Editor’s Note: The following information is the result of one family’s efforts to receive authorization and begin preparations to make a family PCS from the US to the ROK. The steps mentioned are typical but not appropriate for every situation. As always, ask your command for the official word about what you can (and cannot) do and what the timeline is for your specific situation.
CONTRIBUTED BY NICHOLE WILLIAMS
We are going to Korea – yikes is right! It’s probably the same reaction most everyone has when they first get the news. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, since PCS is self-inflicted. My husband tells me this is “the best move for his career”… so off we go. Although I was pretty sure this was coming, part of me is still in denial, so I am in the process of coming to terms with the major change. My way of taking control and feeling safe is to make lists, lists, and more lists! Do your research – it really helps to know what you are getting into; it takes the fear out of this very big change.
My first step was to make a list of questions I needed to find answers to. My questions and answers are what I would like to share with you today. This is by no means an exhaustive list (that could fill an entire book!), but I think there are questions in here that I did not find answers for online, and had to learn through the Army process. A little background on our PCS so other families may be able to relate properly: We are active duty Army, family of five, going to Camp Red Cloud (Area 1) at the end of July 2015 (we had to get an exception to policy to take family members to this area).
Here are the questions I had:
- Do we have command sponsorship?
Command sponsorship (CS) differs for each area of Korea. Area 1 is the most restrictive, and at this point they do not allow any command sponsorships. My husband had to fill out a lot of paperwork and write a petition to get an exception to policy in order to even apply for CS. The reason for this change is the Army is slowly consolidating resources to just a few areas.
For example, Camp Red Cloud will no longer have DODDS schools beginning August 2015. There are very few resources for families in this area now, and there is no on-post family housing. Before you go any further you need to have command sponsorship; nothing else can start moving until then. In some situations a spouse/family may PCS to Korea non-command sponsored, but before choosing this option be sure to do your research about the resources available to you at your new duty station.
- How to clear EFMP?
For those who do not use the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), you may not know a lot about it. The Army needs to make sure that if there are any special accommodations that need to be made for family members, the resources needed to care for your special needs family member will be available. If you don’t already use it, it will most likely just be another box you have to check.
To clear EFMP, every family member must have a full physical, be up-to-date on shots, and children under the age of 18 have to have a PPD test (TB test) done. This paperwork all has to be taken to the EFMP staff on your outgoing post to be cleared and signed.
Pro Tip: You cannot get command sponsorship until you clear EFMP and have the signed form DA Form 5888. Our family uses TRICARE Standard so we were concerned about physical forms equating to what the Army wanted. Any doctor’s physical form will work just fine as long as it checks all the areas that are on the physical form the EFMP office gives you. Make sure if you have an outside doctor they note if the child is developmentally normal; if the doctor’s physical form does not cover that then the EFMP staff can perform that section.
- What after EFMP is cleared?
After we cleared EFMP we had to send in all the paperwork to get my husband’s orders amended to include the three kids and me. This process can take awhile… be patient! But the good news is, everything is downhill from there!
- What is the next step after getting amended orders? There are several things that can be done in any order at this point.
Get passports. The Army will not pay for tourist passports. You do, on the other hand, have to get diplomatic/official passports (which is done on post). Be aware that if you want to travel outside of the country you are assigned to, you must purchase a tourist passport. Make sure to have that in hand before heading to the ROK; it’s harder to get one once you’re out of the country than if you get it before you leave.
Set up housing shipments. We had three different shipments, but all scheduled at the same time with the transportation office. There is long-term storage, unaccompanied baggage, and the normal household goods shipment (HHG).
For our family there was an additional step to take: extending housing for the kids and me at the outbound installation. Because my husband will be stationed at Camp Red Cloud, regulations state that we cannot go over until my husband has secured housing for us. Current policy states family members cannot join until 60-120 after housing has been procured. However, we are allowed to apply to keep our on-post house here at our losing installation. This exception has to be approved, but because the Army sets the policy for non-concurrent travel, they make accommodations for family members who necessarily stay behind.
Setting up flight tickets happens at the transportation office as well. Normally you set it up the same time the service member gets their flight date, but because we cannot join until two months later, we are not allowed to make flight reservations until he has secured housing.
I could truly write a whole book on the things that go into an overseas PCS to Korea! As I mentioned, this is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it helps at least a few people who are as lost as I was at the beginning. Not knowing what to expect or the steps to take can be stressful, so I hope one less person be stressed.
This list was truly my starting point. I probably annoyed many civilian employees with all my questions but that is the only way to get the information you need. My husband truly believes that they make it as difficult as possible to get your family over there so that you will just give up, but if you really want to join your service member don’t give up, put up with the annoying red tape and hoop jumping and you too can make it through!