PCS crisis action team working on smoother transitions for Soldiers, Family members

By Catrina FrancisOctober 7, 2021

Sgt. Austin Boucher carries a box down the steps during a move. The Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall PCS movement crisis team is working on streamlining and improving the PCS processes on the joint base.
(Photo Credit: Timed photo by Sgt. Austin Boucher)

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part story series on the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall PCS crisis action team. Part one will address the Exceptional Family Member Program issue and results. Part two will address the findings of how JBM-HH will address and streamline the PCS process. 

For more than 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of how the Army has done business, which includes permanent change of station for Soldiers and Family members. However, there were PCS concerns prior to the pandemic and the Army wanted all garrisons to take a look at the Soldier PCS movement process and come up with ideas on how that could be streamlined.

To answer the Army’s concerns, Ken Washington, the director of JBM-HH’s Human Resources, facilitated six meetings with internal stakeholders to gather relevant information on processes that feed into Soldier PCS movement function and future meetings will include external customers who benefit from process, because their input is needed.

The annual ‘summer surge’ of PCS movements proved to be the perfect time for the team examine PCS processes and see where improvements can be made, according to Washington.  May to August is the ideal period for Soldiers to move to new assignments. The school year for most students ends late May and the new school year begins late August to early September. This makes it an ideal time if Army Families are going to move around the world. “This placed an enormous strain on public and private resources to meet demands of Soldier movement each year,” explained Washington. “When I talk about resources, I’m talking about moving companies, companies that come to (a Soldier’s) house to pack their household goods, ships, boats to ship (privately-owned vehicles) and other items overseas.

“When you insert the pandemic into the mix, we say you have the perfect storm. It’s already challenged, but now we have the pandemic. Delays in Soldier movements, more demands for services and fewer resources than normal to meet the growing demands … will experience delays and pickups of Soldier’s household goods, POVs and Soldiers departures to new assignments. This set of accumulated requirements has led to outcomes of Soldiers not integrated to their new units as planned, and generates financial issues and hardships on Army Families (and) that impacts Army readiness. The summer surge period, it’s always been a challenge. We have been talking about this challenge for the past 10 years.”

Washington pointed out that this became problematic for the Army and that it became a crisis because of the pandemic. Moving companies didn’t have enough people working for them.

Without sufficient manpower, moving companies were simply unable to pick up a Soldier’s household goods at bases across the nation and around the globe, and therefore Soldiers weren’t arriving at their new duty stations, according to Washington, who went on to say that this perfect storm prompted an examination of weaknesses in the Army’s PCS procedures.

“The Army wanted all of the garrisons across the Army to take a look at the Soldier PCS movement process to come up with ideas on how we could streamline our process, move our processes (and) identify issues that require the senior Army leadership to look at the requirement.

“What this allowed us to do more than anything else, because there was so much visibility across the Army; it gave us the platform to look at our own internal processes to see how we can improve them. We didn’t have to worry about garnering support from anyone to get all of their activities to take part in the process. We always knew there was an issue, but we were able to take advantage of the visibility the Army had put out there.”

Washington added that having the Army look at the problem prompted JBM-HH to look at its processes and talk about what could be streamlined, conducted virtually and what had to be done in person.

He said the crisis team looked at what was controlled by the JBM-HH community and how that was affecting the PCS process.

“We knew we couldn’t do anything about the resources to move Soldiers from point A to point B,” Washington said. “We wanted to look at any process that was creating delays. We wanted to see if there were any delays by processes of our own … we also wanted to see if there were some things that Soldiers weren’t doing.”

He said the team looked at the Exceptional Family Member Program because prior to PCSing a Soldier, the U.S. Army Human Resources Command determines if a Soldier is eligible for the assignment. The only way HRC makes sure they are selecting the right person for the job is the Soldier has kept up the right information for the exceptional Family member.

“We wanted to review EFMP,” he said. “We had (Angela) Davis from Rader Clinic, the EFMP coordinator, and we had an employee from (Army Community Service) who is the EFMP program manager for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. We walked through their processes to see if there was anything out there that may be delaying Soldiers from receiving their orders.

“When we reviewed that process, one of the things that stuck out like a sore thumb was there were Soldiers who weren’t updating their Family member information so this was resulting in two things. In some cases, it was resulting in Soldiers getting assignments and then they would get there and find out medical services or educational services that their Family member required were not there. If the services were not there, that meant the Family member had to come back to the United States. I would say in 90% of the cases the Soldier was taken off of the assignment, and now they have to find somebody else.”

Washington said the team discovered and talked to some of the customers. They had working groups that included JBM-HH Morale, Welfare and Recreation, the JBM-HH Directorate of Resource Management and other organizations that had oversight for the function. He pointed out that they looked at the functions and then exchanged information with the customer, which were the Soldiers.

“What we found out was oftentimes when Soldiers come down for PCS assignment, they think they can go over to Rader Clinic and clear the Exceptional Family Member Program portion in a matter of a couple of hours,” he said, “not realizing in some cases it could take a couple of weeks.

“Soldiers need to update their medical information at least every two to three years for Family members. For those Family members who have educational special services, they need to make sure the educational services are updated annually. If those two requirements … are updated, HRC goes out to do a (request for orders) or cap cycle and that information is already in the system, then they will already know if that person qualifies for the assignment.”

He added that Soldiers were not doing this, and at the same time, the team posed a question, “When I was a young Soldier and I was PCSing, did I know about the Exceptional Family Member Program?”

Washington said the team also asked the S-1s and they discovered there is not a lot of information for Soldiers.

Prior to the pandemic, Soldiers attended in-person levy briefings twice a month, which provided them an opportunity to ask questions about their new assignment. However, those twice a month in-person levy briefings were discontinued and conducted in a virtual setting.

“Now Soldiers (have) to figure out things on their own,” said Washington. “What the (military personnel division) concluded, as well as the customer, (is) the only way the Soldier is going to know or get answers to those questions is we need to go back to in-person levy briefings. That way when we go over EFMP, the Soldier can ask the questions and get answers right on the spot.”

Washington added that in-person levy briefings would begin in November.

“Leaders will let Soldiers know levy briefings are not optional,” he said.

Pentagram editor Catrina Francis can be reached at catrina.s.francis2.civ@mail.mil.