Military moves are challenging for service members, AND their families.
I was crying in the kids’ bathroom. Not because of the unusual shade of yellow that I was painting on the wall. Not because of the fumes in the small space. I was crying because of what I was painting over.
On the wall behind the bathroom door, marked in neat lines, were the heights of my children at different ages. Any parent would recognize this proud growth tracker. We had moved into the house when my oldest was only 8 months old. My 2 sons were born while we lived there. This was the only growth chart I had used for all 3 children. The names and dates and pencil lines marked not just their heights, but the growth of our family. And now I had to paint over this treasured keepsake.
Why? Because we were moving. After just 3 years at that house, our time was up, and the military was moving us to a new duty station. This time, it was to another country.
My husband has lived at 5 different duty stations during the past 15 years. I have been with him at 4 of them. That’s pretty standard for most military families. It is an accepted fact of military life that we will relocate every few years, sometimes all the way across the US, or even overseas.
But have you ever stopped to ask why?It's a fact of military life that families move every few years. But why? Click To Tweet
Why must military families move so often?
We are told that military members need to move to develop their skills and complete different training requirements. The military wants troops to train in a range of skills. But in the modern digital age, that doesn’t make much sense.
Instead of training every service member in every environment, we have special forces and unique equipment to carry out particular tasks. Service members can attend schools, or deploy to peaceful nations to train in new environments. Their families don’t need to relocate for short-term training. Learning infantry skills, or piloting skills, or administrative skills, doesn’t change between the East Coast and the West Coast.
Frequent military moves cost the government billions
In recent years, Congress has complained about the high cost of military family benefits. They have studied the cost of PCS moves, where the entire family relocates with their service member. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), costs have risen 13% since 2001, and now total more than $4.3 billion per year. Moving costs vary for different branches and between enlisted and officer families. The average cost to the government per move is around $6,700.
Military moves waste money AND time
When my husband’s unit returned from their last deployment, 75% of the service members left the unit to work somewhere else—either another unit, or they left the military completely. Those spaces must be filled before the next deployment. For the next year, new people will join the unit, train together, and get to know each other so that they can deploy again.
Not only does this require a lot more time and effort from those who remain with the unit, but it is challenging for their families too! I spent the last deployment making new friends and investing time and energy into finding deployment buddies. Now most of them are leaving. Even though I am staying, I need to do it all over again for the next deployment. It is… exhausting.
Frequent moves are not a good business practice
A civilian company would never operate this way. Corporate business practices don’t move leaders once they have learned a skill. They don’t move until they are ready to take on a new position, such as a regional director, or an employee in the corporate office. Typically, you keep leaders in place, so they can train others and build a cohesive team.
Staying put is better for families too. Since teamwork is inherent to the military, why don’t they follow more logical business practices?
Here’s the real reason the military moves so much:
The real answer: emotional detachment. It is because the military is centered on teamwork that they cannot follow efficient business practices. Teamwork creates emotional attachment. Being emotionally attached makes it a lot harder to lose a life on the battlefield. So, to prevent emotional attachment, the military invests over $4 billion every year into relocating troops and families.The real reason the military moves so often is emotional detachment. #milspouse Click To Tweet
Is the investment worth it?
I can understand the value of this. After all, I was the one who was emotionally attached to my children’s growth chart on the wall, which I had used for less than 3 years. I’m just not convinced that the strategy of frequent military moves is working for service members.
Will you be less emotionally attached to someone you have known for a year than to someone you have worked with for five years? Losing a friend in combat is horrible, no matter how long you have known them. On the other hand, no one can weigh the cost of emotional detachment in combat.
Then there’s the issue of recruitment and retention, which the military has been struggling with in recent years. The saying goes that you “recruit the service member, retain the family.” As families have become increasingly vocal about the challenges of frequent military moves impacting spouse careers, family finances, and medical care for family members, it may be time to re-evaluate this costly practice.
