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Undesirable/Unexpected Orders: How to Cope

P.C.S. aka “Permanent Change of Station”: Isn’t it funny how something so simple—a single phrase, the arrangement of three seemingly harmless letters—can completely throw you for a loop?

When I fell in love with that tall, rowdy and reckless, Texas boy who was just “thinking” about joining the military back in college, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. Now, twelve years later, I’m a proud Coast Guard Wife, and I’ve pretty much gotten the hang of this military wife stuff. However, if there’s one thing about this crazy, wonderful life that still has the capability to completely throw me off my game, it’s those three little letters: PCS.

Now, you’d think that after twelve years with my man, I’d have this whole PCSing thing down pat. I mean, this will be our fifth duty station—I should be a pro, right?

Well … not exactly. A PCS move ALWAYS comes with challenges, and every single one of them is different. Preparing for the unpredictable is every bit as difficult as it sounds.

However, as hard as moving can be, my husband and I always try to look at each move as an adventure—a new beginning, with all sorts of new and fun things to try and experience. We’ve actually been pretty lucky, so far. Everywhere we’ve ended up has been a place we wanted to go—a place we could totally see ourselves and our family living and thriving.

But that’s not always the case. In fact, I think most military families have experienced a less than ideal move or have gotten orders to a place that wasn’t expected or desired.

So what do you do when that happens? What do you do when you get orders to a place that terrifies you? Or a place that is the exact opposite of what you’re used to? Or simply a place that was never on your radar to begin with?

Well, before I answer that, let me paint you a picture:

My husband has spent the last five years on special assignment. We knew that we’d have a priority pick coming out of this term, so when the list of available billets came out, we carefully poured over it, weighing the pros and cons of each place. When it came time to number those places in order of preference, we had several long conversations about how to order our list. While we agreed on most places, there were a few billets that I wasn’t crazy about. However, given that we had a priority pick, I told myself not to worry. In fact, I was convinced that we would at least be given one of the billets in our top three.

Oh boy. How wrong I was!

When the detailer began to cut orders for this year’s transfer season, we waited (not so patiently!). We were both anxious, but deep down, I wasn’t worried. I just knew we’d get one of our top choices. 

But then my husband called  to tell me he received our orders … and we weren’t going to one of our top picks.

To say that I was devastated is an understatement. Our new “home” was a place that seemed incredibly foreign to me and completely out of my comfort zone. I’m a corn-fed Alabama country girl who spent the last five years in sunny Texas, where winter is almost nonexistent, and now I was expected to pick up and move to a place where it snows (like seriously SNOWS seven months out of the year). How had this happened? I thought. We had a priority pick! We were supposed to get one of the top 3!

My husband calmly and rationally told me that these things happen. It’s all about the needs of the service, after all.  He seemed relieved to have gotten orders – to finally know where we were heading, but I was still trying to wrap my head around those four words: Needs of the service. It was a phrase I knew and understood well … but how had this happened! 

I remember sitting at my desk at work and feeling so lost and confused. I was upset and worried, and utterly flabbergasted by the news. 

I wish I could say that I immediately pulled myself together and handled the whole thing with grace, but that would be a big fat lie. It actually took me a really long time to come to terms with the news. I didn’t talk to my husband for a least a week (sorry, honey!), and I did a pretty good job imitating Eeyore for the longest time—all doom and gloom and what not.

But then one day, I looked in the mirror and decided that I needed a major attitude adjustment. I realized that I was letting my fear control me, and that is certainly not the kind of person I want to be. That’s not how I want to live my lie. Plus, my sweet five-year-old daughters seemed so excited about the prospect of snow—something they’ve never seen—and their excitement was something I wanted to foster as much as possible. So, I made it my mission to adopt their enthusiasm and find a way to make this big change is our lives not so scary anymore.

So back to the question at hand: what do you do when you get PCS orders to a place that you never imagined you’d end up?

Well, here’s what I did and here’s what I think you should try:

  1.  DO YOUR RESEARCH

First things first! Look up as much information as you can about the place. Familiarize yourself as best as possible with the landscape, the lifestyle, the weather, etc. Try to look for as many positives as you can, and look for things that excite you! I found out that my new city hosts a big Coast Guard festival every summer! The Coast Guard is a pretty small branch of service, and we’ve never really lived anywhere that had a huge CG presence. Now, I am really excited about living in a city that honors the Coast Guard and their families, and I am so stoked to attend my very first festival in July! The unknown is always a little scary, but when in doubt, do your research! You never know what all a place has to offer until you look!

  1. FIND WAYS TO CONNECT

Meeting people and making connections is so important when you move to a new place. So while you’re researching, look for ways your family can plug into the community! My husband like to play recreational softball, I like to do Zumba, and my daughters are interested in sports. So, I’ve done a lot of research on these things and have a list of places to look into when we get there. The more you integrate yourself into the community, the happier you’ll be. Get out there and make some friends! Make connections that will last! Doing so ensures that eventually the new place will truly feel like home.

  1. REACH OUT AND ASK FOR ADVICE

I’m a southern girl, and I grew up thinking that “preparing for snow” meant having an extra loaf of bread and gallon of milk in your fridge. Obviously, I have no clue how to prepare for a true winter. I don’t know what we need or where to even look for such items. So lately, I’ve been asking those with far more expertise than me how to prepare for winter. New places often come with new challenges, so don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice on how to cope. Knowledge is powerful and when you know what to expect and what you’ll need to tackle those challenges, it will significantly lower your anxiety levels. Trust me!

  1. VISIT IF YOU CAN

This is a step that I very much wish I could’ve taken for myself. If you have the time and means, go visit the new place. Again, it all comes down to fear of the unknown. Going and seeing the place for yourself takes away that fear. Find a favorite new restaurant, look at potential living spaces, and look for a fun park to take the kids to. There’s power in feeling comfortable with your surroundings.

  1. CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE

Honestly, the biggest thing you can do to cope with undesirable/unexpected orders, is to change your attitude. I know it’s scary and frustrating, but sometimes the best thing you can do for you and your family is simply turn that frown upside down. We military wives are not immune to human emotion, but we have an important job to do, and it’s a whole lot easier with a positive attitude. I’m pretty much preaching to the choir on this one, but I can honestly say that this has been the biggest step in turning our unexpected orders into something I’m actually looking forward to.

Don’t get me wrong, those upcoming and unavoidable winters still make me nervous, but now I’m seeing all that snow as a challenge and I’m determined to conquer it!

The unexpected is scary, but it doesn’t have to control you. Take a chance, change your attitude, and embrace the adventure. Life is funny, and you never know what blessings await just around the corner! For some more thoughts on the dreaded PCS, check out these articles here and here.

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