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PCS – What Is It?
PCS means Permanent Change of Station. It’s when military members get orders to move to a new duty station. A PCS is considered a “permanent” move because its like if a civilian were moving to a new forever home. Your address legit changes from here on out. On average, a service member is at their duty station for 3-4 years. There are exceptions, there always are, but for the most part. The Marine Corps especially likes to keep people moving. The Air Force and Army are more willing to “homestead” someone by allowing them to stay in the same place for more than 5-ish years.
CONUS or OCONUS
The military lives in two places: CONUS or OCONUS. CONUS stands for CONtinental United States. OCONUS refers to Outside the CONtinental United States. CONUS is the the lower 48 states. Alaska, Hawaii, US Territories and the rest of the world are OCONUS. The factors into a PCS in a couple of key ways. The first is how & when your stuff is packed. The second is the financial entitlements and rules. We’ll get into these later and in great detail.
Accompanied or Unaccompanied
A PCS move can either be Accompanied or Unaccompanied. Accompanied means the military member is allowed to move their family with them. Unaccompanied means a family is not authorized to follow. The government will NOT pay to move dependents or provide housing & other services at the new duty station.
WHAT?!?! Families can’t move with their service member all the time???
Slow down! There are certain places active duty go that just isn’t safe or affordable to send families. Our US Embassies around the world are guarded by US Marines for example. Its is totally not doable to send families everywhere. There are other countries where there aren’t the facilities or resources to house civilian families. Sometimes, service members are sent overseas for only a year or two and its incredibly expensive to move families overseas so Unaccompanied orders it is. Occasionally, Unaccompanied is a choice. I’ve met many a family who would rather spend a year apart than three years overseas [together]. There are soooo many reasons for this such as medical care, kids in school, spouse jobs, etc.
You might be getting the sense that there are a LOT of moving parts to a military PCS. You’re right! Its one of the more complicated things military families deal with. But its ok! I’ve got your back. Stick around to get into the nitty gritty of moving with the military.
Standard, PPM (DITY), or Partial-PPM
When you actually pack your house you have a few choices in the HOW. You can allow the military to arrange for packers & movers to handle everything; we generally call this a Standard move. PPM stands for Personally Procured Move. You pack. You move. The government reimburses you based on weight & distance. There is the chance for you to put quite a bit of cash in your pocket if you pay attention & make careful choices. The possibility for losing money is there too though. I know many, many families who do this every time and make what we like to call “bank.” Finally, you can do a partial-PPM. You let the military contracted packers & movers do most of it, but you take some stuff. I recommend that families do a partial-PPM E.V.E.R.Y. time! Think about it, you’re going to haul a whole ton of stuff with you in your car alone. You can get paid for it! There are rules & forms but its fairly simple. We’ll walk through alllll of it I promise!
So that’s the basics of a PCS move. *insert laugh from every experienced military wife here* Notice I said BASICS. There are more details coming at you in a whole series of posts. If this is your first move, don’t worry! It seems overwhelming, and truthfully, it kinda is. But when you break it down, take it step by step and get help, its doable. I’m here to be that guide!
And the first place I recommend you starting is with a Whole Home Inventory! In fact, its something you should do even if you don’t have orders!