Every time my family has PCS’ed, we were assigned a sponsor. You know, that voluntold servicemember or volunteer spouse who cheerfully sends you informational packets detailing the ins and outs of your next duty station, the person who willingly sacrifices personal time to welcome you aboard and introduce you to an area you’re unfamiliar with solely for the unselfish purpose of making your family as comfortable as possible on the tail end of your move.
Isn’t that what your sponsors did?
Yeah, our’s didn’t do any of that either.
A MilSpouse friend of mine recently PCS’ed to Europe. She knew nothing about the country that would be her new home and was relying on the information her sponsor gave her. However, not only did her sponsor put little effort into providing guidance, but the sponsor was also doling out information that wasn’t even correct. So my friend arrived in a foreign country with virtually no knowledge about the area or what her family needed to do upon arrival.
“We were lucky that we did research and asked around,” my friend said. “We didn’t even have anyone at the airport for us, and we were going nearly 30 miles to our destination. Two kids, overnight journey, foreign country. Not even an email. Nothing.”
My family experienced similar difficulties when we moved to Japan. Our sponsor put forth a decent effort to pass along information, including where we needed to go to learn the procedure for transporting a pet overseas, but she didn’t offer us everything we were hoping to know before getting off the plane in a foreign country. Was it because she was single with no kids and we were a family of 3 people and 1 canine — and therefore her definition of necessary information was different than ours? Or was it because being a sponsor is a collateral duty and she didn’t feel like making the effort?
Another MilSpouse I met OCONUS was so fed up with the lacking sponsorship program that she jump-started a Welcome Basket Program. The volunteers were given information about each incoming family and their needs and then put together welcome baskets. The baskets, which cost about $20 and included items such as food, information from the base’s Fleet and Family Support Center, a magazine from ITT (Information, Tickets and Travel) and a welcome letter from the new command, were waiting in the Navy Lodge rooms for all new families upon their arrival. (Unfortunately, this program was started after I got there, but wow, would that have made a difference in my attitude if I walked into my hotel room and saw that!)
We all hope and pray to the PCS gods that our transition to a new duty station will be as smooth as possible. So what can a military PCS sponsor do to help make that happen?
1. Reach out to the incoming family. Find out what they need and research accordingly. Does the new family have kids? Then gather up info about local schools and child care. Is the new family interested in living on base? Then make a visit to the housing office. Does the new family have a pet? Then find contact info for on- and off-base vets. Tailor your information to the family’s specific needs.
2. Be organized. Take that big pile of information you compiled and make packets or folders or scan them into emails or whatever method makes it easiest for the family to read through and store it.
3. Be prompt. Don’t wait until a week before the family’s arrival to send out those packets or folders or emails. That’s way too late. Get to work as soon as you learn who you’re sponsoring to allow them plenty of time to plan and prepare themselves.
4. Greet the family in person. It’s no fun getting off an airplane, especially in a foreign country, having no one to greet you and point you in the right direction. If you can’t be there, make arrangements for someone else to be the personal welcome party.
5. Make the effort. Okay, so maybe you’re not thrilled about having to be a sponsor. But think about how you felt moving to a new place. Wouldn’t you have appreciated being handed a folder filled with the best resources the community has to offer? And who knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon some new and exciting tidbits about your area that you wish you had known about when you first moved there.
What is your experience with sponsors? If you had a fabulous sponsor, what made him or her so fabulous? What kinds of things would you want in a sponsor before a PCS move?