By Ralph Trenary
Allow me to indulge in a little old soldier reminiscence. For generations one of the most ominous events in the life of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces has been PCS; Permanent Change of Station. In earlier times it was the annual cycle of large numbers of familiar faces departing and new personalities arriving. I am eternally grateful to be rid of this summertime ritual.
During my active duty years I had friendships and important professional relationships that collapsed every summer. Each month we went to a “Hail and Fair Well” where we would welcome new arrivals and say sometimes tearful good-byes. Over the winter we could gather in restaurants, but in the summer a picnic was necessary because the arrivals would swell the group beyond the size of most local dining rooms.
This experience even carried into the National Guard. The coming and going of senior leaders was a yearly phenomenon of action and reaction. A retirement or promotion would result in one or more of your senior non-commissioned officer or officer comrades changing their place of duty to a different unit in a far-away town.
That’s why the Su-Hi-Ho-Com and I moved seven times during 16 years of working for the Colorado Guard, after moving six times while in the Army. My friends who stayed on active duty endured an even higher frequency of pack-up and go.
A 2002 Department of Defense survey focused on the burdens of a PCS, and nearly all of them were identified as costs to either the government or out of pocket for the service member: childcare, temporary lodging expenses, loss/decrease of spouse income, spouse unemployment, and significant cost of living changes. This appears to me to have been the catalyst for change.
Since 2004, the Army has kept soldiers in one place for additional years by a policy titled Stabilization. Not only is this better treatment of military people and families, it also saves taxpayer dollars. My friends who wear Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps uniforms tell me that similar policy changes have also improved the quality of life in their services.
This ends what I observed watching soldiers endure the frequent turmoil of moving across the country (or even overseas). It was often infuriating to soon learn of a vacant position in the unit next door, which the departed trooper could have taken, being filled by another soldier who had arrived after being uprooted from a distant location.
Veterans can join me in stating that these are not just individual burdens, but also leadership issues and distractions that keep soldiers from performing to their highest potential, reducing the readiness of military units, and even undermining a family’s acceptance of military life. I can only imagine how devastating those pressures can be on active duty military families also facing the departure of their uniformed loved-one for Iraq, Afghanistan or a location unnamed for national security reasons.
According to the Defense Personal Property Service (www.move.mil) over 200,000 individuals and families will be ordered to move this year. One benefit of the information age and nearly everyone having a computer and Internet access is a system to start the PCS paperwork at a website instead of sitting all day in a waiting room.
Whether it’s from walking the fence-line on the Homesteader’s ranch, or driving by the great-great-grandfather’s former red brick home beside Highway 287 (it was the first brick home in Loveland, but that’s a topic for later), there are many joys to putting down roots and staying put. May God bless our men and women in the armed services, and their families.