After her husband’s 28 years in the Coast Guard (USCG), Laura Vanderwerf is no stranger to permanent change of station (PCS) orders. She’s moved her own family of five countless times, and served as an ombudsman for five different units. She knows all the tricks: keeping lists, finding medical professionals and housing, making friends.
“After you’ve done this a while, it’s just a checklist,” she assures families. “Compared to when I first started, we’re in a lot better shape because we do have a lot of resources we can reach out to if we look for them. Now, it’s all cake for me.”
That’s partly because of social media, of course – thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, message boards, and blogs, Americans are making virtual friends and connections around the world – but largely due to the Coast Guard’s Transition and Relocation Assistance Program as part of the Work-Life offices around the country.
“We have a lot of Coast Guard members who go into communities with limited networks for that military presence,” said Cmdr. Matt Kleiman, division chief for the Coast Guard’s Individual and Family Support Programs, at USCG Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Because the Coast Guard is smaller, I seem to get more personal help in family-oriented things than when we were with the Marine Corps,” said Kaleolani Garcia, wife of Chief Petty Officer Shawn Garcia. The Garcia family of four recently moved for the fifth time from Hawaii to Petaluma, Calif.
To help with PCS moves, the Coast Guard assigns members at the new unit to “sponsor” the incoming member and their family with adjusting to the area. With this program, the Garcias were offered help by their sponsor in determining the best areas for them to live. “When my husband was a Marine, I never knew where to go on the Marine base. With the Coast Guard, there were always people there – they came to me before I even needed it,” said Kaleolani.
Indeed, when the Vanderwerfs arrived in Juneau, Alaska, their Transition and Relocation manager connected them to a group of teens who formed for the sole purpose of introducing newcomers around town. It meant the difference between fitting in and standing out when their children started school. Laura also stressed the importance of using the USCG’s legal office to get power of attorney – a necessary tool to deal with movers, check out of housing, and other regulations while the active-duty spouse is away.