Asking the Right Questions About Your Overseas PCS
When I was preparing for a PCS to Turkey, I should have asked about unique items and considered shipping options. Hindsight is 20/20, but it is my hope that I can impart some retrospective wisdom on your next overseas PCS.
One question I wished I had asked is, “Is there anything unusual or hard to find that military members should consider bringing to Turkey?”
Early in the sponsor process of my PCS to Turkey, my sponsor mentioned housing issued stiff mattresses but I never asked what he meant nor did I give it much thought as to how that would impact my experience at my new assignment. After my first night on the issued mattress, it became abundantly clear what my sponsor had been talking about – and by the morning, I had resolved that a sheet of plywood would have been more comfortable.
I ordered a memory foam topper the next day and received it forty-five days later. Yeah, you read that correctly – 45 DAYS LATER.
Had I posed the question to my sponsor beforehand – or asked for clarification on his comment -I might have avoided those 45 painfully sleepless night – and chances are, I’d have had plenty of time to order my mattress topper, that would have been waiting for me at my Army Post Office (APO) box, well in advance.
To avoid issues like these, know what to ask and the options for your Household Goods (HHG) before you actually have to execute on any PCS plans.
Ask Your Sponsor Better Questions About Your Overseas PCS
Every member of your military family can benefit from asking better questions. A reference for learning to improve one’s questions can be found in Episode 631 of HBR Ideacast, “Ask Better Questions.” During the episode, Host Sarah Carmichael asks researchers Leslie John and Alison Brooks, professors at Harvard Business School, about their research. John and Brooks found that asking questions is one way to show respect and establish rapport with a person, such as a sponsor, resulting in an overall more mutually beneficial conversation. Developing rapport with your sponsor can naturally make them want to ensure you’re better prepared for your overseas PCS.
Remember, sponsors are busy people, too – they have jobs, families, and other obligations just like us. Out of respect for your sponsor, I recommend you prepare your questions in advance and research what you can online before talking with a sponsor.
Online sources may help you shape better questions or even eliminate questions to make more efficient use of your sponsor’s valuable time.
It’s important to remember that when you ask questions, you’re being given a unique opportunity to learn about your sponsor’s experience with the location, unit, job, processes, off-duty opportunities, etc. If a sponsor has been at one location for several years, he or she may have forgotten some of the arrival hardships and may now be focused on the benefits of the location. To help jog their memory, a good question to ask your sponsor may be, “When you arrived, was there anything you wished you had done differently?”
When you talk with your sponsor, it’s a good idea to note any unique circumstances with the member or the sponsor. For example, when I PCS’d to Okinawa, my sponsor was married, but I was single. Sharing your special circumstances will not only help you shape questions to a sponsor, but will help your sponsor to shape their responses in a way that best suits you. If your is a good sponsor, and doesn’t happen to have an answer that is tailored to your needs, they’ll reach out to their colleagues to get you the best information for your unique circumstances.
Household Goods Options for Your Overseas PCS
Military members and their families should talk to the Traffic Management Office (TMO) about the PCS location, OCONUS moves, and the TMO options available to them. The TMO may present Long-Term Storage, Household Goods Shipment, Unaccompanied Baggage, and perhaps a few other options for you to choose from. It’s important to keep in mind that each option has an attached timeline before you can access your items again – the longest being Long-Term Storage. Once an item goes into Long-Term Storage, military members may not access that item again until the end of the tour.
After meeting with TMO, military members or families should start by placing HHGs into two categories: the items that will stay in the “States” and the items that need to travel with them to the PCS location.
Items that will remain in the “States”: TMO may offer a military member or a family Long-Term Storage. Again, Long-Term Storage makes HHGs untouchable until the end of the tour. A military member or family may want to think about all the items that will go into HHG. If there are items that are needed before the end of the tour, a family member or trusted friend may offer an option to store gear. This option may be at the servicemembers expense but it may be worth it due to the added accessibility. For example, a family PCSing from a base in Colorado to the Azores may want to leave ski gear with a family member or friend. Instead of going into Long-Term Storage, that gear is accessible for a mid-tour vacation back in the U.S. When considering this option, members and families should also think about follow-on tours. If a follow-on tour is on the East Coast, getting reunited with ski gear may be a further expense.
Items that need to go to the PCS location: The TMO may offer Household Goods and Unaccompanied Baggage shipments to the PCS location. The TMO will advise the military member of restrictions and weight allowances. The military member needs to learn and heed all the restrictions for the PCS location. In addition to Household Goods and Unaccompanied Baggage, a military member may mail or hand carry items. The sponsor should provide the member an Army Post Office (APO) or Fleet Post Office (FPO) box number. If a member plans to mail anything in advance, it is a good idea to ask if there are any additional restriction on mail and how long a post office will hold items. Finally, the hand-carry option permits a member or family to have an item on arrival. The hand-carrying option offers the least amount of space so it should be considered very carefully.
Wrapping It Up
When it comes to OCONUS PCS moves, it’s good to know what questions to ask and to be aware of the HHG options available to you. Military members can be better prepared for arrival at the PCS location if they prepare ahead of time.