PCS.

AKA: Permanent change of station.

AKA: Like it or not, you are moving.

PCS. How three little letters can mean so much. You will be uprooted. Things will be chaotic. It will be very stressful. Say goodbye to your friends, coworkers and supervisors. You are leaving.

I recently heard that moving is the third most stressful event in a persons life. Preceded only by death of an immediate family member and divorce. Pretty serious stuff.

I have just PCS’d to Germany from Belgium. I was very happy in Belgium and would gladly stayed for three or four more years, but Uncle Sam said it was time to go. So I went.

Four hours down the road. I’m now a member of the 33rd Army Band. My NATO days are a fond memory.

You would be amazed and how much paperwork and hoopla is involved for such a short move. Granted, I did leave one foreign country to move to another one, but come on! It’s only four hours away!

So why am I writing about moving here at musicianwages? Because moving is a big part of life in the Army band. I’ve been doing this job for almost 16 years. This is my 6th band. If you consider Basic Training, Army Music school and a couple of combat tours in Iraq as well, I’ve moved 10 times. That’s a lot of moves.

Allow me to shed a little light on the PCS process. There are several steps that can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple of months depending on where you are coming from and where you are going to.

First you must clear your current post

You will run around the base getting paperwork and signatures from anybody and everybody. This always involves lots of backtracking, frustration and revisiting the same folks various times. An extremely important signature is always needed from someone who just left for a 3 week vacation. And when you go to get your last stamp and turn in all your paperwork, you’ll be thrilled to learn the office is taking a half day, because it’s Friday. Not to worry, they’ll be back on Monday, but you’re flying to Spain the next morning… Groan.

You must pack up your house

The good news is that the Army will pay a company to move you. They come to your house, pack up all your belongings and load them onto a truck. All you have to do is stand around and point (I usually buy them lunch, as well). This can be a bit unnerving as you watch the movers sprint from one room to the next grabbing random items (trash can, toys, bed sheets, toaster) throwing them all into a large box before sealing it up and labeling it… clothes.

You take a vacation

This is not mandatory, but I highly recommend it. And you are completely free to relax. There’s nothing lingering at work. No big project on the horizon. You are totally finished with your last post, and have yet to start with your new one. It’s as close as you can get to being unemployed, while still getting paid.

I left cold and rainy Belgium to spend a week on the sun drenched beaches of Spain (also highly recommended). Then I moved to my new home, cold and rainy Germany.

You arrive at your new post. You now repeat the process in reverse.

You find a house

You will be given between a week to ten days to franticly scour the area searching out a home in your price range. You’ll consider all the important questions – Do they take pets? Is one toilet enough for a family of four? What school district will we be in? Is it really a good idea to live on top of a bar? You will be given a monthly housing allowance based on your rank.

Of course, if lodging is available you could choose to live on post. You won’t receive a housing allowance, but you don’t have to worry about paying rent or utilities. Go ahead, keep it at 90 degrees all winter and 50 during the summer. It’s covered.

Personally, I prefer to live off post. This is mainly due to the fact that I enjoy driving AWAY from my work at the end of the day. But that’s just me.

You in-process your new post

Same deal as before. Run around visiting lots of folks you’ll most likely never see again until you need their signature to clear.

You get your stuff back

The moving truck rolls up and you get to discover what didn’t survive. The movers unload you, reassemble your furniture and place things in the room of your choosing. You can ask them to unpack all the boxes, but I don’t know anybody who has actually done that. And besides, then you’d miss the pleasure of discovering that all your workout shoes came over in the cooler… mmmm cold beer anyone? If anything is destroyed you will be reimbursed.

You go back to work, at you new job

Believe me, by the time you finally get to this point, you are READY to start playing in a band again!

If all this sounds like an inconvenience, I’m not doing it justice. It’s Much Worse. And I’m a bit of a nomad. I actually enjoy living in different places every few years.

I just don’t like moving.

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12 Responses to Moving in the Military Band

  1. madmax says:

    I didn’t really understand what the heck you were talking about :) are you a musician in the Army band and they offered you a vacation in Spain? Furthermore, what’s in it for me? Are you just writing to share an experience, or is this an article for people who want to leave it all behind and work for the Army band? I don’t see your point.

    • Josh DiStefano says:

      MadMax,

      I had you pay for my own vacation to Spain. Sorry if that was unclear.

      I’m sharing my experiences in the Army Band, so if any one is considering this life as a way of making a living, they can have a little more information.

      I’m not telling anyone to “leave it all behind”. That is a life changing decision that needs serious thought. All I’m doing is shedding a little light on this life.

      As for what’s in it for you… That’s for you to figure out. All I can say is “It’s worked out for me.”

      Josh

      • Josh DiStefano says:

        Sorry for the typo. The first line should say “I paid for my own vacation”.

        Also you need to have enough vacation days. You earn 2 and 1/2 days every month. If you don’t have any days built up, don’t expect to take a month off.

    • Dave says:

      madmax – Have some respect, man. Josh is giving us all good info on what it means to join a military band, which is difficult info to get. A lot of people are helped by his articles.

