Questions from the Road
Taking care of our Soldiers, Families, and Civilians is an enduring priority for the Army. Throughout my travels, both CONUS and OCONUS, I frequently hold townhall meetings to better understand the issues that are impacting the readiness of our Soldiers, Civilians and their Families. Many times I am asked questions about issues that we face across the Total Army. This page will be dedicated to sharing those questions and answers with our broader Army family. As a result of feedback received from the field, the Army has revised several policies to improve quality of life and to better support our communities. This webpage will also be used to widely communicate policy changes in addition to answering frequently asked questions.
- QUESTION: Within the past year, it is believed the Cost-Of-Living Allowance (COLA) allowance changed for DA Civilians working at National Training Center (NTC) after the front gate moved further from the installation's cantonment. It is further believed COLA is calculated according to the distance from the installation's front gate to individual residences located outside of the installation. Changing the location of the gate resulted in a loss in COLA for a large number of DA Civilians, creating financial hardship and an increase in turnover of personnel. As the distance required to travel to work has not changed, the feeling is the gate's location should not affect how COLA is calculated. How is COLA calculated and what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future?
- ANSWER: The belief that a change to the NTC gate's location affects the payment of allowances to DA civilians is not correct. First, COLA is paid only to Service Members and DA Civilians at certain locations outside of the continental United States. While DA Civilians at the NTC receive locality pay as determined by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the calculation is made according to the NTC's location within the Los Angeles -- Long Beach locality. This locality includes seven counties in Southern California, including San Bernardino County where the NTC resides. Any movement of the NTC gate has no bearing on OPM's calculation of locality pay.
There is a long-standing rumor within the Fort Irwin community that the front gate was moved to change the pay and/or allowances for those stationed at Fort Irwin. This rumor is so pervasive that Stars and Stripes published an article on it in 2011, which can be viewed: here.
- QUESTION: At the NTC, there is no high school on the installation, resulting in a one-hour bus ride, each way, for students in order to get to and from the closest local high school. This extended distance discourages after-school activities and support for school activities. There is a strong desire to have a Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) high school at Ft. Irwin. How does DODEA determine when and where to open a school on an installation?
- ANSWER: Under Title 10, Section 2164, the Secretary of Defense may enter into arrangements to provide for elementary and secondary education in the United States when he/she determines that appropriate educational programs are not available through the local educational agency that operates adjacent to a military installation. Currently, there are approximately 170 students residing on Fort Irwin that commute approximately 40 miles to the Silver Valley High School located in Yermo, CA.
The NTC Senior Commander may request, and the Secretary of the Army may endorse, a request to consider an additional DODEA school on the installation to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. The request must address: (1) the extent to which dependents are eligible for free education in the local area adjacent to the military installation, and (2) the extent to which the local education agency is able to provide appropriate educational programs.
- QUESTION: The size and types of homes available vary according to each installation. Some installations have five or more bedroom homes, while others have at most four-bedroom homes. How is the size of each home determined, and is there a requirement for a set number of each size home on every installation?
- ANSWER: Department of Defense Instruction 4165.63 (DoD Housing) and Army Regulation 420-1 (Army Facilities Management) establish the policy by which the Army determines family housing requirements. Department of Defense Manual 4165.63 (DoD Housing Management) further describes a Housing Market Analysis (HMA) that is employed by the Army to determine the number and size of family housing units, broken out by pay grade and bedroom requirements, for both government-provided or privatized family housing.
The HMA assumes one bedroom (BR) per family member, with a minimum of two BR and a maximum of four BR based on the number of family members and grade of the Service member. Garrison commanders establish bedroom eligibility based upon local requirements and assets availability. The Army's recommended bedroom guidelines are as follows: 1) Four BR minimum for grades O6 and General Officers; 2) three BR minimum for grades E7 - E9, WO4-WO5, and Field Grade Officers; and 3) two BR minimum for grades E6-WO3 and O1-O3. Minimum eligibility for five BR varies according to the ages and genders of four or more dependents, excluding the sponsor's spouse. Privatized family housing partners can build five-BR homes for larger families, with the overall financial health of the project as a key component when determining to do so.
- QUESTION: Household Goods (HHG) Shipment and Transportation. A spouse described the Army's pattern of HHG contract carriers as grossly negligent, and asked for a solution and accountability.
- ANSWER: To improve the HHG movement experience for Soldiers and Family members, the Army is focusing on short and long term changes to how the process is conducted. In the short term (by the 2019 peak move season), the Army will: Raise the minimum execution of HHG quality assurance inspection rates to from 25% to 50% in order to ensure transportation service provider compliance with packing standards; increase the use of containerized shipments to reduce loss, pilferage, and/or damage to HHGs; and, in coordination with USTRANSCOM, provide Soldiers and Families access to an online HHG carrier list with their associated customer satisfaction scores and a 24/7 hotline to address Soldier and Family move concerns.
Long term (beyond the 2019 peak move season) the Army is focusing on broader structural changes to the HHGs movement process. To address quality assurance challenges, the Army is requesting funding to support the hiring of additional quality assurance inspectors. When feasible, the Army will increase the average PCS order lead time and shift PCS report dates out of the peak move season in order to allow more flexibility in transportation service provider selection.