PCS Countdown, Part I

Over the last two weeks as I’ve started preparing for our next Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move, I’ve also been what’s known in the Foreign Service as “Acting.” That’s when you cover your boss’s position while also covering your own, and it’s common during the holidays or transition seasons when many people request leave at the same time. Since I was also Acting for all of last December, my boss offered me the chance this year to take Christmas off. However, I’d elected instead to take leave in January for Orthodox Christmas and New Year; I’d wanted to take V to San Diego to show him old places I love, and to Tucson to explore new places together. Of course, since we subsequently decided to curtail, we need to prioritize packing out and returning to Virginia in favor of traveling for fun. I’ll still take a few weeks of home leave once we get to Virginia, but there won’t sadly be any desert or west coast involvement.

I will reflect in the future on the thoughts and feelings I have about things I won’t be getting to do here. For now, I am looking forward to returning to Virginia. I’m particularly grateful that it’s much easier to PCS from a border post than it is from posts that involve air travel. In my limited experience of three Foreign Service posts so far, it seems the more developed a country is and the more you set up your life there, the more difficult it is to unwind everything at the end.

In Tashkent, our internet and home phone service was organized through the commissary on the embassy grounds – easy to set up and cancel. When it was time to end our tour, we had a big party, a yard sale, put our car and the rest of our things in the shipment, and took an expedited motorpool ride to the airport.

In Canberra it was much more complex. We had to service and sell two different vehicles, including transferring the diplomatic registration, canceling our Australian car insurance policies, and filling out a ton of embassy paperwork. We had a lot of local life to disassemble, too: we had to close local bank accounts; cancel cable, internet, and cell phone packages; turn in road toll tags; cancel gym memberships; discontinue various dental and medical services and collect our records; submit my last diplomatic claims for reimbursement of GST and fuel excise tax; and run all over town with bureaucratic errands – and all of this while we were both working full-time. (The only admin time you get for a PCS is 16 hours for the packout.) I started preparing for our move at least four months in advance, and although it went smoothly and I included a lot of extra tasks (like planning a ton of logistics for optional home leave vacations), it still came down to the last day.

Our PCS move from Mexico will be unlike any other we’ve had because it will involve the border and cars. Just like when we arrived here, the amazefest of being able to supplement your welcome kit and whatever your sponsors bring you with things you have in your car on night #1, the reverse will also be true. As we wait for our HHE and beds to arrive to an empty house, we will at least have been able to load two SUVs with our kitchen, valuables, sleeping bags, and most essential clothes to keep us going. That’s more than what we could have flown with, and will more than double our UAB if in fact that arrives before the HHE. It will probably just feel like a delayed and inconvenient domestic move. We shall see.

A PCS move is always a giant stressor, no matter what you do or how organized you are. In the last weeks everything in your house becomes a question mark. Will I put it in my sea freight, air freight, use it up, or give it away before we go? you ask yourself. Driving home last night from work, I reached in the console for my gate pass as I drove up to my neighborhood’s security booth. I forgot to add “leave garage door openers and gate passes on kitchen counter” on my departure morning list! my exhausted brain flickered. This after a 12 hour day in the office writing performance reviews and trying to wrap up projects and outbriefs while mitigating taskers from Washington and our leadership and triaging new cases of U.S. citizens in distress.

My next thought was that if I didn’t write it down immediately, we would leave Mexico and realize while driving across Arkansas or Tennessee we still had consulate property in our cars. This is what a PCS will do to you.

Driving on I-10 W towards downtown El Paso ~ December 2021

We already have orders, a scheduled packout date, a departure sponsor, half a mail forwarding order (it’s a long story), a lease on a house in Virginia starting in February, and a Post departure date. We also let our U.S. car insurance company know to re-endorse our policy at our new address, set up the Toyota for service, picked up our medical records from the Consulate, worked most of the way through work checklists by working nights and weekends, and took our cat to the vet (a story for another day – yes, we now have a cat).

Our priorities for the next week are:

– Preparing the house for packout. I took three vacation days to deal with this. We need to thoroughly clean, start zipping up linens and bedding, make lists of what we need to pack in the cars vs. put in UAB or HHE, and ensure our property insurance manager added transit coverage to our policy.

– Confirming a hotel reservation for the first two weeks we’re in Virginia, to cover the gap between our arrival and being able to move into our new house. Our new landlord needs a little time to paint and make it ready for us, since the previous tenants were living there for four years and are moving out in stages to Florida over the next couple of weeks.

– Closing out our home internet and phone by prepaying the next two months to the Consulate: we received our first two months free.

– Taking the Toyota for service.

– Resolving various personal errands. I have a large bag of clothes that don’t fit me that I need to donate. I also have doctor’s appointments, prescriptions to pick up in El Paso, my own performance appraisal statement to write (now that I did the ones due for officers I rate), and unfortunately, my husband had the bad luck of a minor fender bender and a stolen credit card number a couple days apart. He has to sort that out while juggling his own work deadlines and caring for a grumpy cat recovering from surgery.

This holiday weekend I will be reflecting on what 2021 has brought me – for better or worse – and how I can position myself to receive and create great things in 2022. I am really ready for something new and wonderful. Are you in?

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