Why Do Military Families Move So Much?

Written by Alita Miller


It is fairly common knowledge that military families relocate more often than most other families. But how often do military families move? According to the U.S. Department of Defense, military families move about every two to four years — sometimes even more frequently. What is rarely talked about is why do military families move so much.

While military family moving can be complex, understanding the common reasons for military moves can help families better prepare for each relocation. This information is also helpful for people who support the military community, as it gives a clearer explanation of the unique challenges military families go through.


So Many Reasons for a Military Move

So why do military families move so much?

The short answer is that military moves follow the needs of the military.

In reality, it is so much more complicated because there are multiple factors that can lead to a military family moving.

When service members get promoted to a higher rank, they usually need additional education or training. As a result, they will move to a place where they can receive the required schooling or experience for their new role. Once prepared, they will then move to a location where there is an available position for their new rank.

When an active duty service member receives new orders, several outcomes are possible. The process involves working with a detailer who assesses the service member’s eligibility for different orders based on their rank and the military occupational specialty (MOS). The detailer matches the enlisted person’s MOS with available positions in the military that need to be filled.

The accompanying travel orders detail which type of military move a family will experience as well as how frequently they are required to relocate.


Permanent Change of Station

Orders including a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) usually mean a military move for families. A PCS includes longer-term military assignments where the service member is transferred to a new duty station, generally lasting two to four years. A military PCS move is the most common reason for military families to move from one duty station to the next.


Temporary Duty Assignment

Temporary Duty Assignments (TDY) may involve a military move, depending on the duration and other factors. TDY orders are typically for training or schooling and last no longer than 180 days. In some cases, the active duty service member’s family can accompany them during the TDY. As a result, military families may live in a location for just a few months, unless their next set of orders assigns them to the same duty station. This means a military family can move multiple times in one year!


Medical Necessity

Sometimes military moves are a result of medical necessity because their current base doesn’t have adequate facilities. If there is a medical emergency that warrants longer-term care, often PCS or TDY orders may follow depending on the situation. This is more common when families stationed overseas discover that a family member needs specialty long-term care.


Unaccompanied PCS Orders and Long Deployments

The long separations associated with extended deployments are difficult for military families, especially for those with young children and no support group away from their hometowns. While orders for an Unaccompanied PCS move are not as frequent, they require military families to be separated for even longer periods of time, sometimes years. In these situations, military families might make the decision for the military spouse and children to move home to be closer to their extended family.


Effects of Moving on Military Families

Understanding why military families move so much and the effects of frequent moves is important to provide them with the support they need.

Military moves, especially with children, place a lot of stress on military families.

Every few years, they are uprooted from their communities and have to leave their friends behind. Children have to adjust to a new school. Spouses have to leave their jobs and may be held back from advancing their careers — some may choose to forego a career entirely due to the challenges of frequent job changes and securing new childcare every time their family resettles. And although the Department of Defense subsidizes the moves, there are still costs that aren’t covered — think pet transportation fees, pantries of food and cleaning supplies, and clothing for new climates — that can add up quickly.

The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) strives to support military families by recognizing the challenges of frequent moves. Their goal is to provide the necessary assistance, enrichment, security, and opportunities to strengthen the bonds within military families. By doing so, they help alleviate the stress faced by our nation’s heroes enabling them to better focus on their mission of service. Here are just some of the ways ASYMCA meets the unique needs of military families:


Strengthening Our Military Families

The AYMCA provides services and programs specially designed to help junior-enlisted service members, their spouses and children navigate military life amidst frequent relocations and deployments. By identifying and addressing gaps in services that pose a hardship to service members and their families — hardships that can negatively affect mission readiness — the ASYMCA works hard to strengthen our military families, holistically.

You can help ensure these essential programs continue to make a lasting positive impact on the lives of those who serve and sacrifice.