PCS (Permanent Change of Station) is something military families know well. We’ve PCSd 6 times in 16 years, which is actually not a lot. Since tech school, we’ve managed a minimum of 4 years at each station. That can depends on whether a military member has dependents, rank, job, as well as other factors.
PCS during Covid can only be described as an unpredictable cluster**** of epic proportions. Am I exaggerating, I don’t think so, but someone might tell me differently. We’ve had complications with housing on this side of the move, so I could be biased, but when you factor in everything, it’s stressful.
Every PCS starts the same way, with orders! Every move and assignment has orders. When you live overseas, you hand carry copies of those orders as well as leave paperwork on every vacation just to make sure you can get back home when having to re-enter your host country. Even on school trips, my daughters had to take copies of my husband’s orders. Everything is dependent on orders.
We received orders before the UK locked down in March, but we were unsure of how that would effect the move. One of my good friends had been set to move about a week after lockdown and was frozen in the UK until the military opened back up those travel channels. All of her household goods were packed up and on the way to South Korea, her car was shipped, and she was in limbo.
The military began moving people again in late May. My friend left out right at the end of May but required paperwork at certain spots as they made their way to their new base. Thankfully, I had another friend already stationed at that base, and I’d introduced them via Facebook in the event my PCS friend needed groceries or was in a bind during the mandatory quarantine upon reaching South Korea.
We were initially told our move would be pushed back to October, then it was on hold, then it was back in July. We weren’t absolutely positive of anything until they packed up the house in June. My husband managed to get our travel dates approved fairly early so we could call the pet shipper and arrange for our fur babies to travel as well.
Did you know one of the biggest issues with military family PCS right now is pet travel? At this moment, one airline (British Airways) is shipping pets out of the UK, so multiple US bases and DOD/civilian employees moving out of England are having to almost vie for places on flights. We arranged for me and my daughters to fly out on the 15th with my husband and son flying out the 18th while we prayed, we’d get (16 July) for the pets. On Friday the 10th, we’d learned we didn’t get the 16th and began to panic. Then, first thing Monday morning, we finally received the call that they’d the pets for travel on Friday the 17th July. Not everyone has been so lucky—especially people with snub nose cats and dogs.
We packed up, sold some belongings we didn’t need or couldn’t use anymore, and gave away others. We’d lived off-base for part of our time in England, so we had UK (220V) appliances we couldn’t use in the US, transformers for some of our US appliances, etc. We shipped my car on 30 June since it’s road tax was due on 1 July and my husband’s car shipped the day before he flew out so we didn’t have to rent a car.
Other than that, we said our see you laters. In the military, you make friends and then hope you are stationed somewhere near them again. Sometimes that’s easier than others, but it’s definitely something we all hope for. I think we all ignored the Covid rules on hugging for that. Every going away picture I’ve seen lately has everyone hugging. It’s honestly hard not to!
On Wednesday the 15th, my husband drove us to Heathrow. Terminal 5 was virtually empty. He parked in short-term parking and came inside to help us check in our suitcases. We get more weight and we’re allowed 2 suitcases per family member. He wanted to make sure we didn’t have any problems. We hugged him goodbye just before TSA, and made our way onto the train to reach the part of the terminal where our gate would be. We didn’t have a gate number yet. They don’t assign those until about 30 minutes or so before boarding.
Masks were mandatory in Heathrow, so we were thankful we’d brought plenty. I’d also bought some carbon filters that fit inside a pocket in the mask or that we could just put inside the mask. Our flight was on British Airways, which I had to say did a great job. We were given a little package with a disinfecting wipe everyone used to wipe down their seats, tray tables, and TV remotes as well as a small package of hand sanitiser. We had plenty of both on us, but the gesture was appreciated.
Our flight attendant was friendly and helpful. He had what resembled a phone that gave him the reservations and with how empty the flight was, let us know how many rows we could use that allowed us to space out. During the flight, the flight attendants wiped down the insides and door of the toilets what appeared to be every hour, so they were doing an amazing job to help keep it clean. We even arrived in Chicago early!
After we cleared customs, we collected our bags, and ran the Covid temperature check gauntlet. We picked up the mini-van we rented (with 5 suitcases between 3 people we needed it!) and settled in at the hotel to wait for the pets.
Coming next . . . The second half of the trip (I think!)