Master movers: Military families share tips

Advice for a smooth transition as military relocation season hits its peak

Movers pack the belongings of a family in Fort McPherson

Movers pack the belongings of a family in Fort McPherson, a U.S. Army base in East Point, Georgia. Military families move an average of six to nine times before their children graduate from high school. (Photo: Kevin Stabinsky, U.S. Army Installation Management Command)

Every year, when school lets out and summer kicks in, an estimated 225,000 U.S. military members and their families pack up and move – sometimes across the country, sometimes around the world. Moving often becomes a summer ritual, with military families typically relocating six to nine times before their children graduate from high school.

Raytheon employees know firsthand how hard this life can be: more than 10,000 veterans work for the company, and employee volunteers are deeply involved in programs for military families. So, as the summer moving season reaches its peak this month, turned to them for tips to make moves as easy as possible for the whole family.

Get going early

Moving is a series of long-term and short-term tasks, so getting started early will help keep you on schedule. Start by getting your pickup request in early – the U.S. Army recommends doing this as soon as you receive change-of-station orders – and develop a to-do list for every week ahead of the move. Set deadlines for tasks such as getting rid of things you don't need, estimating the weight of all your belongings and washing items such as blankets, curtains and pillow cases.

Deciding what you want to accomplish – and how soon, and in what order – will turn an overwhelming pile of chores into a blueprint for a successful move, said Steve Upton, a U.S. Navy veteran whose career included time in Chicago, San Diego and two years on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

“The last thing you want to do is be 2,500 miles away from where you left and say, 'I forgot to do this,'” said Upton, who now works for Raytheon's Intelligence, Information and Services business. “Family, household, finances – it’s all in the preparation.”

Emphasize the adventure

Moves are especially hard on children, so it's helpful to show them that every place has something exciting. For retired U.S. Air Force Col. Wayne Scott, research helped him and his wife sell many of the family’s address changes – 17 in total – to their two sons. “We would always present it as an adventure – here are all of the neat things we are going to do while we live there.”

Whenever the couple got orders to move, they looked up their new location and made a list of nearby activities their sons might find interesting. Then, rather than simply breaking the news, they showed the boys all the excitement that awaited. “It gave them an opportunity to mentally prepare for it and to tell their friends that they were leaving,” said Scott, who now works for Raytheon's Integrated Defense Systems. “We were blessed with two kids who were very adaptable. They were quick to make friends. They rolled with it.”

Take Tons of Pictures

A common camera can be a powerful tool during a move. Use it to create an instant inventory of everything you own, then check those items off as you unpack. Photos can also remind you where all the items go on bookshelves and display cases, and which cable goes where in the entertainment center. The Department of Defense site Military OneSource recommends going a step further and creating a spreadsheet that includes each item's description, condition, where you bought it, how much you paid and, if applicable, the model and serial number.

Pack tactically

Whatever you'll need first, put that on the truck last. And if you need it at a moment's notice, don't put it on the truck at all. The back of a moving truck is no place for toiletries and towels when all you want is a shower, and it's an even worse place for your crying child's favorite bedtime book. Pack things you need right away in travel bags, and keep them close at hand throughout your trip. In a blog post on Army Live, former Military Spouse of the Year Crystal Cavalier recommends putting together a "survival kit" that includes portable electronics to keep children entertained, pillows, blankets and air mattresses, and paper plates and cups for family meals during packing and unpacking.

Live like a local

Whether it's food, music, people or something else, find and enjoy the things that give your new town its cultural identity, said retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Felicia Jackson. Jackson spent 24 years in the service and has lived on three continents, in places from Tucson to Turkey, with her daughter, Bianca, in tow.

“I tried to show her that wherever we were, there were places to appreciate and to try new things,” said Jackson, who now works at Raytheon Missile Systems. Her strategy worked. Bianca spent six years in the Air Force herself, married someone she met in the service, and still embraces new things everywhere she goes.

Felicia Jackson, right, an Air Force veteran

Felicia Jackson, right, an Air Force veteran and employee at Raytheon Missile Systems, poses with her daughter, Bianca, at basic training graduation. Jackson said immersing in local culture helped her family during a series of military moves around the world.

Keep the whole family in mind

If you’re the reason the family is moving, your part of the move is often easiest – you have a job, and if you’re military, you may even know people on base already, said retired U.S. Army Col. Philip Foster. For the rest of your family, the move doesn’t come with a routine or familiar surroundings, so keep that in mind from the start, he said. 

“When you have a conversation about moving, it needs to be a family discussion,” Foster said. “Military people are used to just making a decision and going. People forget how tough it is for the kids… the families are the most affected.”

Clubs can help children make friends and keep up in their studies. Boys & Girls Clubs of America, for example, have affiliated youth centers on more than 500 military installations around the world. Raytheon has partnered with the organization to to build technologically advanced Centers of Innovation at several Boys & Girls Clubs sites. The Military Child Education Coalition, another Raytheon partner, offers guides for parents and teachers on its website.

Find new favorite things

Playing tourist in a new town is fun, but it wears off and reality sets in: This new place is now home, so look for everyday things you like, Scott said. Learn to love your grocery store. Find a burrito place. Pick up on the local accent and slang. Scout out shortcuts in traffic. “If you move to a new location, understand going in that it’s not going to be just like where you moved from,” Scott said. “Activities and stores and even language will not be the same. If you understand that going into a move, you are more ready to adapt to the norms and situations in that new location.”

Published On: 07/09/2015
Last Updated: 12/11/2017