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Military PCS Lessons Learned

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Military PCS Lessons Learned

This is an article and conglomeration of lessons learned from military permanent changes of station (PCS). This information was compiled from many users' posts on the Baseops.net Discussion Forums

Areas of Focus:

Change of Address
Base-Specific Advice (Canon AFB, Minot AFB, Aviano AB)
Moving Overseas
Moving Back to the States
Advice for Families with Kids
Miscellaneous PCS Advice
Sponsor Advice


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Change of Address
One of the biggest pains about PCSing or moving is changing all my addresses. So I made a list of people/places that you will need to change your address with. Obviously it will be different for each person but I tried to make it general. I have only PCSed 3 times so I am a beginner compared to most and these are the ones I have came up with:

  • Update your MyPay online account. Along with addresses, don't forget about bank account info if you do get a new bank at the new PDS. Be sure to update MyPay for your payroll, if applicable.
  • One that seems to get missed more often lately is the account information in DTS. Be sure to view your information in your profile the first time you create a new authorization. You can edit the account info prior to signing the authorization or voucher. Check the box to update to your permanent profile and you'll be set for all subsequent claims. When your DTS account is detached from your old unit and later received to the new, the account info stays intact. I know many have separate accounts for the travel voucher payments.
  • Postal Service
  • ID Card
  • USAA (Checking/ Credit Card/ Car, Home, & Renters Insurances)
  • Loan Agencies
  • Military Stuff
  • vRED on vMPF
  • DEERS
  • Tricare
  • Gov Travel Card (Have unit switched and activate card)
  • Cell Phone Company
  • Pilotís License Stuff (FAA)
  • Clubs (Officerís Club, Netflix)

Base-Specific Advice
If you are going to your permanent flying base-- buy rather than rent if you aren't living on base-- especially since you get VA, and it's generally a sellers market in military communities (despite what the economists say)

Cannon AFB
-- I lived east of town, but the neighborhood I lived in was hit by tornado. Base housing there is not on base. It's about 15 miles east of base. The Shifty Fifty owns the town. There is a new cancer ward built there, and the university in Portales is expanding-- good jobs for wives.

Minot AFB
-- The best place to live is west of town, if you are living downtown. It's expanding. If you live just outside of town you save about $1200-3000 a year in taxes.  On base at Minot, don't put anything in the basement-- they flood.  Also pitbulls are illegal, if you own one you have to live outside of town or on base. You will get a police escort on base if you travel to Minot with one. Most vets won't treat them either.  For spouses high employment rate, LOW wages... Chamber of commerce keeps the wages near minimum wage. A teacher with 5 years experience gets paid less than $30K a year. Lots of hospital jobs though. Minotians are notoriously CHEAP. You won't find good expensive brand names here if your SO is into shopping-- MPLS is 8 hours away. However, if you are into hunting, fishing, or biking there are some really good stores. There's over 30 miles of bike trails in and around city proper, and about three road bike stores.

Aviano AB -- Apply for dependent No-Fee Passports as soon as you get your RIP; they need that passport, which is different than a tourist passport, to apply for a Visa. The whole process can take from 10 weeks to six months. This has been a very common problem and your dependents CANNOT take the rotator or fly space-a without both. They can fly commercially to Italy, but can only stay for 90 days. You also need a visa to get a driverís license, so they cannot legally drive, either.