  2. Teazmo says:

    Great to see you back, Josh! Is there any pattern to moves, like every two years you can count on it, or do they come out of the blue? What if you want to transfer? How does that work (if it’s possible)?

    • Josh DiStefano says:

      Hey Teazmo,

      On average you can expect 2 year tours in a stateside assignment and 3 years overseas (Alaska and Hawaii are considered overseas). If you go unaccompanied (without your family) to Korea, it’s a one year tour.

      My experiences have found this to be pretty accurate, give or take a couple months.

      You are technically able to move after being on station just one year. So you could put in to transfer somewhere else, or the Army could decide you’re needed somewhere else.

      If the Army wants you to move, you’ll most likely be going.
      If You put in the transfer it depends on the reason (family hardship is more likely to be approved than “This town sucks”) and how crucial you are to the unit (1 of 15 trumpet players with 3 more coming OR the only bass player with no others scheduled to arrive for 2 years).

      Hope that helps,

      Josh

  3. Jim Fisher says:

    Josh, look on the bright side. You’re going from a great assignment to a great assignment. Granted, it’s not Heidelberg, but Sembach is in really pretty country. I used to take day trips up there to by auto parts for fellow soldiers. I envy you the fantastic audiences you’ll play for . My 6.5 years at the 33rd was the absolute best time of my life. TDYs as far North as Sweden and Norway, as far South as Turkey. Playing for the ambassador in Bonn, for Reagan and Bush #1 in Berlin. You will leave with so many more great memories. And Tommy Suri as an Enlisted Bandleader (you could do so much worse…oh wait you did-you had to put up with me as a 1SG). Life is good for you my friend. Take care.

    • Josh DiStefano says:

      Hey Jim,

      I’m not complaining. It’s really cool to experience Europe through the eyes of a different country. We’re enjoying Germany so far!

      It’s great working with SGM Suri again. There are not many of us left from that old 9th Army band crew.

      There has been some stop-and-go with CD#2. But it’s on my to do list.

      As always thanks for reading. And try to stay warm up there!

      Josh

  4. Jim Fisher says:

    I liked it better when you told Madmax he paid for your vacation (he did pay your salary while you were on leave). You deserve all the good things that are coming your way. 6th band in 16 years and 2 combat tours. There are 2 things that I’m pretty sure you never heard me complain about. Assignments and promotions. I had only 4 assignments in 24 years with only 2 years being at a Division (101st)15 years continuous at Ft Monroe and Heidelberg. I moved as little as possible to keep things stable for the kids, but “homesteading” really didn’t hurt me for promotion. I made one more stripe than I probably deserved. “Homesteading” did however make me complacent (and a little less effective as a leader). Besides, the more often you move the more chances you get to lighten the load of stuff that accumulates. Looking forward to you next Blog about your first really good USAREUR Band and Chorus experience. P.S. They’re lucky to have you! When’s the 2nd CD coming out? I have Baghdad Blues on my I-Pod.

  5. Bart Lone says:

    Hey Josh! Great article here. I honestly didn’t see the byline and was trying to guess who the author was as I read. Having seen a link on Facebook, I wasn’t sure if it was written recently or not. You certainly laid out the process well. The only thing that I would add, having done 4 overseas moves is that the government will pay for shipment of one vehicle to or from an overseas assignment and there are stringent requirements. There is a size limit (we shipped a conversion van to Hawaii, so most vehicles are acceptable). Also, no more than 1/4 tank of gas. When we left Heidelberg, we had planned a final road trip that didn’t happen but had already filled the tank. The Honda we had was equipped with an anti-siphon device, so I couldn’t suck the extra gas out, so I wound up driving around the Autobahn for a couple hours just burning the extra fuel. Then, there’s the cleanliness factor. The car must be CLEAN and pass an inspection. If the inspector decides it’s not clean enough, you get to spend precious PCS hours scrubbing wheel wells, bumpers, etc.

    Now, I feel I must address the question from Teazmo. As you said, “If the Army wants you to move, you’ll most likely be going”, that’s me. For the last 2-1/2 years, I’ve been the guy who tells Army musicians they’re moving. The one year on station minimum is no longer accurate. Other than assignments to Korea, which are typically 12 months, you can expect at least 24 months in a stateside assignment and 36 months overseas. We (the Army) are working to get the stateside assignments closer to 3 years and that’s a good thing. As you mentioned, transfer requests are dependent on how crucial you are to the unit, but they also depend on how long you’ve been there, what your assignment history is, what your rank is, if there’s a position available where you want to go, etc.

    I’ve been an Army musician now for over 18 years and not only has “it worked out for me”, it’s been a blast! I’ve lived in Germany, Virginia, Hawaii and Kentucky. I’ve been able to serve my country playing music in France, Russia, Hungary, Bosnia, Belgium, Iraq. I’ve played for many dignitaries including President Clinton and Vice President Cheney, and with some of the best musicians in the world including Josh DiStefano.

  6. DiXoN says:

    Great info and thanks for your service. As a 1stSgt in the Air Force Reserve and someone who toured a year with AF Tops In Blue, your service provides a magnitude of ambassadorship around the globe.

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