Seven kids, two parents, two hotel rooms … in two different hotels. It sounds like the beginning of a comedy, but it’s real life for big Army families such as that of Capt. John Silvey and his wife, Candace. Coordinating a family move is a challenge in and of itself, one Army families face every day. But as some Army couples know, coordinating a move for a large family changes things dramatically.
A Typical Family
There are approximately 250,000 children of active-duty Army soldiers, according to the 2014 Military OneSource Demographic Survey. The average Army family has two children, but there are housing options for families with up to four children, each with their own room. This is one way the Army tries to accommodate families of different sizes.
While there aren’t many Army families with more than four kids, they do exist. They face unique challenges when navigating the logistics of a move. Most of the hurdles Army families encounter while moving affect larger families the same way; there are just more people for each issue to impact.
The Best of Times
“My favorite part of moving with a big family is that no matter where we move, we have each other,” said Candace Silvey, whose husband is an Army chaplain. “With so many people in our family there is always someone to talk to, play with, or keep busy, so the move doesn’t feel as lonely.” The Silveys have seven children ranging in age from 3 to 15. They have already moved twice as an Army family, both times within the lower 48.
Eight-year-old Jasmine Silvey said, “Moving is OK because we get to set up our new rooms and meet new people, but I don’t like saying goodbye or packing.” Her 12-year-old brother, Alex, has a slightly different perspective. “I don’t like driving so far and stopping so much. Every stop is so long for us because we have so many people to take care of.”
Capt. Dathan Williams and his wife, Tina, have five children ranging in age from 1 to 11. They have moved several times during Williams’ Army career, including two moves to Korea.
“One of the best parts about moving with a big family is that the family bond grows stronger with each move,” Tina Williams said. “Moving with multiple children every few years has created a close-knit bond. We like doing this together and growing as we each leave something behind and look forward to the next step as a family.”
The Worst of Times
While many families worry about the financial impact of a move, families with more dependents tend to be at a disadvantage because of the amount of extra paperwork. The Silveys were forced to wait several months past the normal time frame to be reimbursed for their move. The family received payment for the active-duty member first, but that was still two months after inprocessing at the new installation.
Three months later, the payment for the rest of the family came in. “We were told the holdup was due to paperwork,” Candace Silvey said. “There weren’t enough lines on the form to fit all seven children and their birthdays.” When John Silvey handwrote the remaining children’s names on the form, it was kicked back several times because it was difficult to read and also lacked the proper signature. “This seems like something easy to fix, even though it may not affect everyone,” Candace said.
The biggest hurdle in their first move was that their household goods shipment didn’t arrive when expected. While this is an issue encountered by many Army families, the challenge can seem much bigger for large families.
“We were only reimbursed by the moving company for meals we ate out during that time before our things arrived,” Candace said, “and eating out as a family of nine is complicated and expensive. We were reimbursed, but it was a bit of money up front for a situation out of our hands.”
Taking It International
“Hands down, the hardest part about moving to Korea with five kids is the amount of luggage,” Tina Williams said, “especially including the car seats and a stroller.” Williams said there are things we take for granted in the U.S. as being easily accessible, such as the sizes of rental cars available. “In Korea, there are very few large families and even fewer cars that can accommodate them. We moved with 16 pieces of luggage to live out of until we received our household goods—five children, two adults, four car seats and a stroller.”
The Williamses have lived in Korea before, so they were able to prepare ahead of time and pack as minimally as possible. With a 12–15 hour flight, carry-on bags for each person with a change of clothes and entertainment were crucial.
“Fellow Army families that we’ve known throughout the year were able to help make our transition smoother by helping us transport our things and loan us items we might need,” Tina Williams said.
Army families have two main concerns when moving: how and when their things are going to arrive, and where they are going to live. Most families start with military housing before looking in town, weighing the multitude of options including costs, house sizes and school districts.
“We were told there was a six-month wait for housing on Fort Huachuca [Ariz.], and that they weren’t sure they could accommodate our family size within that time frame,” Candace Silvey said. “We opted to look off-post and found a great house within our housing allowance” with five bedrooms.
“Fort Huachuca only has four five-bedroom houses,” says assistant community manager Shellie Cerecke. “Our guidelines are two occupants per bedroom plus one additional occupant for the household, so a four-bedroom house could hold up to nine people.”
Currently, there is one family of 10, six families of eight, and 14 families of seven people living in housing on Fort Huachuca. There are options for larger families to live in military housing following those guidelines; however, the space will be tight and the number of houses limited.
Weighing the Options
Candace Silvey said that overall, she thinks the Army does a good job taking care of families. “The only thing I would want to change is the weight allowance,” she said. Weight allowance is determined by rank and dependents—but not how many dependents, just whether any exist.
The Silveys are very conscious of the weight allowance, so they continue to downsize with each move to avoid any hassle. “We go through everything—toys, books, clothes—and don’t hold on to things,” Candace Silvey said. “Having pro gear for both John and me really helps offset the books and materials I use for home schooling.
“We also have the kids share dressers, especially when they are younger,” she said. “And we don’t buy heavy bedroom sets.”