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My Coast Guard
Commentary | July 8, 2020

PCSing in the time of COVID-19: Four families share their stories

By Rachel Connelly

In an effort to support others, four families share their PCS stories and what they’ve learned along the way. 

The Kenny family

By any standard, Melissa Kenny could easily be considered a “PCS expert.”  She has PCSed with her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Kalen Kenny, eight times - including two moves outside of the continental United States (OCONUS) and four moves across the country.  While this was their shortest PCS move, at 242 miles, it was by far their hardest.

The Kennys planned to transfer early in the season and had taken the necessary steps to prepare.  Going into March, they had their new home under contract and everything was falling into place.  Melissa recalls thinking, “this is going to be the easiest move ever” – but everything changed when the Department of Defense issued a stop movement order.  While the stop movement order didn’t directly apply to the Coast Guard, the Kenny’s move was initially cancelled while Coast Guard policies were determined. 

“We had to scramble,” said Melissa.  “We had given our notice to vacate base housing and a new family had been selected to move in.  We had to go.”

The Kennys took “PCSing in the time of COVID-19” one day, and one solution at a time. 

They worked with their Joint Personal Property Shipping Office, who identified an Army procedure that allowed household goods to be moved into a storage facility at origin when a customer’s shipment needed to be picked up due to termination of government/privatized housing. 

On the day the packers arrived, the Coast Guard released official guidance, clearing the way for the Kennys to move forward with the actual shipment of their household goods.  And, because the company wasn’t busy, they were able to facilitate a direct delivery. 

Moving and traveling in March was truly unprecedented.  The Kennys were told that they were one of the first 30 military families to PCS during the pandemic. “My husband’s command was fantastic and they did their best to keep us informed,” Melissa said.

When the day came to get on the road with their three kids and two dogs, Kalen and Melissa had done their homework - researching road conditions, rest stops, and each state’s policies and procedures.  Melissa found each governor’s office to be very helpful at explaining state regulations and requirements.  She also contacted the departing and receiving state’s Department of Education to learn about their protocols for distance learning and enrollment. 

The Kenny family is now settled in North Carolina and they consider their PCS a success. 

Melissa’s advice:  “We’re all going through our first pandemic PCS – have grace for yourself and the people around you.  What you anticipate, may change in some way.  Live in the moment and be flexible.” 

The Bellone family

Kristen Bellone could never have imagined that she would PCS alone in the midst of a global pandemic, but that’s exactly what happened.  Her husband, Petty Officer First Class Andrew Bellone, was supposed to fly home from a patrol to report to his next unit, but that travel was cancelled due to safety concerns related to COVID-19. 

When their house sold quickly, Bellone knew that she had to go.  She couldn’t pick up the phone to call her husband, so they relied on email to execute the many facets of a PCS move. 

Initially, their household goods shipment was impacted by the Department of Defense’s stop movement order, but the Coast Guard developed an exception to policy process that ultimately kept things on track.  “I received a lot of support from the Coast Guard.  Numerous people reached out and offered to help,” said Bellone. 

Bellone carefully planned for three days of travel and two overnight stops.  The route would require her to transit through some of the hardest hit states – including New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

As COVID-19 continued to impact the country, Bellone discovered that her hotel reservations had been cancelled and pet boarding facilities were closed.  “I adjusted my plans and found other lodging options on the economy, ones that would accommodate pets,” she said.

The PCS Float Plan helped put her husband’s mind at ease.  By moving day, every possible detail and document (orders, power of attorney, new lease, etc.) had been considered.  Bellone, their ten-year-old son, two cats, and two dogs loaded up and hit the road less traveled – literally.  She’d never seen so few cars on the road. 

Bellone loaded the family up with masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and gloves.  When needed, they stopped at truck stops, which she found to be clean. 

Unlike prior moves, the Bellone family didn’t treat this trip like a vacation – their goal was simply to get safely to the other side.  “I stayed calm and did what I needed to do,” Bellone said. 

And, she succeeded.  They arrived on a Thursday and their household goods were delivered the very next day.    

The Brunaugh family

Cmdr. Brad Brunaugh, his wife Meg, and their four children found out in January that they would be transferring from Washington, DC to Oahu, Hawaii.  Since then, the world has changed a lot. 

“There are so many unknowns.  We just had to decide what was important to us as a family and make the leap,” said Meg.  “We decided to rent an RV – something we’d never done before.  This allows us to maintain social distance, and we don’t have to worry about hotel rooms, restrooms, or food.”

The Brunaughs spent a lot of time planning their move and cross-country trip.  “There are so many factors that you cannot control in a typical PCS, but especially during a global pandemic.  We made a lot of phone calls and had a lot of conversations,” said Meg. 