Well that’s depressing…
I mean, I understand the practicality of the principle, but their underlying assumption that emotional attachment takes a long amount of time isn’t true. It can take just a few days or weeks, so if that was really their purpose, there would never be a home for our military. ☹️
I know, it’s a sad part of life for the service members and their families, too! I wish there was a better way to handle it without uprooting everyone constantly.
But thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I appreciate it!
The reason that the army moves so often is a direct result of the civil war. The US government did not want soldiers to have loyalty to their home state, but rather to the federal government. I am an army brat and I serve not, when asked where I am from I say “I’m an army brat”, which means I am from no where and every where. This may sound silly in the modern era, but think about the current political climate, do you want members of the army to be loyal to a state, where they “could” be called to quell a rebellion. Its a sad fact, but it is necessary.
That’s an interesting perspective too! It makes sense though, from a legal perspective. The majority of new recruits already come from about 5 states.
The families also experience the detachment. Its heartbreaking. I was a military kid and it still hurts. Some people are more able to over come the adversity. I got over it because I had to. Its child abuse. Weird nasty emotional abuse.
Agreed! The lifestyle may be fine for some kids, for others, it’s cruel. But people then justify it as “character growth” without stopping to consider how the kids must really feel.
As a child, I was never given a choice to sacrifice natural emotional attachment growth for my father…if an adult want to choose it that’s one thing. Forcing children to go through it is another.
I was also a military brat. There were no wars then, it was the 1950’s. My father was fairly high ranking and his job was as deputy base commander. The longest we stayed anywhere was two years, so my Dad would have to learn how things were done at the new military base, which was always different from the last ones for a variety of reasons, including different methodology and personalities. This a ridiculously inefficient and costly way to run a business, which the military is in many ways. They would be out of business if they didn’t have never ending funding by taxpayers. I still struggle with trying to continue a relationship past the one or two year mark when things get more complicated and you have to learn how to make those relationships more substantial. Lose lose situations for children, spouses, and everything the military is supposed to stand for in this country.
Buuuut wouldn’t being more attached to the people you serve with help you to trust them more? And wouldn’t that make you more successful in combat as a group? And wouldn’t you fight harder to protect people in your combat group if you knew and cared about them? Isn’t this the premise of those crazy-skilled elite military strike forces who train together? “Detachment” might be useful for commanders. I suspect it’s easier to send someone to his death if you don’t know him that well. But, frankly, I’m not sure that’s something we want to make easier for commanders. Sending people to their death is certainly sometimes necessary. It should never be easy. Sorry, military. You don’t get a pass on the frequent moves from me. They make no sense and do more harm than good.
Do officers move just as much as enlisted. Specifically would a pilot move a lot compared to an infantryman?
It varies depending on branch and their specific job. At higher ranks, some officers move every 18 months years as they complete specialty schools or do command leadership positions.
Pilots depend on the aircraft assignments. If they fly a particular plane only found at 2 bases, they aren’t likely to move much. For more common aircraft, they would be on the typical 3 year rotation until they became a pilot instructor.
Officers move more often than enlisted! We served 23 years in the USN and daughter is married to a CG pilot and generally officers move every 2 years we moved 3-4 years.
One thing that can be bad is if you move and you’re grateful that you moved because your base commander or your company Commander whoever it was was a total jerk to you and treat you like crap is trying to force you out of the military now you get moved and what happens they move that jerk right to your base back in charge of you where they continue to make your life hell and your spouse’s life hell when you’re deployed. I have personally seen this happen and I think one of the things is you should never become an officer directly out of basic training or AIT people who come up through the ranks have a lot more respect for the unlisted and non-coms I too have seen that. I’ve actually spoken to some officers who agreed with me that somebody should have to spend at least one enlistment minimum as an enlisted so that they learn to respect for the troops.
Typically, a military family moves every two to three years. However, depending on the specific nature of the military member’s job in the family, moves can be more frequent. A member can be relocated to another part of the country (CONUS) or overseas (OCONUS). Regardless of where a family is relocated, constantly moving is tough.