The military moving season will soon shift into high gear, and there’s even more reason for service members and families to be organized and flexible if they’re heading to a new duty station this year.
The old issues with household goods moves persist. Because of the shortage of quality movers, capacity has long been a problem, with shortages of truck drivers and labor for packing, loading and unloading. Service members have had trouble getting moves scheduled and having their household goods delivered on time. Damaged and lost belongings have also been a problem.
The pandemic has exacerbated the delays, according to the U.S. Transportation Command. The Department of Defense household goods program is experiencing the same capacity issues seen by multiple industries and organizations.
“Labor and supply chain challenges in the moving and storage industries are expected to drive tighter-than-normal capacity in the Defense Personal Property Program,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Joel Safranek, director of TRANSCOM’s Defense Personal Property Management Office. TRANSCOM doesn’t have a magic solution to address the pervasive national problems, but defense and service officials have taken some steps to try to lessen the pain where they can.
A new Global Household Goods contract to revamp the way household goods moves are managed is currently being contested in federal court, but those changes wouldn’t have taken effect until 2023, so this year’s moves are not affected.
One ray of hope: Defense officials estimate that they will move about 10% fewer personnel during the peak season this summer, compared to 2021. “This will lessen the demand placed on strained moving capacity,” Safranek said. Peak season is generally May 15 through Aug. 31. But the most popular pickup dates, also called “peak of the peak season,” are immediately following Memorial Day through mid-July.
Most of the service branches have built in new flexibility for reporting dates at the new duty station, helping service members who need extra time to get moved because of scheduling backlogs with local moving companies, Safranek noted. And some services are requiring PCS orders to be provided 120 days before report dates to give people more lead time.
Safranek also reminds service members that the chain of command plays a vital role, so you should work with your leadership if you run into problems that your local household goods/transportation office can’t help you solve. Your chain of command has “the ability to work with gaining units to coordinate delays in reporting for service members and families” as well as other issues such as clearing base housing, he said.
In 2021, DoD moved 314,000 household goods shipments. That doesn’t equate to number of moves because some service members may have multiple shipments for one move.
Another 69,822 full do-it-yourself moves — in which military members and their families either packed, moved and unpacked items themselves, or arranged on their own for a company to do it — were completed across DoD in 2021. They are more work, but provide some flexibility, and troops get reimbursed for 100% of what it would have cost the government to move them.
TRANSCOM officials have also worked with service officials to set a DoD-wide goal of limiting the maximum number of moves to 9,000 per week. “This ensures DoD doesn’t flood the moving industry with excessive volumes of moves in a particular week,” Safranek said.
But even 9,000 in a week is going to challenge the system, said Dan Bradley, director of government and military relations for the International Association of Movers. But moving companies have been ramping up where they can, he said.
Because of the labor and supply chain shortages and other challenges, TRANSCOM officials have recalculated transit times to give moving companies more time to transport household goods from their origin to their destination, Safranek said.
Transit times vary depending on location. For example, before the pandemic, the total transit time to ship household goods from North Carolina to delivery in Okinawa, Japan, was 70 days, according to a Marine Corps administrative message. For 2022, the transit time has tentatively increased by an additional 22 days, to 92 days.
What does this mean for troops and families? Plan ahead to make sure you take items you need during this additional time without your household goods — such as seasonal clothing, uniforms and kids’ items — in case the moving company needs the full amount of time allowed to deliver your belongings. Last year, a number of military families complained because of delays of weeks or months beyond the time they had requested delivery of their household goods. This caused a variety of hardships and expenses.
But families should know that the new transit times don’t necessarily mean their move will take the extra time. Moving companies “don’t want to hold the household goods any longer if they get there earlier just because they have a few more days” Bradley said.
“The new transit times give customers a more accurate expectation of when to expect their belongings, allowing them to properly plan,” Safranek said. But he emphasized that TRANSCOM officials “are not compromising on the family protections for household goods we put in place, specifically inconvenience claims.”
Service members can file these inconvenience claims to request payments from moving companies to offset expenses incurred when the moving company wasn’t able to meet required pickup and/or delivery dates.
Communication is key
TRANSCOM has also emphasized to the moving industry the importance of communicating with their entire supply chain and with their customers; to accept only shipments that they can service; and to let their customers know when things don’t go as planned. In 2021, some military members said their household goods shipments were months late, and they weren’t able to get any information about where they were.
Another change is a “seven-day spread date” for routine shipments, Service members put their “latest pickup date” when scheduling the move and chooses the “desired pickup date.” When the shipment is awarded to a moving company, the company may select the requested pickup date or any one of the previous six calendar days. During the pre-move survey, the moving company and the service member work together to schedule the actual pickup date.
TRANSCOM and moving companies advise setting up move dates as soon as possible after getting orders, being as flexible as possible with moving dates, and planning ahead using the tools at militaryonesource.mil.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.