They discovered that they had to change their route to find campgrounds that were still open and taking reservations.  And, the hotel that they had originally booked in Hawaii is now closed due to COVID-19.  After some research, they were able to identify new lodging. 

Throughout the process, the Brunaughs have received support from the command and the PCS Assist Team. “They were very helpful at answering all of our questions.  We completed our PCS Float Plan and worked with the Coast Guard to execute it,” said Meg. 

The packing of their household goods went smoothly and everyone wore masks.

“We feel good about the decisions that we’ve made for our family.  We’re taking it day-by-day and we’re focused on the things that we can control,” said Meg.  So far, the journey has been easier than they expected and the campgrounds have been quiet.    

The Brunaughs are currently driving across the country, making the best of this adventurous life.  When they reach the west coast, their personal vehicle will be shipped to Hawaii and they’ll catch a flight to paradise. 

The Lauer family

Chief Petty Officer Clark Lauer and his wife Nicole have spent countless hours preparing.  Their cross-country move is just days away. 

The Lauers have been checking the USCG’s COVID-19 site regularly.  “An ALCOAST had authorized PCS departures through May 8th, but our move was scheduled for just days later - during a period of time that had not yet been approved.”

As part of their PCS planning, the Lauers had secured a home and paid for hotels. 

“That was a huge worry,” said Nicole.  “We contacted the PCS Assist Team to ensure that our move wasn’t going to be cancelled.  They were reassuring – they’ve been nothing but helpful.  The PCS Assist Team has answered every question to the best of their ability.  If they didn’t have an answer to the question, they would get it.”      

To their relief, the following ALCOAST authorized continued PCS and household goods pickups through May 22nd.  

With their move confirmed, the Lauers mapped out their trip and the regulations of each state, carefully considering their stops to ensure availability of food and other necessities.  “We also did a lot of research on which hotel brands were completing proper cleaning and sanitizing procedures.  It’s taken a lot more time and effort to keep our family protected, especially with small kids and pets,” said Nicole.

The Lauers found it helpful to have a PCS Float Plan with command contact information, however, they were initially concerned that the travel itinerary requirements may not allow for flexibility.  “We were relieved to learn that changes could be made if needed,” said Nicole. 

“The goal of the PCS Float Plan is to open a dialogue between the member, the departing command and the receiving command.  This is to ensure all parties understand and agree on a plan to facilitate the execution of a PCS transfer during this difficult and unprecedented time,” said Master Chief Clinton Self.  “It is not intended to be an inflexible document that forces our members and families into unsafe or unreasonable circumstances.”  Any changes to the PCS Float Plan should be communicated to the departing command, receiving command and the PCS Assist Team.

“It’s so important to rely on official sources of information – the command, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Coronavirus website, and the PCS Assist Team – to ensure that you’re acting on accurate and up-to-date guidance,” said Nicole.  

As the days pass, and their move draws near, the Lauers are busy making final preparations – while also balancing work and their children’s distance learning.  They’ve taken all the right steps to ensure a successful PCS, and it will certainly be one they never forget! 


Key Resources

The U.S. Coast Guard Coronavirus Website | PCS Support Page:  Discover what you need to know, learn more about the resources and tools available to you and your family, review official guidance, read helpful articles, and find answers to your frequently asked questions.

U.S. Coast Guard Ombudsman Program:  Coast Guard Ombudsmen are appointed by unit Commanding Officers to serve as official liaisons between the command and unit families.  Coast Guard Ombudsmen are communication links, provide information and referral services, serve as a primary point of contact for families, and act as representatives and advocates for family members.  To obtain contact information, you can send your Ombudsman a message through the Coast Guard Ombudsman Registry.  It’s important that your Ombudsman knows how to reach you and that you know how to reach them. 

Office of Work-Life:  The Coast Guard’s Office of Work-Life offers a variety of helpful programs to support members and families who are PCSing, including the Relocation Assistance Program, the Spouse Employment Assistance Program, the Special Needs Program, and Child Development Services and Programs.

USCG HSWL App:  For those looking for information on the support programs and services available to Coast Guard military and civilian personnel, family members, and retirees – there’s an app for that, you can download your free app today!

The Coast Guard Housing Program:  The Coast Guard Housing Program works to ensure that all Coast Guard members and their families have access to adequate housing reflecting community living standards within a reasonable commuting distance of their permanent duty station.  For housing related questions and support needs, contact your housing officer.  

Sesame Street for Military Families:  Sesame Street for Military Families offers information and tools to support children throughout the relocation process.  They also offer a mobile app, The Big Moving Adventure

Dear Coast Guard Family: Transferring Schools offers tips and resources to support military-connected students. 

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance:  Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA) is the official relief society of the U.S. Coast Guard and offers programs to help.

TRICARE:  Learn about getting care when traveling and what steps to take when you move.