Army 101 / Histrionics / PCS

Our biggest PCS mistakes, abridged

We are officially moved into our beautiful, if delayed, California home, which means we’re finally on the tail end of our first PCS. Our reward: 70 and mostly sunny while Maryland and DC contemplate their snow days. Sorry, family and friends.

Getting through a Permanent Change of Station (mostly) alive is a military wife rite of passage. And I’ve noticed that PCS stories run rampant across a scale of “piece of cake!” to “pass me a Klonopin.” No matter how much reading and preparing you do, it seems the general consensus is that all PCS experiences are different, and it’s best to go in expecting to withstand small failures, mild humiliations, and occasional insomnia. Which sounds similar to how I went through high school, so at least I was familiar with it.

Now that our first PCS is winding down, I’ve taken some time to carefully unpack most of my shoes, and reflect on how the experience went for us.

Our biggest mistakes:

  1. Waiting too long to apply for military housing. Rookie mistake.
  2. Not pre-packing. Part of the army’s moving deal is that you will not only be provided with a moving company and their manpower to load your belongings, but that manpower will also pack all your belongings into boxes for you. Which is hands-down fantastic. But when all of this is scheduled for one day, those movers are focusing much more on speed and much less on your OCD. The end result was, for example, that my bedside table lamp was broken down into four separate pieces, all four of which were packed into different boxes–and some were wrapped individually in bundles of old t-shirts that you probably won’t unpack right away because old t-shirts are not as essential as all the hair products you haven’t had access to for the last month. I ended up having to open every single box that first day just to get whole things put together, and I narrowly avoided a panic attack after finding all my craft supplies wrapped in packing paper and tucked into a trunk with Jonathan’s army cold-weather gear.
  3. Driving across the country separately. It’s a good thing USAA has really good auto insurance.

Things we brought with us on purpose that ended up being very important:

  • Rolls of quarters (This became important when we found out our military community was out of washers and dryers, so we’d have to use a laundromat until a pair became available. Which happened, no joke, exactly 60 minutes after we decided to go ahead and purchase a washer and dryer.)
  • Our checkbooks
  • An air mattress (that the dog remains very skeptical about)
  • Flip flops
  • A suitcase filled entirely with dog toys (90% of which were chewed through in the first two weeks. Moving is stressful.)
  • Most of our yoga pants/basketball shorts

Things I brought on purpose that ended up being obsolete:

  • Hello Kitty rain boots (You know why there are so many forest fires in California? BECAUSE IT NEVER RAINS.)
  • 8-10 scarves
  • Jillian Michaels DVDs (Sorry, Jillian.)
  • Basically my entire wardrobe (Good thing I brought three little black dresses. You know, for all the cocktail parties I had to attend while unpacking a kitchen box covered in spilled chocolate protein powder. I would have been so under dressed.)
  • Our pillows (See below.)

Things we forgot that would have been extremely useful:

  • Our pillowcases
  • All of our yoga pants and basketball shorts (Because you know what’s not fun so I avoid it? Going to the laundromat.)
  • Pre-packed overnight bags (You know what else isn’t fun? When all of your daily essentials are in three or four separate suitcases. So to avoid lugging them all up to your fourth hotel room in five days, you just stuff some clean underwear into your pocket. And then the underwear falls out of your pocket while you’re walking across the hotel lobby in front of a bunch of Mormons.)
  • A printed-out copy of Jonathan’s PCS orders (Yes. We seriously forgot this.)

Things we brought with us because the movers forgot to pack them, but ended up being very important:

  • A shower curtain (For when you have to move into your house before your belongings get there, but your husband still has to go to work not smelling like he’s been cleaning up a nervous puppy’s diarrhea all day.)
  • Brita filter and pitcher

Things we got for Christmas during our PCS that ended up being very important:

  • A very large wine glass
  • Whiskey stones
Army wife wine glass

Thanks for the wine glass, Michelle! You have no idea how necessary it was.

And, last but not least…

Our biggest success:

  1. Being pessimistic

That sounds awful. I know. But it was my personal saving grace. Did it totally suck when I nearly died driving through an ice storm and we had to extend our cross-country road trip? Yes. Did it suck even more when I got into a car accident on that same trip, two hours from our destination? Did it suck to be stuck in a hotel for our first Christmas together, and did it suck when our move-in was delayed? Yes, yes, and yes. But, somewhere in my constant conscious thought, I was ready for something and anything to go wrong. So did it suck? Yes. But was I able to deal with it? …Yes. Which I’m honestly still kind of surprised about, given my tendency to panic over much less (i.e. running out of mascara).

It’s impossible to expect all the possible unexpected. But it is possible to put yourself in a mindset that will prepare you to deal with the unexpected. That having been said, we were lucky with our first PCS. Of all the things that can go truly wrong with a military move, we experienced a relatively mild few. Our house was only delayed a week or so; nearly all of our belongings survived the move unhurt; and we made it to the other side safe, sound, and fairly untraumatized, despite a few bumps and bruises.

(Just don’t look at the number of empty wine bottles currently in our recycling bin.)

What were your biggest successes and failures during a PCS or big move? What’s the one thing you didn’t bring with you that you wish you had?

One thought on “Our biggest PCS mistakes, abridged

  1. I don’t know anything about PCS moving, but I did do a cross-country move from TX to NY, during which I learned several things:
    -You have way more stuff than you think you do.
    -You can make a lot of money selling all your furniture on Craigslist, but will ultimately wish you had found a way to take it all with you.
    -Your moving guy is probably going to either be weird or smell bad or have dreadlocks. Possibly all three. I don’t think I was prepared for that.
    -When driving across the country and looking for places to grab a bite, you will frequently encounter the Cracker Barrel. It’s great once, but not so great more than once in one week. Unless you like the feeling of bloating and having to poop.
    -Don’t plan to stop for dinner in Arkansas. There is literally NOTHING outside of Little Rock. Except a McDonald’s, and the whole state is going to be there – even at 2 AM.
    -You’re going to feel like an outsider when driving through those new states. People can tell that you are. Especially that guy at the gas station who keeps staring. Just roll with it.
    -When you arrive at your destination, you’re going to be really freaking tired/lazy and won’t feel like unpacking everything all at once. So, it’s really important that you at least move your stuff somewhere it can sit for a while. In other words, don’t leave your favorite IKEA lamp behind the wheel of your dad’s truck.
    -Choose your driving partner wisely. If you’re going to spend three days in a car together, the odds are tipped in the favor of homicide. So drive with somebody whose temperament matches yours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *