It is so iconic, it even has its own acronym – Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Typically every three to four years, military members find themselves placed on orders, uprooted, and crisscrossing the country to serve at a new duty station. Very few jobs have comparable processes, so what is the purpose of the PCS, is it still relevant today, and is it time to take a second look and determine if it is needed?
The permanent change of station has a large effect on service members and their families. Each location is different and some may perform a PCS after only twelve months on station, while others may have three to four years between PCS moves. Typically, orders are prepared for the service member no later than 120 days prior to a PCS. These detail the next duty station and the exact process by which the service member is to prepare for the move.
There are many options available for single and married service members. The government can move all household goods (HHG), the service member can move all HHGs, or a combination of both. The service member and all dependents can drive, fly at government expense, or some can choose to remain for a time while others go to the next place. But what truly is the purpose of the PCS?
The Purpose of PCS
The military recognizes many reasons for conducting PCS moves. According to AR 600-8-11 (Reassignments), the “goal of personnel assignment system is to place the right Soldier at the right job, at the right time.” For enlisted Soldiers, this can be a catch-22. During the nearly fifteen years of conflict, service members were limited in their professional development opportunities due to deployment timelines. Soldiers that would traditionally have been added to an order of merit list (OML) for schools instead found themselves arriving to a unit conducting an intensive train up for deployment, deploying, and then PCSing almost immediately. Many units were unwilling to send Soldiers away for extended periods of time for individual training prior to a deployment, and after the deployment did not want to waste money on sending Soldiers that would be leaving almost immediately.
Often, soldiers go to another unit in the military and perform the exact same process that they performed previously. This is the problem. The only reason that there is a need to send a Soldier from one duty station to the next is because another Soldier is being sent previously. This creates a constant backfill problem, resulting in continuous PCS moves. Soldiers moving from one base to another have to reestablish themselves and their families. This would not be so bad if it were up to the service member, but besides a reenlistment or an In Place Consecutive Overseas Tour (IPCOT), it is often not.
Not the Service Members Decision
A service member may have little to no say in their first duty station. The first reenlistment is the time when a service member can elect to move to a specific duty station. The Army is correct in identifying that professional development occurs by being exposed to different types of environments – but this can only go so far. Many times, service members PCS from an airborne unit to another airborne unit, or from mechanized to mechanized. In this case, the only differences are the people that someone works with.
Civilian jobs do not shuffle all their staff every few years just to expose them to different types of leaders; they build cohesive working teams and employ them effectively, improving their capabilities over time or firing people that are not making the cut. The constant moves cause upheaval for families, force service members to start over, and reduce the ability to stabilize in any one place.
It is understandable that not everyone would want an entire career at a single duty station, but given that most service members leave the military after their first few years anyway, it would open up positions constantly for new service members to go to the bases that are available, and if done correctly, reenlistments can be timed to transition service members to bases of their desire.
Recognizing that a 20 year career is built on often no less than seven PCS moves, it should not come as a surprise that the costs associated with so many moves across the force are astronomical. The Department of Defense had $4.2 billion allocated specifically for the PCS process in 2014. The 2013 change for Continental US (CONUS) duty stations to provide four years of stability results in approximately $100 million in cost savings simply by not doing a PCS for an additional year.
As we are looking to the future and ways to save money, isn’t it appropriate that we take a look at this highly expensive and questionably effective process that the services continue to employ?
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.