From the Homefront: Focus on the things you can control during PCS season

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, commanding officer of Air Station Miami, for nearly 13 years and currently serves as chapter director for Blue Star Families in Miami, Fla.

A typical moving day in the Kimball household. Joey Kimball playing among the boxes when he was 2 years old. Photo courtesy of Shelley Kimball.

A typical moving day in the Kimball household. Joey Kimball playing among the boxes when he was 2 years old. Photo courtesy of Shelley Kimball.

Written by Shelley Kimball.

Photo by Bill Keefrey.

Photo by Bill Keefrey.

We will be PCSing this summer, which is our fifth move as a family. However, being a military kid, that brings my lifetime total to 17 moves. You’d think I’d be able to face each move calmly by now, but no.

Our first Coast Guard move as a family completely caught me off guard. Not the scheduling part – that was all fine. It was the shock of my worry. I thought I had moved so many times that it would roll off my back. Oh, no. I stood in my driveway as movers packed our things in an utter panic. Would they break anything? Would everything arrive in the right location? Was I forgetting something? Moving as a family with kids was so much more stressful, and I had not foreseen that.

Eleven years later, I am still a worrier. But I have learned a lot since then. I no longer stand in the driveway panicking. I put my nervousness to work and try to focus on the things I can control. I can keep track of the boxes as they are numbered and carried out to the moving truck (one of the most essential parts of the moving process, in my book.). I can keep master lists of what we need in the time between the movers packing us out and arriving in our new location. I can be the one to keep track of the numbered moving boxes when they finally come in what is my new front door.

As many of us are finding out where we are going, I can feel our collective nervousness rise. I thought this might be a great time for us to share the things we have learned from our first PCS moves to now.

Danielle Medolla and her sons in the Badlands en route from Miami to Kodiak during their most recent PCS. Photo courtesy of Danielle Medolla.

Danielle Medolla and her sons in the Badlands en route from Miami to Kodiak during their most recent PCS. Photo courtesy of Danielle Medolla.

First and foremost, Coastie spouses said, is to get organized. Danielle Medolla recently moved her family of five from Miami to Kodiak. Her plan was to think ahead to any possibility and try to have a solution for it. For example, she said, find a weigh station before moving day and know its hours of operation.

Medolla had a control center for the move in the form of a binder. The binder held everything – inside was a clear plastic divider for ever person in the family. Within the dividers were birth certificates, passports, health records, dental records, copies of social security cards and school information like transcripts and report cards. There were also sections for paperwork relating to the car and pets. In the front of the binder was a pencil case she used for receipts. The binder also held information about hotels along the route (they drove the whole way from Miami to Kodiak). Medolla mapped the hotels ahead of time.

“I had all of our hotels booked a head of time, and I only had to change two.” Medolla said. “And we stayed in a lot of hotels.”

One more thing Medolla said she learned was to rent someplace nice to stay in the week that your household goods are being packed. On her way out of Miami, the family stayed by the beach. It worked out so well, she will add that to her PCS plans again.

“We are doing that when we leave Kodiak also,” Medolla said. “We are going to enjoy Kodiak like a tourist one last time.”

Heidi French, a Coast Guard spouse who has moved five times and is preparing for her sixth move, said one of her greatest lessons was, “Don’t rent a trailer or truck for a DITY if you don’t have guaranteed housing on the other end.”

She learned this on their first big move together from Point Reyes Station, Calif., to Valdez, Alaska.

“That one was quite an experience, since he was newly promoted and we hastened our wedding plans when he got unexpected orders on short notice,” French said. “We were unable to find movers to take all of our items. We decided to do a partial DITY and rented a U-Haul trailer.”

The French family is preparing for their sixth Coast Guard move this summer. Photo courtesy of Heidi French.

The French family is preparing for their sixth Coast Guard move this summer. Photo courtesy of Heidi French.

They arrived in Valdez, Alaska, to find that their housing was not yet ready because there were damages in it that needed repair. On top of that, storage facilities were not readily available to hold everything while they waited.

“There was a waiting list for the only local storage,” French said, “and we paid several extra days on our U-Haul until someone from our church who had a tractor trailer let us unload into their trailer to avoid the daily fees. The people of Valdez were wonderful to us and helped us so much in that first transition away from home.”

Move number six is coming up this summer for the French family, and they are ready.

“We are excited for the adventure but sad to leave friends and family. We know it will not be what we expected in both good and bad ways,” French said. “With every move the most memorable things were enjoying some really neat places along the way and that we found amazing friends in each new place.”

Jennette Ippolito, who has moved twice so far, said that from her first move she learned that hotel planning helps keep her organized.

“Definitely call ahead for hotel rooms, especially if you’re traveling with pets,” she said. “Driving from Oregon to Florida, we had mileage and hotels planned before leaving.”

She said she found a hotel chain that was both pet-friendly and gave military discounts, and that helped them find places to stay easily as they made their way across the country.

Erin Wirth is a Coast Guard spouse who has moved seven times for nine assignments with her family while still maintaining a career in the law. Through the years, she has found ways to plan ahead to make arrival that much easier. Her first piece of advice is for early in the process, even before orders come in: work together as a family unit.

“Communication is key at every stage – before, during, and after the move,” Wirth said. “As my husband learned the hard way, putting the nation’s murder capital as your first choice without consulting your partner is risky business. I think the member should work to understand the impact of requests on the family, and the family should work to understand the impact of requests on the members’ career.”

Hon. Erin Masson Wirth and Cmdr. Kevin Wirth have moved seven times with the Coast Guard, so far. Photo courtesy of Erin Wirth.

Hon. Erin Masson Wirth and Cmdr. Kevin Wirth have moved seven times with the Coast Guard, so far. Photo courtesy of Erin Wirth.

Once they arrive, Wirth said, she has another strategy.

“Adjusting once you arrive is always the hardest challenge for me,” Wirth said. “Kevin has familiar work but I need to completely start over. It helps to have a game plan ahead of time, be organized, and ask for help.”

First, Wirth said she looks for someone to help with childcare when household goods are delivered.

“I ask the person from whom I am renting or buying, or the sponsor, for babysitter recommendations. Since I will be there, I am comfortable even if I have not met the person before,” Wirth said. “That extra set of hands can be really helpful.”

And then, as she works on settling in, she also focuses on finding work.

“I set realistic job hunting plans,” she said, “For example after the July bar exam, I take August off. In September I start sending out 10 applications a week.”

At the same time, Wirth said she also tries to get out into the community.

“I make a point to meet my neighbors because they are often a wonderful source of information and support,” Wirth said.

Marjorie Luster, a Coast Guard spouse in California, said her PCS did not begin well. She moved from her hometown of Traverse City, Mich., to St. Louis, Mo. She said she immediately missed her hometown, “where the water is crystal blue and its gorgeous year round.” Upon her arrival to St. Louis, she noticed, “the only water was the ugly, brown, dirty Mississippi River. I felt claustrophobic not being near water!”

But the longer she was in St. Louis, the more she came to enjoy it. And that’s Luster’s big lesson from her first PCS: embrace it.

“As time went on, I started to love it. We did so much exploring and saw so many neat things in the short two years that we were there,” Luster said.

In the years since that first move, Luster and her family have moved four times, including two cross-country moves (or “going coastal,” as she calls it).

“Since then, I have always looked forward to the new adventures that a PCS would bring,” Luster said.

How do you prepare for a PCS move? Please share your tips below.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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