Tuesday, August 20, 2013

5 Tips for Managing your First PCS

So, the original purpose of the blog was to document some aspects of my family's military life. I'm sure many of my readers have discovered that Army families are not all that different from "normal" American families. There are some things that are vastly different though (deployments and frequent moves especially). Today, I'll be sharing some tips I've picked up from the four major moves we've made. Hopefully, this information will be helpful to spouses embarking upon their first PCS.

1. Research the area you will be moving to.

Thinking back on my family's first PCS, I was excited! I was 18 with a new husband and infant, I was going to leave a lot of my family and friends behind, move to a new state, and face new challenges as a military family. Who am I kidding? I was mostly scared and I made the mistake of not researching the area we were moving to. In today's internet culture it is easier than ever to find all kinds of information about the areas you'll be moving to. A trend for military installations is to have an "underground" message board where spouses can talk about anything they want. These sites are excellent sources for business reviews, community resources, and neighborhood information. A word of caution: Most (if not all) of these sites are viewable by the public. There are few privacy options, so use common sense when posting. Unfortunately, these sites can also be quite dramatic, and depending on the site's moderators, you might find some questionable language and content. Try searching (name of installation)underground. Some other sources of information are:
  • the installation's main website, MWR page, and Facebook page
  • post housing's website and Facebook page
  • "Mommy" sites like cafemom
  • if you have unit information, see if they have a Facebook page

2. Know your housing options.

If this is your first move, it's probably not a good idea to jump right into a mortgage. Of course, this is a personal choice, but make sure you do plenty of research before buying. Check out this article on military.com about buying vs. renting. If your Soldier's orders say that the family is allowed to come too, then you are authorized to live in on post housing. Most (if not all) military housing is now privatized. This means that the military no longer oversees the housing on post. Private companies are now in charge of leases and maintenance. Visit your new installation's housing website to find information on housing eligibility (which neighborhoods and how large of a house you are permitted) and waitlist times. Some posts allow you to get on the list before you arrive as long as you have orders. Others require you to wait until you get there. This can be unnerving when you see a waitlist of 3-6 months or longer. It's important to know that because families are constantly moving, the wait times can be a lot shorter than the estimate, sometimes taking as little as one week after arrival. Consult your housing office for their advice on interim housing options. Month to month leases off post offer flexibility so that when a home on post is available, you won't have to break a lease (and pay a fine) to move. These can be more expensive than year or six month long leases. A word on temporary lodging: Some posts will only reimburse your lodging expenses upon arrival if you stay in the on post hotel. There are exceptions to the rule for pets and statements of unavailability. This policy can vary, so call post lodging to be sure.

3. The military will move your household goods.

Your Soldier should visit the transportation office to schedule pickup for your household goods and vehicle (if you plan to fly). A member of the team will make an appointment to assess how much will be moved. You'll then get a moving date. Movers will arrive and box up all of your possessions, so if there are things you'll need during the move, put them in a separate place, such as a closet, that is clearly marked as untouchable. There will be a lot of paperwork involved so that each item or box is tracked and ends up in your new destination. Sometimes, the moving company will arrive before you do. In these cases, the company will store your goods until you arrive then bring them to you when you are ready to move into your new home. If you end up needing to move off post while waiting for on post housing, the movers will bring your stuff there, then come back out to pack you up and move you on post when housing is available. This policy can vary from post to post, and with the sequestration we are experiencing now, big changes could be in our future. The best sources of current information are the transportation office and the housing office. Here's a brief list of items you might want to keep off the moving truck to make your PCS more comfortable. Depending on how much space you have during the move, you might consider doing a partial DITY move. (This is where you move some of your belongings and get paid to do so. Consult the transportation office for details.)
  • air mattress, pump, sheets/blankets
  • paper plates, cups, napkins
  • cooking utensils, pot/pan
  • cleaning supplies (most of which cannot be transported on the moving truck anyway)
  • towels and clothes
  • important documents
  • toiletries
  • electronics and chargers
  • medications
  • a few toys and things to keep the kids occupied on the trip
If you decide to let transportation take all of your household goods, when you get to your new installation, you can visit the lending closet if your post has one. This is where you can borrow household goods to use until yours arrives. This can also be used when you are leaving an installation, after transportation has taken your stuff but before you leave.

4. Plan some fun along the way.

PCS trips can be stressful and drawn out. Be flexible with your lodging plans along the way, and try to plan some fun as you go. I'm not talking about hitting every theme park from point A to B or trekking 500 miles out of the way to see Texas' biggest ball of string. Picnics at rest areas are easy things to do that allow your kids to get out of the car and run around a bit. Pack some bubbles or a ball for a good diversion. Many rest areas have historic markers and offer you a chance to expose your kids to some interesting facts about the state you're in. When mapping your route, see if there are any local attractions or noteworthy eateries along the way. You'd be amazed by all the great things this country has to offer within 5 miles of the interstate.


5. Plan to connect with your new FRG.

See my post here about the value of the FRG (Family Readiness Group). If you are a new spouse, you will undoubtedly have questions about your new home that websites just can't answer. When your Soldier gets signed into his new unit, ask him/her to give your email address and/or phone number to the FRSA (Family Readiness Support Assistant). The FRSA should contact you and welcome you into the Battalion or Brigade (depending on the level he or she is located at) and give your information to your company FRG leader. Some units are painfully low on volunteerism, so it might take a little while for them to contact you. Be patient, but plan to reach out if you haven't heard anything by the end of the first month. Your FRG was established to provide you with training and information that will prove helpful when your Soldier deploys. In addition to the Readiness aspect, they are a great way to make lasting friendships and learn more about your new community. It's important to remember that the quality of your friendships is more important than the quantity of your friendships. You are not expected to be best friends with every spouse in the FRG, but everyone is expected to respect one another.

