Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. – Seeing the big moving van pull up every few years to move a military Family in or out is a sight that's been familiar to generations of service member households.
But this summer, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Family move to or from Fort Benning will come with some physical differences – and even a different time span – from what it's been in years past, officials here said.
Summer has been the traditional peak phase during which the Army moves Soldiers to their next assignments. It's known as the "summer surge" or "PCS season." PCS stands for permanent change of station. In normal times it runs from May through July.
But that was before the pandemic.
This time officials here think it'll start from about July 1 and run into September.
"I think definitely so," said Keith R. Lovejoy, Housing Division chief U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning's Directorate of Public Works (DPW).
Fort Benning oversees more than 4,000 Family homes. A private company, The Villages of Benning, manages them day to day.
"Because 30 June, when the travel restrictions open, there are gonna be a lot of people moving," said Lovejoy.
But it won't only be the time period that'll be different this pandemic year.
Some things will look different too.
Maybe the biggest difference is what residents themselves will have to do, as well as the officials who'll do inspections and lease signings.
Whether moving out or moving in, residents will have to wear masks or other cloth face coverings during inspections and other meetings with housing officials, and practice proper social distancing.
"They have to wear proper PPE, basically the protection equipment, and then they would have to practice social distancing while we were in the home, meaning they have to be at least 6 feet away from us," said Denise Bleiler, regional property manager with The Villages of Benning.
"And then we would ask for all other family members to be in another room, a different room than we are," she said.
"We would wear gloves and we would wear booties and we would wear masks," she said of inspectors and other officials. "That would be our personal protective equipment."
Officials from the garrison's Housing Division would also wear protective gear if they'll be at a resident's home, said Lovejoy.
Still another pandemic-related difference will be that in homes where it might be unsafe to have a move-out inspection crew come by, they'll do the inspection virtually, Bleiler said.
"For example," she said of residents, "they have a high-risk child that they have no place to bring, or something like that.
"And we will also absolutely honor any request as much as we can, to do the inspection virtually, meaning it won't be as thorough but we can try to do those via FaceTime," she said.
"And then we would do it via like a tablet or a cell phone, and then we would have the resident carry their phone around to each aspect of the room, and the kitchen , and we would thoroughly inspect as well as we could," Bleiler said.
Inspectors would guide the resident as to which part of the home they needed to see next.
"We would lead the process," she said.
Lease-signing is also being done electronically and by appointment, said Noelle Keith, lease manager for The Villages.
The Villages emails the leasing documents to the incoming tenant, who fills them out and emails them back.
"We would like to do it prior to meeting them at the home," said Keith, "but if they do it while meeting us at the home it's fine as well. But all of that's sent to them so that they're able to sign off."
That's followed by a move-in inspection, in which inspectors, whenever possible, go to the home.
"We still need to walk through the home with them, go over our move-in inspection form," Keith said. "And obviously we're gonna give them the keys to that home as well."
But there's at least one other thing that'll look different from summer surges of the pre-pandemic past: The movers will be wearing masks and come ready to use other protective gear if needed, said Curtis Austin, supervisor at Fort Benning's Personal Property Processing Office.
Movers will also have their temperatures taken before they can be assigned to a move, he said.
"They do temperature tests," said Austin. "Fevers of course are indicative of infection." Only those with no fever will be sent out on a move, and will be given a memorandum reflecting the negative result, he said.
"Each person will have that paper with them from the moving company when they're assigned at the company," he said.
From the standpoint of getting large numbers of military Families moved, that too – a logistical challenge in any year– faces even more of one because of the pandemic: the high demand for movers and the need for them to be COVID-19 free.
"That's basically it, that's the challenge," said Austin. "The availability of crews, and making sure that everybody's testing negative. The whole thing is based on being tested negative for the COVID-19. That's the bottom line."
Austin too believes this year's surge will run from July through September, but adds, "Thereabouts. Thereabouts. And it could even go further. It could go further, but at this point that's what we're looking at."