  • If you are going to take the rotator, the spots for pets fill up 90 days in advance. You can reserve your petís seat as soon as you get your RIP.
  • If you are planning on shipping a car, take it to the port as soon as you can afford to do so. It took us 50 days for our car to arrive in Italy and rental cars are generally more expensive than in the states.
  • Ship your unaccompanied baggage about 30 days before you think youíll want it there. Put everything in there that you think youíll want because it will take about 60-70 days for your household goods to get there. In fact, put more in there than you think youíll need because youíll end up needing it. Count as much as you can for pro gear, which doesnít count against your weight allowance and they always overestimate the weight of the pro gear (which really helps you since you could actually ship much more than your allotted amount for baggage). Uniforms do not count, but job related books, gear, and even computers and printers count as pro gear. Make sure you at least put in a full set of bedding, including pillows, sheets and a blanket, towels, some pots and pans, a few dishes, office supplies, lots of clothes, uniforms you canít fit in your actual luggage, even a small TV if you have one. Anything you think will be within the weight allowance that youíll want in the first month and a half that youíll be there without your household goods.
  • If you donít have a laptop, consider getting one. The TLF has wireless internet in the lobby of all the buildings; I even got reception in my room. Download Skype and you can call back to the states for about 2-3 cents per minute.
  • There are a few cell phone options, almost all the companies do prepaid, pay by the minute, but you can find some plans. However, you will not find a plan like you have in the states and youíll probably get stuck paying something per call regardless. There are at least three phone stores in Aviano, including one on base where you can buy the phone and plan pretty quickly. If youíre picky about the phone you want, you could also get one off Ebay before you get here. Just make sure it is a GSM unlocked phone that has coverage for 900 and 1800, which are the most common frequencies in Italy. If you do that, all you need to buy is a chip and put it in your phone when you show up. TIM has the largest coverage and has calls for about 10 cents/min to anyone else using TIM, but other companies have good deals too.
  • High speed internet is spreading pretty well. As of spring 07, if you lived a little ways away from the mountain and south of base, you should be able to get DSL. That is running about $50 a month plus a bunch of setup fees. However, it can take as long as two months to get your phone hooked up, so plan on being without for a while. There is also a wi-fi option; you can buy a receiver from Vodafone (one of the cell phone companies) and for $50/month you get 100 hours and free weekendsÖif you can get reception. Many of the towns are very rural and do not get good reception. If you live in one of the bigger towns, youíre probably in luck.
  • The housing here isnít too bad, most of the houses are not nearly as small as you expect a European house to be. You can go to the Aviano website off the portal from a .mil computer, go to the newcomer section, then the housing and you can look at their housing listings. There is no on base housing, but there is government housing, which is clumps of government houses spread throughout the nearby towns. Basically works the same as normal base housing. The biggest downside is that since you are in a big clump, it is obvious that you are Americans. Economy housing is decent here but can be hit or miss. Some guys get lucky and have a huge, very nice house and sometimes it can be pretty tough to find anything acceptable. When you get here, check the housing website every morning, the good ones go fast. Also, check to see if anybody in your squadron is leaving, thatís a good way to find a good house. A lot of the really good houses just get handed down through the squadron. The OHA is not like BAH, if you spend under the cap, you donít get the extra money, so you might as well find as nice of a place as you can within the cap. Also, many landlords will add a condo fee, which includes all the utilities except water and heating. This is a very good thing, because if you are still under your cap, you have that many less utilities to pay for out of your utility allowance and this time you do get to keep the extra. Also, you can often unofficially negotiate upgrades to the house, like A/C and get a portion of the cost added to the rent, which you donít pay anyway.
  • Make sure you have a normal tourist passport for yourself and all your dependents (even pets need one that you get when you arrive). The travel opportunities are awesome and Iíve been told that if you finish the tour with more than a few days of leave left over, youíre an idiot.
  • If you are considering buying appliances before you get here, try to get ones that can run on both 110 and 220v. The BX here has a good selection of TVs that work both in the states and locally (the TV system works differently here: a normal US TV wonít be able to get local channels if you care about that, but AFN isnít too far behind on playing shows from home, so youíre not really missing anything by not watching Italian TVÖexcept naked women after 11pm). Itís nice to not have to plug everything into the three transformers that you get issued.
  • Check your credit card to see if it charges you a foreign transaction fee. Most cards do, usually 1-3% which they add to whatever you buy off base, but if you look around you can find some that donít.
  • Most small kitchen appliances and things like lamps, alarm clocks, and microwaves do not work here. Donít even bother bringing them, because youíll just have to store them in your quite possibly small house. However, youíre issued three transformers that you can plug these things into if you canít live without them. Itís a big pain to drag the transformers all over the house just so you can plug in your favorite desk lamp. Most people moving out are willing to sell their 220v stuff, so you can get those things fairly easily when you get here.

