone knows how valuable those belongings are, and how important it is for them to be located.
Todd: First, I want to give a shoutout to Bobbi Pack, who started the concept of this “Lost and Found” group years ago, and PCSgrades has been able to build on her vision and run with it. Now it has evolved into a place that is not only a Lost and Found, but is also a place to share resources, tips, and tricks that can help others succeed through a PCS. It’s emotional to see it work and see how much people can learn. The group wields tremendous authority. The moving companies, media, and USTRANSCOM know about this group, so it’s special to see how our ideas and actions can influence the entire military community.
Lizann, you moved overseas and wrote an Area Guide for your duty station before we even had the Know Before You Go series. Tell us more about your book!
Lizann: Sure, my family moved to Naval Station Rota, Spain and had a very difficult time adjusting because we landed on the same day as the Benghazi attack. So overnight, the unit of Marines my husband was reporting to had deployed to Libya, and there was no one available to help us get settled. He couldn’t even attend the mandatory newcomer brief because he was on a crazy radio watch cycle at work!
So after a few weeks in-country, I finally attended the brief myself to learn about housing, schools, etc. and get our family settled. During that process, we lost a lot of money, and made some poor choices because we simply didn’t have enough information. The longer we lived there, I kept hearing similar stories from other military families. It turned out that many families struggled, wasted money, and didn’t know all their options, and it became clear that someone needed to write down all the resources that would help families PCSing to Rota.
Since no one else was writing it down, I finally wrote and self-published a book called Welcome to Rota, which has become a trusted guidebook for families moving to Spain. It has all the information about what you need to know during your PCS, how to get settled, and where to go once you have arrived in Spain. So that’s why I am so passionate about our Area Guide now and our Know Before You Go series, because I know the impact it can make on a PCS move.
Tessa, your family once moved to Guam! Tell us what topics are in your Guam area guide.
People are always curious about what it is like to move to a tropical island, and honestly when I first got our orders and grabbed a book, it said “Guam can be explored in an afternoon.” So I panicked and wondered, “What am I going to do there for a few years?” But I think like almost any duty station, it is what you make of it. If you go with an adventurous attitude, you can find adventures. If you go expecting to hate it, well, you will probably hate it. And that’s true for most military bases. So the “Know Before You Go Series” is so important because it answers those essential questions and gives you ideas about what to do and what to look forward to when you get orders to an OCONUS duty station.