Determining where your military-family lifestyle will unfold is a complex issue. For one thing, the soldier tends to have little say in the matter, other than perhaps ranking his or her preferences for the next duty location. For another, your active duty spouse’s permanent change of station (PCS) orders can change annually or every few years. The determining factor is “what does the military need and where?”
You can choose to look at this morosely and feel put-out, or you can embrace the experience. Personally, my approach towards optimism about this topic has taken me years to achieve; I was very pessimistic about the military system and PCSing at the start of my marriage. I felt that the military was infringing on my personal choices. Over the years however, I have come to experience and benefit from the system (like my spouse said I would…), and so I hope you readers take to heart that the military system, and PCSing especially, is what you make of it. To read more about my personal experience, click here.
There is a reason why many military recruiting posters emphasize the “Join… and See the World!” aspect of becoming a member of the armed forces. You, as the civilian spouse, can reap the benefits of the system by making the most of it and discovering new places and ways to live life fully.
Prioritizing your location preferences is key to approaching living on/near and moving to/from military installations with a positive attitude. There is absolutely no guarantee that you will get your first choice, second or even third choice duty location, but if you provide no input, then you are missing a great opportunity to try to influence the process. In some instances, soldiers are interviewed for their next position, in which case they may be asked to name their primary location request and discuss why they have made this choice. Make sure you have provided your input to this decision-making process.
For example, prior to my active duty spouse completing his previous position, he discussed with his command the opportunities available for his next duty position and locations. Together we discussed these locations and what each would mean for our lifestyle, my work opportunities, and our distance from relatives. We then prioritized the list of possible locations and job roles. As a result of our preparation, we were better informed of our options, and my spouse was able to research each role and was much better prepared for the interview process. We ended up receiving PCS orders to our first-choice station, and we were both content with the relocation.
Discuss the important variables of your lives as individuals and as a family unit. What considerations matter? For example, is your active duty spouse immediately deploying? Will your job relocate you or do you need to search for a new one? What are the school ratings around where you would be living? Are there schools on post? Are you considering further education or graduate school and is your field of study taught at a facility near a military installation? Does an immediate family member have special needs to consider? What type of lifestyle do you enjoy – mountains, beaches, cities, or rural areas? Do you want to be nearer or farther from your relatives?
Be involved so you may come to understand the implications of moving and living with the military. For example, did you know that if your children have special needs, such as medical attention or rare conditions, the military is committed to locating your family at an installation that has those services available either on site or in the surrounding cities? (Known as the Exceptional Family Member Program, EFMP). You need to be your number one advocate in this process. Discuss your career path at work and determine whether your company has offices that sync with military installation locations and factor this consideration into your discussions.
As a military spouse it is easy to let frustrations build over the hardships experienced in this lifestyle, which sometimes seem above-and-beyond those with which civilian families contend. Whether its the late nights or weekend hours, the missed family events, the stress of deployment, the stress and instability of moving and resettling your affairs, or feeling a lack of ‘home’, being involved in the relocation process can improve your marital relationship by reducing any resentments you may feel at being ‘excluded’ from decisions that affect your life.