Moving Overseas
When going overseas, be sure to ask your sponsor very specifically what the best way is to get your flying professional gear & life support gear (helmet, etc) "over there" in a timely fashion - you would like to have it waiting for you upon arrival, and you probably don't want to bother with hand-carrying it on the trip. You can get reimbursed for some shipping options (I don't remember the details), but some methods are significantly slower than others. This burned me when I PCSd to Yokota.  I did Parcel Post because, at the time, that's what I understood would be reimbursed. Big mistake. Took 2-3 months for my gear to show up. In hindsight, I would have paid for it all out-of-pocket to get it sooner, if necessary. You'll be making good coin overseas anyway; don't skimp on smart shipping...

When you PCS overseas you should get two shipments. Unaccompanied baggage and your household goods. Unaccompanied I think runs around 300-500lbs allowable (may depend on rank/destination) and is supposed to arrive within 30 days. This is typically things you will need quickly upon arriving at your new duty station...ie, kitchen stuff, sheets, blankets ect. You can ship your pro-gear with unaccompanied and it won't count against your weight allowance. And you can get creative on what counts as pro-gear. Two trips to Kadena and my unaccompanied has always arrived within 2 weeks.

If you want to mail stuff to yourself, you can send it through the good ole USPS. It can be sent priority mail and insured. You will get reimbursed up to what the gov't would have paid for the same weight through your Unaccompanied baggage (which is normally all of it). They will not reimburse the insurance though. All of this weight counts against your overall weight allowance as well (unless it's pro-gear).

Moving Back to the States
When PCS'ing back to the states from Europe (I presume, all overseas), you can get the TMO folks to pay to ship any wine/liquor that you've accumulated over here. You have to jump through a couple of hoops. I don't remember all the details, but basically, find a shipper. Pay the money to ship the alcohol and take the receipt to the TMO who will type up a letter authorizing you the reimbursement. Take the letter and x copies of orders to finance at the losing base and you get reimbursed just like filing a travel voucher. If you're leaving overseas anytime soon, just ask at TMO. They have all the details.

Also, one of the best kept secrets about leaving overseas and heading home is what is known as "circuitous travel". This is the ability to take leave in conjunction with your PCS back to the states and jump on a plane where ever it is that you end up. For example, you can leave Ramstein, go to Paris for a couple of days, then go to Amsterdam for several days and then head over to London for a couple more days before boarding a flight back to the states from London. Normally, you are authorized to depart from Frankfurt to head back to the states from Ramstein and would have to leave from Frankfurt so after taking leave you would have to ultimately end up back in Frankfurt to catch your flight. With circuitous travel authorized, they will figure out which ticket is cheaper (Frankfurt to the states or London, from the example) and you will be reimbursed up to the cost of the flight from Frankfurt. You get to take a great trip and leave from the airport of your choosing and more than likely not have to pay anything.

FYI, when I left Ramstein AB, Germany, back in 2002, you had to ask specifically for circuitous travel. The travel people did not bring it up in the out processing briefing. When I asked they would not discuss it in the group, but instead they had me stay afterward to get the entitlement put on my orders. One more time that you have to know more than the man.

