All is well as you finally feel settled into your duty station. You have been able to do some exploring and sightseeing in the area. Plus being able to spend some quality family time with your service member is the best part.
Before long you find yourself thinking about what is in the cards for your next set of orders to a new duty station. The excitement of possibilities is swirling in your head. You think of exotic places like the Azores or Hawaii, or maybe Europe with the fine architecture. Even stateside orders can take you to great areas of the country. The options are plentiful and thrilling to think about. I got excited every time we came up for orders and the exciting possibilities that we would encounter!
But how do you get those orders? What is the process of taking the unknown out of receiving orders?
How PCS Orders Work
There are a few differences between enlisted and officers when it comes to receiving new orders. An officer generally calls their detailer/functional manager where they will discuss the options open to him/her.
The services have basically gone to a “want ad” process for enlisted. Therefore, enlisted service members fill out something like a “Dream Sheet” with the top three choices from a list of options for which they are qualified for. The service member will submit those choices, the commands take a look at the candidates, and choose the best fit for their billet. While we wait we cross our fingers and toes for whether our service member is selected for one of those billets.
The waiting is definitely the worst part!
It is important to remember that whether you are an enlisted member or an officer, there are no guarantees that you will get exactly what you want – let me rephrase that – it’s likely that you won’t.
But don’t let that keep you from dreaming BIG! My mother always said that if you don’t ask you’ll never know if it’s possible…the worst the detailer can say is ‘no’ and give another suggestion. The anxiety can sometimes get the best of us during this process. I talk about the emotional phases you could encounter in this post.
So I always prepared myself for the worst options and pleasantly surprised when it was better than that! My husband always says, “Orders are not suggestions, that’s why the military calls them orders!”
Discuss the Possibilities
Regardless of where you may go, you should sit down with your service member spouse and discuss the options for where you might want to go. Dream big, but remember the places must be possible for your service member’s skill set.
Once your service member has spoken to the detailer/functional manager or gotten his/her options for the next duty station, discuss the pros and cons of each place. Narrow down the options based on your pros and cons and rank them from best fit to worst fit for your family. Some things to think about when ranking them could be:
- Is this duty station/job good for the service member’s career?
- Are there ample opportunities for you to find a job?
- Are there good schools in the area?
- What kind of housing options are available? On or off base/post? Good, bad, or acceptable?
A family meeting is one of the best ways to get input from your children about an upcoming PCS. Of course, your children would need to be old enough to make a contribution to the discussion. However, don’t underestimate what even a young child can add.
Once you have narrowed down the choices to two or three places, gather the family around to discuss the options. I know my husband always felt the kids should be a part of the process. Sometimes their input or questions were things he hadn’t even thought of. It’s amazing to see their perspectives.
Another reason to include your children is that it will help ease their stress about the unknown. Ask them to research things that you could do as a family at the duty stations on the list. They could also look at the area schools and what they had to offer.
Getting them involved takes away the unknown factor, the possible anxiety they feel and will often get them excited about the possibilities ahead. Not to mention it cuts down a little of the work for you in making decisions because they are doing most of the research – SCORE!
The UnkNown of PCS Orders Continues
One thing we’ve learned in the many years of getting new orders is not to trust anything until you actually have hard copy orders. However, don’t bet your check on them because you may just lose it!
Orders continue to have an unknown factor because they can change with an ORDMOD (order modification). This is essentially a modification to your orders to redirect your service member spouse to a school en route or even change your duty station because of the needs of the military.
This happened to us one time when we were ordered to go to Ansbach, Germany and then received an ORDMOD to Giebelstadt, Germany AFTER we had already begun executing them. I had already done all the research (this was before kids) and gotten excited about Ansbach, only to get a call from my husband that we were redirected to Giebelstadt. So back to the drawing board and researching another place. Luckily, it all turned out fine and we loved being at Giebelstadt.
While PCS moves are an integral part of the military, they don’t have to be dreaded. Understanding how orders work may not take away the unknown completely. However, it at least helps you to have a perspective on the process.
Always keep in mind the most important part of receiving orders is the discussions with your family which help alleviate some of the unknown and anxiety that accompanies getting PCS orders and makes for a smoother transition.
What are some tips you have done to help your family get through the unknown process of getting PCS orders?
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Elizebeth is a seasoned military spouse, educator, mentor, and mom to a blended family of four children. She is dedicated to helping fellow spouses create a life they love. Elizebeth is the creator and founder of Home Anchor Following Seas where military spouses will find advice and information to help navigate the crazy military lifestyle.