Reassess The PCS: Stop Moving Soldiers Every 2 Years – Breaking Defense

PCS The Moving Game illustrates complexities of the process Credit: Navy infographic

For years, Ive privately advocated for the US Army to create some British-style regiments to provide greater personal stability for officers and enlisted, increase unit identification and morale, and build units that include organic capabilities so they can go to war without drawing on lots of specialized support units. One aspect of the regimental system is that troops dont rotate to a new post every 18 months to two years, as do many US military personnel. This op-ed by a Foreign Area Officer (FAO) my favorite breed of Army officer currently a military fellow at CSIS, addresses the issue of stability in a clear and compelling fashion. Read on! The Editor.

For decades, the U.S. Army has insisted that most of its soldiers move every few years. That should stop.

Given the changing demographics of the force, contemporary societal pressures, and practical resource constraints, it is prudent to re-examine thisindustrial-age process of building generalists. It comes at a cost to the Army not only by forcing soldiers to cyclically shed specialization but also in the instability and uncertainty borne by the soldier.

Moving soldiers every two to three years come at a high cost.Moving causes enormous strain on the family unit.In todays increasingly polarized U.S. culture, it is important to reconsider ways the Army can encourage more physical community-building at its bases. While more study is required to assess the overall impact of a PCS (Permanent Change of Station), it is hard to argue that it helps stability.

Col. Jason Gresh

Moving every few years is especially tough on children, who often attend several schools in the span of a few years.Stabilization would also reduce the inevitable hassle of temporary housing concerns.Undoubtedly, a move can be positive: It gives the soldier a chance to redefine himself, start fresh, and learn a new skill in a new environment.But it also involves making new friends and integrating into a new community. Given todays renewed focus on mental health issues, it seems reasonable to provide more stability for soldiers and their families.

With the recent focus on the Army Talent Management Task Force, the Army has a great opportunity to offer more stabilization a move that aligns well with the focus on talent. Now is the perfect time to reassess the need for the PCS.

Yes, the PCS is often seen as a rite of passage in the Army and other services; many Army families boast of the number of places theyve been assigned to. But a lifetime of multiple station changes may not be attractive to the new post-industrial workforce the Army is now trying to recruit and retain. Numerous studies have pointed to what millennials and Gen-Z desire in a career and the prospect of moving every two to three years certainly is not one of them.New recruits value purpose and belonging, the chance to build expertise, as well as some choice about their career paths.Offering the choice to remain in one place for longer periods may be attractive.

If the Army is serious about harnessing skills in the knowledge-based economy, this same workforce is more likely to have spouses who are also seeking a professional career and work prospects.Regardless of a soldiers skill set, traditional notions of the Army spouse staying at home, taking care of the kids, and managing the household are rarer in todays knowledge-based economy.Frequent moves strain the spouses ability to improve their professional credentials, should they choose to do so.

The Army could enact some changes now.Certain high-density skills and grades can advance in certain geographic locales without the price of multiple PCS moves. Assignment policies at Army Human Resources Command do not necessarily look for advancement or broadening opportunities in the locale where that soldier is stationed.

To be fair, the Army has a few initiatives, including measures to stabilize the family when the soldier is deployed, or for school-age stabilization. But these are exceptions to the rule. Stabilization should be offered as a choice.Especially in high-density operational and combat support communities, these opportunities exist now.Certainly, stabilization chances decrease as the type of specialization increases, but it would be wise for the Army to offer stability to the soldier when considering her for a new job. Challenges remain; the Army would have to reconcile stabilization with career timelines that include continuing education, not to mention senior leader preferences.

Finally, theres the financial argument. Decreasing the number of PCS moves could save money and ease the logistical burden required to move and support our soldiers, while eliminating the all-too familiar moving headaches for soldiers. The Army is projected to spend approximately $1.7B in fiscal 2020 alone on PCS related travel expenses.Over the last five years, PCS travel costs for the Army have hovered around $1.75B per year.

Soldier moves are so frequent that DoDs database management systems have trouble handling the workload.DoDs moving database crashed for several days in fiscal 2019, creating long delays for the approximately 80,000 moves that it had to process that summer.Leadership has taken notice.Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville has already cited the need to improve the quality of PCS moves by holding moving contractors more accountable.

Reduce the number of moves so a soldier stays in one place for four to five years.Offering stabilization as a choice will help, not disrupt, the formation of the post-industrial force. Creating an attractive environment for recruiting will also help the Army realize its increasingly difficult goal of retaining talentwhile imparting stability to the Armys workforce.

Col. Jason Gresh is a military fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Gresh has been serving for the last 12 years as a Foreign Area Officer. He specializes in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. The views expressed above are Greshs alone and do not reflect the views of the US government.

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Reassess The PCS: Stop Moving Soldiers Every 2 Years - Breaking Defense

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