WASHINGTON — To aid Soldiers during a challenging permanent change of station season, which is seeing some delays with household goods shipments due to the current environment, the Army has widened the window for Soldiers to report to their next duty station.
Soldiers scheduled to report to a new assignment between July 6-Sept. 30 can now check in up to 30 days before their scheduled report date and as much as 20 days after. Often a Soldier’s report date can be dependent on when a government-arranged moving company can transport their household goods, said Scott Kuhar, deputy chief of the Operations Management Division, or OMD, at Army Human Resources Command’s Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate.
However, regardless of a Soldier’s report date, they must complete the process and report to their new assignment no later than Nov. 10, when the service begins transitioning to its new Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army. Kuhar said the service will shut down its personnel systems shortly after that date in order to make the transition.
If Soldiers find they cannot begin in-processing within 20 days of their original report date, they can turn to their installation’s military personnel division, or MPD, which can then authorize a deferment of up to 60 days from the original report date if necessary, provided that the extra time does not extend past Nov. 10.
“We know this year is more challenging than usual, and we are working to give our Soldiers and families options, resources, and flexibility to reduce as much stress as possible,” said Gen. Edward Daly, commander of Army Materiel Command.
The added flexibility may help ease some of the stress Soldiers face when moving this summer as well as contribute to readiness. Jon Finke, chief of HRC’s OMD, said that Soldiers will often request a shipment date, only to learn they will have to wait an extra month for an available moving company.
“You're kind of at the mercy of the moving system,” Finke said. “And the Army is realizing that and trying to work with Soldiers and families so that they can move, but we have to honor what the transportation companies can do and how they can support us at the same time.”
Last month, Derrick Candler, head of the Transportation Policy Division in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Army Logistics, said the Army had experienced the ripple effect of labor shortages across the country. High demand on the shipping industry has impacted Soldier movement, exacerbated by shortages of drivers and laborers.
In extreme cases, Soldiers have had to report to their next duty assignments without their household goods, temporarily leaving their spouses and family behind during an ongoing moving process.
Finke hopes that providing additional time will eliminate that possibility.
“We are doing our best within our control here to keep family units together during the movement process,” Finke said. “By saying ‘Soldier, go ahead, report’ that leaves a spouse and possibly the children stuck to do the moving process, which would very much be a strain on a family.”
Chris Fursman, OMD human resource specialist, said that the HRC receives about 40-60 requests per day to either extend or reschedule report dates.
Previously, Soldiers had to file a request through their chain of command to HRC, a process that took up to 60 days for approval. Now, Soldiers can receive an extension authorization locally through their chain of command within a few days.
“What we've done now is we've taken that long process … and we're crunching it down,” Fursman said, “so we can assist the Soldiers and take some of that burden off of them.”
Soldiers will still need to make sure their scheduled leave matches their adjusted report date.
Soldiers, Army civilians and families preparing for a PCS move in the summer months should anticipate the unexpected, Candler said.
Some other options to assist Soldiers include extended storage for household goods at the location of origin, and allowing Soldiers to apply for cost reimbursements higher than government rates to hire a commercial moving company.
Candler said Soldiers scheduled to change duty stations may experience delays due to labor shortages and a booming housing market throughout the country.
In addition to reduced travel restrictions, moves across the country have significantly increased, Candler said. Soldiers have reported waiting for up to six weeks before moving companies could transport their household goods to their next residence.
The surge in home sales have presented challenges for military families looking to extend their temporary rentals. Soldiers have reported that some landlords have asked them to vacate rental homes earlier than expected in order to sell the home, find another renter, or move in themselves, Candler said.
“Right now homes are selling very quickly, which is putting extra strain on the moving industry during the busiest time of year,” he said.
Combined with the extra demand, labor shortages have exacerbated the challenges. In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that the country posted a record 9.3 million job openings. Candler said because of pandemic restrictions, moving companies trained fewer truck drivers, packers and loaders.
“The biggest [factor] we face is the labor shortage,” Candler said. “There is a nationwide labor shortage in numerous industries … the moving industry is having problems finding enough employees to provide the required services.”
Candler said moving companies used by the Defense Department accept moves based on available resources and labor.
If Soldiers find themselves in a situation where they must wait for an extended period before movers can deliver their household goods to their next duty station, they can contact their chain of command, turn to their installation’s transportation office, or use the new chat function in the Army’s PCS Move app to speak with a live transportation specialist for more information on how to successfully plan a move or address unique challenges that come up during the move process.
Soldiers can download the app, which has information on entitlements, types of moves, planning, scheduling and claims, in the Google Play and Apple App stores. Soldiers can also call a 24-hour hotline for questions on PCS moves at 833-MIL-MOVE.
Candler said that his office has been monitoring moves across the Army and has worked with installation transportation offices to help prepare Soldiers and their families.
Transportation offices are the first line of support for PCS moves, and can help Soldiers and families through each stage of the moving process. Soldiers should first learn about their available entitlements before deciding whether to make a personally-procured move, or PPM, or use a government arranged moving company. For the latter, Soldiers should work with transportation offices to begin planning the packing and shipping of their household goods immediately after receiving their PCS orders.
The Army changed its policy on PCS orders requiring that orders be sent at least 120 days prior to a Soldier’s report date to allow for longer planning timelines.
“Soldiers should make their household goods pickup the first priority on their planning checklist, scheduling their move months in advance,” said Gene Thomas, the transportation division’s personal property policy lead.
If Soldiers face problems when moving companies fail to pick up or deliver household items by the scheduled dates, they can receive an inconvenience claim paid by the transportation service provider. Soldiers now also have up to 180 days to notify moving companies of damages incurred during the move.
Another issue that Soldiers may face during their PCS is that moving truck rental services and non-DOD approved moving companies might inflate the cost of a move, Candler said. He added that Soldiers should be aware of scammers and use only a government-approved moving company.
“For example, one year ago, it may have cost $3,000 to rent that truck to go from coast to coast. Today, it may now cost as much as $9,000 to go from coast to coast” Candler said. “In addition, what we're finding out is when people are going out [and] hiring their own moving companies, in some cases, that cost could be three times as much when compared to previous years due to supply and demand.”
Thomas warns Soldiers to remain wary of “fly-by-night companies” that look to profit from the moving Soldier’s or family’s desperation. He said that non-DOD approved moving companies may quote a Soldier one price and then raise the cost exponentially in the middle of the moving process.
If Soldiers choose to hire a commercial mover, they should consider a mover registered with the federal government at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/protect-your-move. Soldiers can avoid potential dilemmas by moving with a DOD-arranged moving company that establishes fixed, government-regulated rates for moves.
The goal is always a smooth move scheduled in advance, but Soldiers have a few options if they have leave or move-in dates looming.
“Each case will be different but Soldiers may choose to speak to their leadership about extending their tour of duty, or they may choose to perform a PPM.” Candler said. “Whatever a Soldier decides, they should still coordinate work with their installation’s transportation office, especially if they run into delays.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic remains an obstacle for some Soldiers and families as restrictions on movement at either their departure or arrival location can slow their transition, especially for overseas moves.
Finally, Army leaders remain committed to supporting Soldiers and their families throughout the PCS process and this summer’s unpredictable challenges, Candler said. Army leaders have worked to provide transportation officers with tools to address moving emergencies and dilemmas.
“We are in this together; patience and flexibility will be essential in making it through this peak PCS season” Candler said.