Ho Ho Ho, Merry PCS!


The holiday season is in full swing. Christmas music plays on every radio station. Houses twinkle with lights and festive decorations. And NORAD is getting set to track Santa’s journey. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

However, it’s not exactly wonderful when the military tells Santa to bring you boxes and a moving truck for Christmas. And that’s exactly what Santa brought me for my very first military Christmas. Yes, I was introduced to military life with a Christmas PCS.

I was a MilSpouse for all of 90 seconds when a moving truck drove off with all our belongings two days before Christmas. I looked around our tiny apartment, our last dwelling as a civilian couple, empty but for the nervous excitement hanging in the air. Military life had to be awesome, right? After all, we didn’t pay a dime for those movers to pack up everything we owned. We didn’t have to lift a finger as they lugged all those boxes down to the parking lot from the second story. I was loving it so far.

It wasn’t until we reached our first duty station and checked into a hotel on Christmas Eve that I realized it was Christmas Eve. I scanned the hotel room. Where was the Christmas tree? Where were the presents? Where were the twinkling lights? Where were the stockings hung with care? Where was Christmas?!

Oh, that’s right. Christmas was in the moving truck.

I was a newbie. It somehow didn’t occur to me that everything the movers packed up would be inaccessible for an indeterminate amount of time. I didn’t think to hide essentials in the bathtub during the pack-out so the movers wouldn’t box them up. And it didn’t fully hit me until the next morning that, for the first time in my life, I wouldn’t be spending Christmas with my family, that I was responsible for producing my own holiday cheer.

“Merry Christmas,” my husband whispered as we opened our eyes Christmas morning.

I burst into tears.

Is this what military life was all about? Waking up in a hotel room on Christmas day because we had to wait for our names to move up on the on-base housing list? Wishing my favorite red sweater wasn’t hiding in a storage unit somewhere? Spending holidays away from family? Trying to find a restaurant that was both open and serving a halfway decent Christmas dinner in an unfamiliar town where you don’t know a single person? At that point, I couldn’t care less about free movers.

I was not loving military life one bit.

But after hiding under the covers in my non-festive hotel room for hours wishing I was at my parents’ house eating cookies and drinking eggnog, my husband forced me to get dressed and drove me to the one restaurant he could find that was both open and serving halfway decent food.

Somewhere along the way that night, I began to accept the adventure that would later become one of the most defining attributes of my military life. There I was on Christmas, sitting in a dilapidated bar famous for its annual “Mullet Toss,” a beach hangout where visitors signed the walls with Sharpies. Instead of eating my mother’s Christmas feast and drinking fine wine, I was throwing back nachos and Bud Light. Instead of humming along to light Christmas carols, I was listening to drunk strangers getting drunker. And I couldn’t help but laugh.

Is this what military life was all about? Making the best of a less than ideal situation? Learning to embrace the suck? Finding a way to smile through the tears? Turning a new experience into an adventure?

Maybe military life wasn’t so bad.

And maybe Santa brought me a whole lot more than boxes and moving trucks that Christmas.

Have you ever PCS’ed during the holidays?

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at Military.com, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.
  • Tips From The Homefront

    Moving now! Feeling very blessed to be with family during the holidays. It was incredibly difficult to prepare to move and have our home put into boxes and taken away instead of decorating and making cookies. However, this is life and I’m becoming more comfortable with this reality. On many levels it is so stressful to move during such a happy time and it other way it takes off stress.

    We have found ways to keep the magic of Christmas alive for our children. Including a visit from Santa to insure our boys that he was watching. We also bought them a “big gift” like always and had it packed in our express pack out but wrap up pictures. I, also, made sure we had their stockings which will have another surprise. There are ways to keep the holidays alive. Just get creative…. And wear a holiday shirt or two :).

  • I sure have! We once left for Hawaii on December 19th, with 2 lil kids in tow.

    I’m forever grateful to my aunt for making a Christmas tree out of coat hangars, garland, and lights. That thing has been shoved into so many boxes and can get re-bent into shape over and over again. We put that tree into our air shipment and sent it way ahead of time, so it was available to us in the TLF and our little ‘home’ was reasonably festive. I’d thrown in some Santa placemats in the box, too, so our meals were festive. I must have included the stockings, but I’ve blocked that part out.

    We had a cute little Christmas in the TLF, and started a Hawaiian tradition of going out to eat on Christmas day (I believe we had an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet served from a rowboat on ice in the middle of the room that first time). Worse was moving into our empty home with loaner furniture a few days later, and waiting for a good long time for all the comforts that were floating their way over to us. Boy the TLF had been nice compared to the empty home!

    But you quickly realize it’s just stuff, and stuff doesn’t really matter as much as people.

    Thanks for the opportunity to remember that crazy Christmas!

  • Ramie

    Our last two PCS’s were at Christmas time. One on our baby’s first Christmas (headed overseas–we spent the day in the car driving across WV, KY, IL & MO!) and then again 2yrs later (back from overseas–after just 15days notice that we were moving, due to a command closure on Dec 13th!). Insanity at it’s best really. Our first PCS was overseas in October, but our HHG didn’t arrive til Dec 26th……so we had no Christmas tree that year either! Now, we are on our 3rd overseas assignment, and brought our small tree, but it won’t hold any ornaments because the movers bent in the wrong way somehow and the branches are all messed up. Thank goodness for Boxing Day sales here in the UK next week! ;-)

  • Libertarian

    At least you got to enjoy an evening at the Flora-Bama Lounge.

    • Heather Sweeney

      LOL. That was the first of MANY evenings I enjoyed at the Flora-Bama. :-)

  • mongolberry

    Moving right now :) We have just decided to delay Christmas lol

  • Jackie Schraeder
  • americanochka
  • Kris

    Our movers are coming for our first PCS on New Year’s Eve! We’ll be staying at my parents’ house for 4 days, and then we start our cross country (NJ to CA) drive on the 5th. Can’t wait!!!

  • Mandy

    Yes. Our first move was during the Christmas Holidays. However, It was me with the movers, because the husband was still at training. But after getting to the new location, VA to Pensacola, FL, I think it will be one of the most rememorable.