Special guest = Paulette Fryar, AFI 2020 Military Spouse of the Year
Coast Guard spouse in the middle of a PCS move
How has COVID impacted your original PCS plans?
It has impacted us in every way. The plans have changed many times, and we have to be flexible. Every branch has told their service members to be patient, everyone is going to move eventually, but plans are going to change incredibly.
We have a son who just graduated from college. Our leave was cancelled to see him. We had to change our plans a few times, but we weren’t able to see our kids on the West Coast. We had planned to take a month of leave, so we had a month with nowhere to be. Renting from military families can be a domino effect: the family we were renting from was moving overseas, and they were delayed, so we had two months with nowhere to be. We kept our packout date in mid-May. We needed to stay in Quantico in temporary lodging for a few weeks. The people on base were awesome and treated us so well! It took us two days to travel, and then once we arrived we secured an AirBnB. There weren’t a lot of options out there, but we did find one that worked.
A lot of families are preparing for their own unique PCS. What was it like having your pack-out in the middle of the pandemic? What safety precautions did you follow?
I learned a lot through that. I didn’t realize what our rights were and what was expected because we were part of the first wave. The crew that came to pack us did not come with any masks or health verification paperwork. We tried to stay out of the house and remain 6 feet apart. But we didn’t know that we should have asked them to provide that paperwork. However, at least they were an experienced group that was efficient and did a good job. But we didn’t know anyone else who had moved that we were able to ask about the new norms. So be sure to educate yourself and stand up for safety precautions. The group that came to load us did arrive with masks and gloves. They were respectful and asked us about our comfort level.
The DoD is trying to empower families to have more control over people coming into their homes, so crews should provide paperwork verifying that they have had a health screening for the virus. The DoD has force protection guidelines stating they should follow CDC guidelines, wearing masks. If someone show up without masks and you aren’t comfortable with them in your home, it is your right to ask them to step outside and call your move coordinator to ask more questions and work out a solution. You CAN refuse a moving crew if they arrive without the health screening paperwork, or ask their office to bring it out and verify. The guidelines don’t require gloves, but they should clean some frequently-touched surfaces.
What was it like driving and staying in hotels during the pandemic?
We made sure to make hotel reservations in advance, look up truck stops with large gas stations. We had to submit a route and travel plan before we started our trip so the military knew we wouldn’t be stranded. Rest areas and truck stops were open. We wore masks, but different states have different guidelines, so not everyone was wearing them. We had anti-bacterial stuff to use at every stop. At one place, we were able to sit in a restaurant with tables 6 feet apart, at most other locations you could carry out and eat outside. We found many hotels are not doing breakfast because of COVID, so that caught us by surprise. If you are staying on a military base, they are still offering food, but staff hands it out pre-wrapped so no one is touching buffet food. We packed more for the road than we usually would, just to be prepared. We had no trouble finding food, but we did pack extra supplies as a precaution. The weekend we were driving was during the riots, but we avoided large cities and we were pleasantly surprised that it was a smooth drive.
How is it staying in a rental home for extra weeks or months?
It feels like ripping a bandaid off slower than ever! It is just extending the PCS uncertainty and stress. It’s not ideal. I run a business online, so it’s difficult not having a computer setup and good wifi at the rental AirBnB, but it is working. As military families, we are prepared with needing to be flexible. We weren’t able to do house-hunting in person, so we had to do everything online, but many military families have done that before too.
What are your priorities when the Travel Ban is lifted and people can move more freely?
I’m excited to see our kids on the West Coast, and I am also looking forward to in-person experiences with the Military Spouse of the Year team, since I have had to do everything with them virtually so far.
What are your PCS tips?
Be prepared: pack your masks, gloves, anti-bacterial, etc. Be extra organized and prepared this time. Be prepared to not have food at some places, in case you can’t find places that are open. You may not be able to stop as easily, so pack extra in your car. Treat it more like an OCONUS move, where you pack an Express Shipment when you are preparing to be without your stuff for a month or more. Bring kitchen basics, extra clothing, pack for the next season, etc.
Because of being stuck at home for a few months before the move, we were more organized and did more downsizing than ever before. That made things go more smoothly than usual. Having your spouse home to help with a PCS is a great benefit, for those who are in that situation. We didn’t have anything that we missed or wished we had.
We didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone the way we usually would, so don’t feel alone or isolated as you go through this move, but remember that we are all going through this together.
My husband and I allow each other to get frustrated. We call it a “Chardonnay Moment.” You get a moment to whine and complain, and maybe you get some actual wine to go with it, but then you keep on going and moving forward.
PCS tips with kids and/or pets?
Electronic devices definitely keep kids more occupied than previously, so I don’t think major adjustments would be needed for moving with young kids now. Nothing was dramatically different than usual. Rest stops and food areas were open, so you could plan the same way you usually would. Of course make sure that hotels are pet-friendly when making your reservations. Pack any medication for the whole group in your hand-carry gear, so make sure it doesn’t get packed in your HHG shipment.
A lot of kids didn’t get closure on the “last day” of school, so be creative letting them see their friends online.
Consider staying with family and/or friends to avoid hotel stays. If you pull an RV or a trailer with you, you can park at a friend’s house so you won’t be leaving your things unsecured in a hotel parking lot. Research your contacts who live along your route.
How can realtors help people who are in the process of moving and buying a home?
During the phased move, be sure to get your Exception to Policy paperwork approved before going ahead with buying or selling a home. If the ETP isn’t approved, you may be delayed, extended, or issued new orders. Advise families to get their ETP and be aware that it can delay home-buying timelines.
If you have an ETP, submit it with your no-fee passport application to get it processed faster. They can be processed within a few weeks with the ETP. Try to stay with friends or family until you get the passports and are able to go. The military aid and relief societies are giving loans and grants to cover renting temporary lodging while you wait. Army Emergency Relief, Air Force Aid Society, Navy/Marine Corps Relief Society, and the Coast Guard Relief Society all have agreements to help members no matter where you are stationed and what resources you need. Always keep your chain of command updated about your situation so they can give you most updated resources.