Pentagon Weighs Limiting PCS Moves to Create More Stability for Military Families

Pentagon Weighs Limiting PCS Moves to Create More Stability for Military Families
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Gina Harkins is MOAA's Senior Staff Writer. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at: @ginaaharkins.

Troops could soon spend more time on station in an effort to cut down on the upheaval military families face when moving every few years, according to a top Pentagon official. 

Too many permanent-change-of-station (PCS) moves cause unnecessary stress for servicemembers and their families, Robert Wilkie, the new undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the Fayetteville Observer. PCS moves limit military spouses' careers, force troops' children to change schools too often, and strain the Pentagon's budget. 

“[This system] was built at a time when less than 10 percent of the military had families,” Wilkie told the paper. “Today, 70 percent have families.”

If a family isn't happy, “the soldier walks,” Wilkie added. Large military installations - like Fort Bragg or Camp Lejeune in North Carolina; Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia; or Fort Sill in Oklahoma - offer enough career opportunities for servicemembers to stay longer than two or three years, Wilkie said in the interview. 

“There are enough places,” he told the paper. “We're certainly looking into it.”

Families are high on the minds of active duty servicemembers, according to a recent survey conducted by Blue Star Families. Time away from family, spouse employment, child education, quality of life, and the impact deployments have on kids all ranked in the top six concerns facing servicemembers. 

MOAA is pleased to see Wilkie's focus on military family and spouse issues, says Brooke Goldberg, MOAA's director of military family policy and spouse programs. High operational tempo, unpredictable deployment schedules, and years of budget cuts have taken a toll on the military as well as families who serve alongside servicemembers. 

“We are encouraged by the Pentagon's renewed efforts to fully integrate families into its readiness and defense strategy and look forward to seeing these efforts reflected in the upcoming president's budget request in February,” Goldberg says.  

Wilkie is no stranger to how PCS moves affect military families. The son of an Army artillery commander, Wilkie currently serves as an Air Force Reserve officer. He was previously in the Navy Reserve. 

Wilkie indicated he'd take up another issue on which his predecessor had set his sights. The military's “up-or-out” rules are forcing good servicemembers out of the military, Wilkie said. The program needs another look because many of those troops can still contribute. 

“Not everyone is on track to become vice chief of staff of the Army,” he told the Observer. “As long as you meet standards, you should be allowed to stay.”

Brad Carson, who served in Wilkie's role from 2015 to 2016 agreed. Forcing troops out doesn't just hurt families, but the military, too, he said in 2015. Top companies don't force people to retire when they're at the height of their careers, Carson said, and the military shouldn't either. 

"If you are an infantryman, that is a hard job, and you are probably peaking at your performance in your 20s, or if not your early 30s at the latest," he said. "It's different to … being a computer network exploitation expert who is getting better every single year. ... So maybe there is a way we need to think about how to modify the up-or-out promotion system."