If y’all will just give me a minute, I’d like to formally and sincerely apologize to all my past PCSes. Permanent change of station moves 2009, 2012, 2015, even 2017 (the OCONUS one with the complete change in destination, all the passports and the overseas screening paperwork), I’m sorry for all the times I verbally attacked you, calling you hurtful names, like “stressful” and “a true nightmare.” Just know I’ll never say another bad thing about you, and I hope we can be friends.
Enter PCS Season 2020
All right, the rest of this blog isn’t going to be quite so “peace, love and cardboard.” So, huddle up because we need to unpack whatever PCS Season 2020 was. Every single 2020 mover I’ve talked to had a string of wide-eyed, “this is fine” moments. This year no one had a unicorn move or a proper farewell. Even now, some families are still waiting to move (I’d send you a hug, but that’s illegal, so here’s a virtual elbow tap). Some of us had unique housing and transportation challenges because we didn’t know until the 11th hour when we could leave. Some of us lost money, paying rent or mortgages in two places. Some of us stayed in temporary lodging so long that we never want to see the inside of another hotel again. We all lost patience.
This is Fine. I’m Fine.
Like many Americans stationed in Japan in the early days of COVID-19, I remember feeling totally removed from the impacts the pandemic made in the States. I remember getting texts from family and friends saying that stateside schools were closing. I threw not one, but both hands in the air thanking the brass stars of the Marine Corps that we were in Japan and not stateside. “Thank goodness we’re business as usual out here! Here I go about my business” — walking the kids to school, going out to eat, buying appropriate amounts of toilet paper without having to square off against someone for the last roll, quickly hopping over to Taipei for Presidents Day weekend. Life was good and COVID-19 wasn’t our fight…yet.
That OCONUS Factor Backfires
My safe vantage point from the other side of the world lost its luster real quick in March. The order of events is fuzzy, but in a period of about two weeks, we canceled our last two OCONUS vacations, DoDEA schools closed and we couldn’t socialize. We were restricted to only on-base shopping, dining and events, but then all the events we could attend were canceled. I remember pushing down disappointment of (at the time) epic proportions that stemmed from not getting to spend a week in New Zealand or eat eggplant curry and garlic naan from my favorite Iwakuni restaurant. Why did I push it down? Because — big picture — those things, while devastating from a zoomed-in perspective, were trivial compared to the actual threat of the pandemic. I was disappointed and quite frankly suddenly claustrophobic confined to base, which is the exact opposite of what was preached daily on the installation, “Get outside the gates or you’ll be miserable here.” But we were safe, healthy and still moving on time.
Then — and this I remember vividly — my Marine came home one day with what he called “fun news.” Months later, we still use that as a phrase to preface bad news. I was sitting on the floor packing because our household goods were set to be picked up within days, and he said we weren’t going to be able to pack out as planned. In the least dramatic way I could muster, I melted down to the fetal position on the floor and laughed so hard tears came out of my eyes.
Things really just snowballed from there. We fought for the exception to policy to pack out as planned. And even when the dates were approved, we packed out while virtual school was happening in the living room. We fought to move on time. And we, like any other 2020 mover, did it all with zero prior knowledge of the process because the process didn’t exist. We fought for seats on the rotator — because unlike a CONUS-to-CONUS move, the do-it-yourself option was not an option.
Fighting to Leave
I could spend hours firing off my list of frustrations tangled up in PCS Season 2020. How many of us felt unseen and permanently frustrated with the lack of control we had in a situation that played catch with a major family life change for so many military families. But I truly believe that much will (if it hasn’t already) be learned from this experience. I put my trust in that process. The standard operating procedures will be written following a no-doubt lengthy after-action round table.
What cannot be remedied, though, are the goodbyes. I spent months fighting to leave Japan — venting, stressing, overthinking and replanning the plan. Those of us who quietly exited a chapter in our lives and left people and places with relief instead of the usual bittersweet goodbye wrapped in a silver lining of the forthcoming adventure missed out on a staple of military life: camaraderie. The porch pictures and farewell parades were priceless, but we missed the usual closure.
The process of PCSing during a pandemic was — as I said — a battle, start to finish. And hard-fought battles like that aren’t for the faint of heart. We’re walking away from whatever in the world that experience was with more perspective, thicker skins, more thanks for the tiny victories and more grateful for the things in life that go smoothly with little to no effort. We are forever thankful to the folks on the receiving end of our venting and ETP requests. Thanks for getting us from point A to point B. Now, no one mention moving for at least two years, please.