Ten years and seven moves as a military spouse has made the PCS cycle part of life’s rhythm. I’ve even developed the “wander itch,” that slightly uncomfortable feeling of having been in one place so long that you start anticipating something new. But, even though I’ve become comfortable with our frequent moves, there is one aspect that I still find impossible to reconcile myself with: That torturous period when you know orders are coming for your spouse but you have no idea what they may say. When you add in that I am both a bit of a control freak and that planning is my coping mechanism of choice, I’ve learned to turn the mental hell that is PCS limbo into a fine art.
My first dip into the PCS experience was being thrown straight into the deep end. Three days after finding out we were pregnant, and less than a month after finishing his company command, my soldier husband came home from work in the middle of the day. With him, he brought the news that we were moving to Missouri and that we needed to be there in 26 days.
“Of course we do.”
So began a whirlwind of coordination, driving routes and the realization that trying to house hunt long distance over the holidays for a home in a small town was a losing proposition.
Subsequent moves have taught me that first PCS had its own blessings. For one, I avoided PCS limbo, a state I’m currently sitting in eight years later.
Despite the experience of several PCS moves, not knowing what is coming around the corner is still the most challenging aspect of military life for me.
When he starts looking forward
In my family, this process starts in late winter, usually sometimes after the holidays, when we’ve been at an installation for about 18 months. My husband will start mentioning people we know who he has heard are moving or positions that are coming available. He’ll usually reach out to one of the mentors he is fortunate to have and he’ll share with me what he wrote to them and their response.
For me, this initiates a very subtle level of anxiety. It is an awareness that things are changing. I start making lists of things in our local area that I want to do before we leave. I stop making plans past June that I can’t reschedule or cancel. At this point, I don’t even have enough information to start pretending to research so I try not to think about all the things that worry me about moving. I largely fail in that effort, but I try.
When I can’t help but ask
As the weeks go by, I start to get impatient. There is a checklist starting to form in the back of my head. I can’t help but start asking questions even though I know that if my husband had heard any solid information I would know.
What would you say are the chances we PCS this summer?
If you had to bet, where do you think is the most likely place they’ll send you?
Has anyone said anything?
This is the point where I have to fight the urge to start pulling back a bit from our life here. I make myself put summer sports info on my calendar. I make note of interesting summer town festivals and bookmark upcoming discounts at the local water park. Until we actually have orders, the life we have right now marches forward. I have to remind myself to do that daily, but that’s okay.
When I embrace the time l have left
The more that the possibility of a PCS looms, the clearer everything I appreciate about our current assignment becomes. So, I dive back in and soak up the things I will miss most. A local restaurant where we’ve become regulars sees us more often. I make a point to invite friends over more often. Our weekends are spent checking off items on that list of things we still want to do.
That background hum of anxiety about what is coming next starts to pick up a little and become harder to ignore. As much as I’ve come to enjoy seeing new places, there is plenty about moving to make me nervous as well: School transitions, finding a new home, keeping our pets happy through a move. I handle the things that make me nervous by researching, by planning. Until we know where we’re headed, I can’t do that.
This in-between, knowing-but-not-knowing is an inescapable part of military life. What can we do about it?
We could ignore it. Embracing that we really don’t know what will happen and continuing on with our everyday life, stuffing that sense of anticipation and worry deeper where we don’t have to look at it. But that would also mean losing some of the best aspects of military life.
If there is one lesson military life teaches, it’s the value of living in the moment. Deployments have taught me to appreciate even the things that annoy me about daily life with my spouse because there have been too many days when he wasn’t there. TDYs and other short separations highlighted the importance and satisfaction of my own independence. The ebb and flow of friendships through over years and moves powers the idea that people are in our lives for a reason, even if it’s just a short time.
So, instead, I remind myself that it’s okay to be anxious and apprehensive about the looming possibility of more change, another move, a chaotic pack out, a cross country trip. It is a crystal clear reminder to take the time, amid the hustle of everyday life, to enjoy all the things that we love about where we’re at right now.
Now, let me set up my PCS binder … just so we’re ready.