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Steps to take and resources to consult when you receive PCS orders
When you receive Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders, you're bound to have mixed feelings. You're likely to be excited about the upcoming change and the chance to meet new people and see new places. But you're also likely to feel stressed about the logistics of the move and about helping family members -- especially children and teenagers -- with the transition. Fortunately, there are steps you can take and resources available to help you make plans, stay organized, help your children -- and keep a step ahead while you move.
Gaining a sense of control over your move can help ease the stress. Whether this is your first move or your fifteenth, it's a good idea to:
Create a "command center" for your move. This is a central location for the details -- including "to-do" lists -- that relate to your move. This is also the place to keep all of your important documents (orders, medical records, Powers of Attorney, wills, birth certificates, passports, last statements for accounts if they aren't electronic). A large accordion-pleated binder works well for this. Even if you're keeping lists and other documents on your computer, be sure to make hard copies for your command center.
Prioritize. Rather than trying to do it all at once, make an "A" list, a "B" list, and a "C" list, depending on what needs to be done first. This can help you focus on the "deal-breakers" -- what's most important to get done.
Once you have orders in hand, contact your installation's Transportation Office to find out what is needed to set up the move. If the service member is deployed, the spouse will need a Power of Attorney to take care of the details. Be sure to access http://www.apd.army.mil//pdffiles/p55_2.pdf for other helpful official information about moving.
Visit your current installation's relocation office for information to help you with the move.
Connect with friends who have lived on your new installation or are living there now. They'll be able to answer many of your questions from a first-hand perspective. Ask friends at your current installation for names of people they know at your new location.
Find out about the new community. Check with your current installation's relocation office to find out if your new installation can send you a "welcome aboard" package. If you aren't near an installation now, call your new installation's relocation office. You can also:
Access the Web site for the Chamber of Commerce that serves your new town or area.
See if your new town has a Web site by using the town and state as search terms.
Prepare a list of important phone numbers and addresses to keep with you as you move and when you arrive at your new location. Be sure to include:
The phone number and address of the nearest hospital (You can find this through your town's Web site or through your Family Support Center.)
The phone number of your new Family Support Center
The Military OneSource phone number: 1-800-342-9647
The phone number of the administrative office of your child's new school
As you begin to plan, be sure to contact your service branch's resource for helping with PCS moves:
The Army Community Service Center, at each installation, offers a Relocation Readiness program that provides comprehensive help with relocation issues -- including preparing to move, the move itself, and handling stress.
Helping your children and teenagers
No matter what age your children are, there are steps you can take to help them with the transition. Keep in mind that from the very beginning -- when you first get PCS orders -- it's important to:
Acknowledge your children's feelings. Make sure they know that it's OK to feel anxious about the move. Even though you'll be busy, it's important to make time to sit and talk about what the move will mean for everyone.
Be a role model with a positive attitude. Try to convey to your child that, even though moving can be hard, it's also an adventure. Although it's important to acknowledge the stresses of moving, it's also important to focus on the good things about relocating: expanding your community of friends and learning about new places.
Helping younger children
Give your child pictures of the new installation and surrounding area. Young children benefit from having a concrete idea of where they will be. Try to find photographs of your new community -- the installation, library, school, and recreation areas -- print them out, and give your child a folder to keep them in.
Try to keep routines intact. Even though you'll be extremely busy organizing the details of the move, it's important to keep in mind that children are comforted by the routines of daily life. Bu continuing to have your usual Friday-night popcorn, bedtime reading, Saturday walk to the library -- or whatever rituals you enjoy together -- you will reassure your child that many of the important things in life stay the same, even when you're getting ready to move.
Help a younger child make an address book with pictures, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. An older child or teenager will appreciate an address book, too. Knowing that they will be able to stay in touch with old friends easily can help make the move feel less stressful.
Visit online resources with your child that are specifically written for military children.
Relocating can be especially stressful for teenagers, whose emotional states are often in some sort of turmoil even without the knowledge of a coming move. It's important to make sure your teenager is included in the decisions she can be included in from the start. It's also important to make sure your teenager understands the details of the move. "Helping Your Teenager Cope with Relocation," available on the Military OneSource Web site, offers strategies for parents relocating with teenagers.
Encourage your teenager to attend relocation briefings. Some installations may have relocation workshops for children and teens. Check your installation's relocation office or family support center to see what's available.
Tell your teenager about the move as soon as possible. You may be tempted to delay breaking the news, but it's best to tell your teenager right away. Knowing about the move well ahead will give your teenager time to prepare emotionally and to start planning.
Suggest that your teenager visit online resources for teenagers in military families.
If your child has special needs
If your child has special needs, you will have some extra steps to take as you get ready to move. Be sure to:
Contact the coordinator or advisor for your service branch. This is your Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) coordinator (for the Navy and Marine Corps), your Special Needs Advisor (Army), or for the Air Force, the Special Needs Coordinator (SNC) and Family Member Relocation Clearance Coordinator (FMRCC).
Taking care of yourself
In order to navigate the adventure (and the boxes) ahead, you need to take all the steps you can to take care of yourself. Be sure to:
Ask for help. There are many resources available to help you, including other families on your installation. People will be happy to give you a hand by watching your children as you pack or even helping with some of the nitty-gritty details. Every military family knows the challenges of making a move and the importance of support from friends.
Make a point of spending time with friends and co-workers before you leave. Although you may feel as though you can't squeeze one more thing into your schedule, it's important to connect in person before you go.
Make time every day for some exercise. This can simply be a twenty-minute walk. Exercise, even for this amount of time, can be a great mind-clearer and stress-reducer.
Be sure to drink lots of water. It can be easy to become dehydrated when you're preoccupied with the details of a move. Try to keep water bottles at several locations in your home as you plan and pack.
Eat well. You may be so busy that you forget to eat meals -- which can lead to tiredness and lack of energy. Think about making a supply of sandwiches a day ahead and keeping them in the fridge along with some chopped up fruit and vegetables. Energy bars can come in handy, too -- you can keep one in your pocket or bag for emergencies.
Watch your back! You and other family members are likely to be lifting boxes on both ends of your move. It's important to understand the basics about keeping your back healthy in spite of lifting.