If you're a seasoned traveler or can offer advice for PCSing overseas, please leave a comment or message me. I'm always looking for new material, and as I don't have experience with every facet of Army life (and other branches), I welcome your submissions!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Value of Your FRG

Do you know the value and potential of your Family Readiness Group? To find out, take the self test below and choose the statements that you identify with most. Keep track of your answers and I'll meet up with you at the end so we can evaluate your FRG savvy!

The FRG's main purpose is to...

A) be a social group where I can meet other spouses.
B) provide me with training and information so that I am better able to take care of myself and my family during my Soldier's extended absence.
C) fundraise, gossip, and provide a source of income for 'direct sales' representatives.

In FRG meetings, its ok for me to...

A) complain about the war, military benefits, my Soldier's pay, and the people who wouldn't promote him/her.
B) listen to the information and participate by asking questions, making suggestions, and talking to the other spouses.
C) be suspicious of the other spouses' intentions, refuse to make eye contact or speak to anyone, and run for the door as soon as the meeting is over.

All FRG leaders and volunteers are...

A) independently wealthy, so they can loan me money until payday.
B) fabulous like mine! Wait, it's impossible for them to ALL be alike. Change my answer to human.
C) rank pulling, gossip mongering, and backstabbing so I shouldn't give any of them a chance.

If I have a problem with another spouse in the FRG, I should...

A) call my Soldier's command and try to get the offending spouse's Soldier demoted or otherwise in trouble.
B) discuss the issue like adults with the offending spouse privately.
C) put the FRG on blast for harboring foul individuals like that.

If my FRG is not being run in a professional manner, I should...

A) complain every chance I get. Someone, somewhere is bound to do something, eventually.
B) bring my concerns to the commander and FRSA along with ideas on how to get back on track and a willingness to either volunteer to make changes, or support the people who will.
C) stop going, convince others to do the same, warn newcomers, and never attend another unit function again. Anywhere. Ever.

During a deployment, I can count on my FRG to...

A) babysit my kids, mow my lawn, fix my car, and make sure I can talk to my Soldier while he/she is deployed.
B) alert me to activities my kids and I might be interested in so that the time will pass quicker, fundraise just a little so that they can pay for some of those activities, and update me, as information is available, on my Soldier's return.
C) pester me about getting involved and then talk about me behind my back when I refuse.

I volunteer with my FRG so I am entitled to...

A) certain privileged information and respect from the other spouses because I am an integral part of the unit.
B) nothing, other than the respect due to other human beings.
C) nothing. I don't volunteer.

The rank structure within the FRG spouses goes like this...

A) CO, FRG leader, then whoever is next in line based on highest rank.
B) There is no rank structure, because spouses don't have rank. Volunteers are equal partners in the success of the FRG.
C) There is no rank structure, because spouses don't have rank. But someone should tell that to the other FRG members.

So, how'd you do?

If you got mostly A's, it's likely that you will experience unnecessary hardship during the next deployment or extended training exercise. The main focus of the FRG is providing you with the opportunity to learn skills that will help your family to be self sufficient. There is a time and place to accept help from others, but expecting it as a foregone conclusion will get you into a lot of trouble. FRG's are to be seen as a RESOURCE not a RESCUE. You will do your Service Member a big favor if you allow him/her to leave without worrying that you, your family, and your finances will completely fall apart without them. With that comes a great deal of responsibility. Ask for help when you need it, but don't be surprised when your FRG leader tells you that your SM can't be recalled for one reason or another, or if she directs you to an Army or community program when the money runs out before the month does.

If you got mostly B's, you recognize the value of your FRG the way it was intended to be. Members like you are the backbone of the FRG and are what make it a good experience for the other spouses in your unit. You've probably made many lasting friendships. You and your family are more likely to be ready for anything when it comes time for your Soldier to deploy. You don't survive deployments, training exercises, and PCS's you thrive during them!

If you got mostly C's, your mistrust of the FRG program puts you at risk of missing out on many aspects of the Army community. Occasionally, seasoned spouses choose to avoid the FRG because they feel the information is a lot of "been there, done that" kind of stuff. If you wish the topics covered were done so differently, you might try presenting the information at your next FRG meeting rather than sitting in the audience. If the crux of your problem lies with gossipy, drama prone spouses, then a breath of fresh air might be just what your FRG needs. Suggest changes and offer solutions. Be creative, and know that eventually, we all PCS. Jump in when you can or support the folks who make positive changes. A well timed note of encouragement to volunteers who make a positive impact can mean the world! Most important of all, please stop bad mouthing the FRG program. Each group is as different as the people who make them up. Just because you had a bad experience once, doesn't mean you will again. It also doesn't mean that your group can't change when new people come in. Give newcomers a chance to form their own conclusions about the group before you scare them off. When relocating to a new duty station, it can be hard to find friends who understand the nuances of military life. There is nothing more frightening than being a new Soldier's wife in a new place without any familiar faces. Give these newbies a chance to form friendships and gain the skills you have without trial and error.

Maybe you're somewhere in the middle of it all. If you have a group of terrific friends and have a resource for all of the Army programs and community events, then you're likely a very resourceful person who makes friends easily in everyday situations. This is to be commended! However, you probably don't see much value in the FRG since you have other valuable avenues of support. Go ahead and do your own thing, but please remember to be respectful towards the spouses who value the FRG.

So, do you have a good grasp on the value of your FRG? Will you give yours a chance if you're a C?