Should The Military End Its PCS Practice?

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 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.

Moving BoxesOften, 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.

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 anyways, 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.

Kyle Soler

Kyle Soler

Kyle Soler is an active duty Infantry Officer serving in the US Army. He has served in the military for more than 10 years, working his way from an Infantry Squad Leader to a Company Commander with multiple combat deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan in between. Kyle earned his bachelor’s degree in History from Willamette University, and three Master degrees from Jones International University in Information Security Management, Health Care Management, and International Business. He also holds certifications in Six Sigma Lean and Six Sigma Lean Black Belt. His primary focus is realigning organizational priorities to get the most out of the time available in terms of training and development. Prior to entering military service, he worked as a fire fighter and an EMT. His areas of knowledge include military, training, leadership, disaster and continuity planning.
Kyle Soler

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2 thoughts on “Should The Military End Its PCS Practice?

  1. A full 4 year term would be excellent.
    I love what I do with heart and a passion for individuals and support groups in need.
    I can very well emphasize.

  2. Honestly I don’t know why they haven’t elected to only “hire” (for what would be the equivalent of a standard PCS, 3 or 4 years) for the state you live in. This would be your first permanent duty station after BCT/AIT or other military branch specific equivalent term. This way, if the soldier decides the army is not for him/her (which apparently most do according to this article), that would have been one less cost for the government to factor in. Simply administer the asvab like they normally would, clear the recruit medically, etc, same as it is done now prior to the new recruit signing their enlistment contract. It makes sense that the government would continue to send them off to training, but instead of uprooting the soldier and his/her family, send them home afterwards to complete a 3 or 4 year assignment FIRST. I’m certain they spend a lot of money to send back recruits who are “unfit” to pass basic training regardless. And I’ve already mentioned the government having to send a soldier who’s ETS-ing back to their home of record. If they only remained for one “term” I’m sure the government did not receive a great “return on investment” that they bargained for anyway, yet they still pay these costs. Not to mention all the counseling and other services aka money that goes into supporting families through those times, I’m sure that also has an impact on your employees/soldiers’ productivity levels when they have added stress from the spouse/children when they come home, and then the soldier brings it to work. I’ve seen too many times where arguments abound usually because the spouse or child has difficulties adjusting to a new place. Them of course once they do, they’re uprooted again. Most people (I would like to think) have an understanding that, when deployed, they will be gone for a year or longer in some cases. I’m also sure the spouse is well aware of that and usually as best as possible, prepared to deal with it. What doesn’t make sense is the unnecessary stress aka drama that the military brings on itself by adding unnecessary problems, like uprooting families, entire families every couple of years give or take. On another note, at the half-term mark of the soldier’s end date, they could begin working with the soldier, given he/she wants to remain in the army, whether they would like an opportunity to travel. Provide a list (like they already do) of duty stations available for the soldier’s MOS/equivalent aka job. If the soldier wants to stay, then they stay. But I think having at least some stability would GREATLY improve the quality of the soldier’s personal life, and in turn, would have a better work ethic/ready-to-work attitude when on the job. And again, I’m sure this would highly benefit the government as well, as a lot of people usually hope they get stationed where they live, close to family, etc. if they have these things, more than likely they will not be moving as often aka government saves money. Win, win.

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