Making Lasting Memories through Every Military Move

Written by Jeanine Rickman


“Parting is such sweet sorrow….”
-William Shakespeare

I never understood the full meaning of that saying until I became immersed in military life — where life is constantly changing, farewells are common, and there is the excitement and trepidation of adventure: new opportunities, new places, and new people.

Saying goodbye to family and friends while preparing for a long distance move is something most active duty military families do more than the typical American family. The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) reports that military children transfer schools six to nine times by the 12th grade, which means often leaving friends and familiarity behind.

Our family is one that has experienced unusual circumstances that have allowed us to stay in one area for a long time, but we still have our share of farewells when friends and neighbors receive orders to a new duty station. It is having such a strong community that makes these goodbyes simultaneously easier and harder. We know we will always find understanding and support, but we also know that saying farewell is inevitable with frequent military moves.

In military communities, we learn to adapt, to appreciate and live in the moment, and become resilient. We teach our children that there are friendships strong enough to last no matter the distance. We learn that we take a part of each place that we leave behind with us, and that in so many ways, “home” becomes people more than a place.

Preparing for a permanent change of station (PCS) move doesn’t just mean focusing on the logistics and packing. Military families moving a long distance need to prepare emotionally as well. It’s difficult leaving a home you have loved, but here are some PCS moving tips to help make the transition easier.


1. Make the Journey Memorable

There is no easy way to leave a place you have loved and called home, but focusing on the journey helps. Making a PCS move into an adventure is a great way to focus on the positives instead of the negatives. Traveling from one place to the next and exploring each duty station to discover unique experiences makes for fantastic memories that will last a lifetime.

We try to plan trips and experiences around something special for each member of our family: I really love museums and historical sites, my husband is interested in insects and comics, one daughter loves art, another loves books, our son wants to be active and visit every playground. We all love seeing natural wonders, though the kids will complain if it requires walking too far.


2. Create Tangible Memories

Showing our kids pictures is a great start but having small, cherished and familiar items that can be touched makes it a bit easier to transition from one place to the next. We acknowledge that it is okay to grieve what we lose when we move and when our military friends move, but we focus on how much we have gained in memorable experiences with those we love.


Mapping Our Lives

It is fairly popular for military families to create a map that shows where they have lived and where the service member has been deployed. Maps are a fantastic visual reminder of where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. They provide a way for our family to easily trace the paths of our military moves. We can even use different colors to show where our friends and family are living. This has become especially important to our son who wants to hold a globe and know where all the people we love are located.


Books, Families, and Friendships

Books have always been important to our family. We use them to explore and learn. As parents, we use them to help us explain military life to our children, like deployments and saying goodbye. Sometimes we find a book and get multiple copies for our children to share. Knowing they have the same story to read as their friends helps them feel closer. We can even write a personal note in it. For older children, these books can be signed like a yearbook.


Memory Treasures

Representing where we have been in wall art is a great way to showcase your family relocations. Many military families create or purchase art work for each state/country they live in with the dates incorporated into it as a way to track their military moves. I still have some state artwork I made as part of an ASYMCA resiliency craft class years ago.

Creating a small box or an album is another fantastic way to help a child keep tangible memories. Sometimes, my daughter or son will sit and go through their prized treasures and talk about their friends and the places they have been, and we feel connected to our past and the people that are part of our lives. Some things that have helped my children: swapping stuffed animals or small toys with friends or making crafts together. At one farewell slumber party, my daughter and her friends drew on and signed pillow cases.

They have also enjoyed sending letters and drawings to friends far away and keeping the ones they receive.


Comforting Quilts

The ASYMCA offers a service called Operation Kid Comfort that creates personalized photo quilts and pillow cases for the children (ages 0-12) of deployed active duty service members. They are custom quilts with pictures that include children with their active duty parent. These are offered at little to no cost depending on the location; however, military families may be asked to pay for shipping if needed. It’s something comforting to take with them during each PCS move!


3. Embrace Technology to Keep in Touch

It is easier to move away from a place and people we care about when we know we can still stay connected. Using technology to communicate and feel connected to loved ones far away no matter the distance has become more accessible. There are so many ways that families can benefit and feel connected and included:

  • Online video gaming
  • Online messaging and video calls
  • Making video recording of someone reading a story or a special event
  • Virtual board game simulations like Tabletop Simulator, so you can play a board game with anyone anywhere.

We sometimes combine a couple; my son loves to play Minecraft online while video chatting with his friends and cousins. My husband and I have played a tabletop game with distant family members while talking with them on the phone.


4. Resiliency Makes Moving on Easier

ASYMCA offers many programs which incorporate teaching children how to be resilient. Some of our favorite programs are Operation Little Learners, Operation Hero, and Operation Camp. We love that Operation Little Learners provides an essential early education curriculum as well as guidance on how to meet the trials of military life. Operation Hero is a free after-school program for school-age military children and children impacted by the care needs of a wounded, ill, or injured service member or veteran. Designed to help students cope and adjust to the unique challenges of military life, Operation Camp is a fun-filled ASYMCA program for school-aged military children while they are on summer or winter break.


Strengthen and Support

Contributing to an organization like ASYMCA not only helps meet active duty families’ needs directly, it strengthens military communities by teaching them resiliency and allows them to thrive during each PCS move. Support our military families by donating to ASYMCA today.