PCS Advice for Families with Kids
1. Make sure your kids hear the news from you first. Children are extremely perceptive and can generally tell when something out of the norm is taking place. They trust their parents to keep them informed.
2. Empower your children to make as many decisions as possible. Maybe they can have some say over the time of a move, or in the type of neighborhood you'll live in.
3. Let family priorities guide your decisions.
4. Do your research about cost of living, quality of schools, availability of day care, suitability of neighborhoods, and proximity of shopping, houses of worship and local amenities.
5. Carefully consider when the move should take place.
6. Involve your children in plans for family pets- taking care of a pet can be a welcome distraction, and the promise of a new pet may increase the appeal of a new home.
7. If no one volunteers to do so, don't be afraid to throw your own goodbye party.
8. Take tangible keepsakes with you; memories can fade quickly.
9. Recognize the importance of your child's personal belongings, which are often sources of security and comfort.
10. Use the move as a chance to reorganize: Develop a to-do list, get rid of clutter, store small items in small containers, let kids develop organizational systems, and break large projects into small tasks.
11. Make the move an adventure--go on a a treasure hunt for landmarks in your new community, take photos or videos, and prepare for the actual physical move by bringing a bag of treats for each child and playing games while flying or riding in the car.
12. Support your children as they mourn leaving behind familiar people, places and routines.
13. Take deliberate steps to ease the transition to a new schoolóvisit before enrolling your children so they become familiar with the building, the rules and the teachers. Or explore the schoolís Web site, then call and talk with the principal, guidance counselor or a teacher. If your child has specific needs, make sure theyíre known.
14. Make the most of a temporary homeóplace framed family pictures around the rooms, bring your own comforters and pillows so sleeping areas look familiar, clean less and play more, and relax some family rules.
15. Donít wait for new friends to come to you. Introduce yourself to others, invite other kids over to play, host a get-acquainted party, get involved in school activities.
16. Even if you know this is a short-term move, approach it as if itís not. Settle in, make friends, become a part of the community.
17. Create a sense of belonging in your new homeólearn about local history and geography, visit museums and historical sites, attend festivals, read the newspaper, try the cuisine.
18. Always remember that being a part of a loving family is whatís most important.
19. If the resources you need arenít thereóorganized activities, child care, ways to get acquainted Ėtake a leadership role in creating them.
20. Send out your own welcome wagon by taking the initiative in welcoming other newcomers.
21. Donít forget to take care of yourself during the stress of a move.
22. Keep in touch with old friends.
23. Model a positive attitude, even during dissatisfaction with the moving experience, and find things to laugh about.
24. Use storytelling to celebrate your family historyóspend time looking at photos, watch home videos, talk about the places youíve lived.
25. View the experience as a new beginningóswap piano lessons for dance classes, try a different sport, get new haircuts.

Miscellaneous PCS Advice

  • Inventory your stuff, Microsoft Access has a really good Database, or you can go to Family Readiness (Support Center it's called now) and get a software version of the stuff. Write down serial numbers on all electronics. Go on Ebay and estimate the value of your valuables.
  • Good site to know if you have china-- www.replacements.com-- I have pre-occupation China set from my grandmother, the movers broke several pieces, I found them on this site, expensive as all hell, but I got them replaced :).
  • Call the base housing and find out how big your housing is at the next base, married guys. I know many a person who came back from Germany with the beautiful hutch set only to get like a 800 sq ft.
  • If you are moving stateside it's financially advantageous to do a Partial DITY.
  • Don't stick your wife with all the moving stuff and go TDY. My husband did that on our move to Germany, went ahead and did SOS in residence while I was separating and dealing with medical issues. I just about had a coronary.
  • If you are going overseas, try to time a new car with your return trip ;)... You can get a 5-series Bimmer really cheap in Germany, plus you get VAT, and free shipping. Another overseas secret is www.lastminutetravel.com.
  • If you don't trust the movers, carry it yourself.
  • Another moving tip-- if you are planning a moving sale-- sell your books on Ebay. At garages sales, I get normally around $.25-.50 a book, on ebay I sold books for $5-6.
  • A JFTR update effective 25 Sep authorizes payment of 20 cents a mile on PCS regardless of the number of dependents (or no dependents).  Effective 25 September 2007 -- 1. MALT Rate. The MALT paid (see par. U2605 for the rate) is determined by the official distance for which MALT may be paid under the circumstances (as determined IAW the applicable provisions of this regulation). An authorized traveler is a member or dependent traveling IAW a PCS order and whose transportation is to be reimbursed using a PCS order as authority. If more than one member travels as an authorized traveler in the same POC, each is authorized MALT for the official distance. Each member is authorized MALT and one member receives the reimbursable expenses.

Sponsor Advice
If you have someone arriving, especially someone with family with them, a cooler full of about 3-4 days worth of food (bread, peanut butter, lunch meats, cereal, milk, water, sodas, etc.) is a welcomed sight. The Army major that was my sponsor when I got to Belgium did that, and it turned into a tradition for the three people I sponsored during my time there.

The key to any PCS is a good sponsor. Get in touch with him/her early and talk a lot. Let your spouses talk to their spouses, even kids to kids if the ages are close. Email makes this easy. I have to say that although I felt I was pretty self-sufficient during the numerous PCS moves we made during my career, in retrospect the ones that were easier were the ones where we had a great sponsor.
 

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