Web Site Helps Military Families Move
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 28, 1999 Packing up and moving the spouse, kids, pets and everyone's stuff every couple of years is an inherent part of military life. DoD has created a financial planning tool to help make moving easier.
A new Internet Web site, www.militaryacclimate.com, is designed to help active duty service members prepare for their next move whether they're moving across town or around the world, or making their final permanent change of station back to civilian life. The Web site projects moving expenses and forecasts the cost of living at the new station, according to Iris Bulls, a family policy specialist at DoD's Office of Family Policy here.
Right now, the Web site offers information on 225 military bases in the continental United States, Bulls said. By the end of the year, it will also feature 75 overseas locations where U.S. service members are routinely stationed.
A 1996 Air Force survey, she noted, found service members spent about $930 in out-of-pocket expenses during each move. This includes such moving expenses as cleaning and painting, meals, gas and oil, temporary lodging, and damaged or lost household goods.
These costs can mean money trouble, particularly for junior grade service members with children, Bulls said. "$10 here, $20 there -- adds up quickly," she said. "In the midst of a move, it's hard to step back and see it as a continuum from first getting your orders until you're finally settled in".
"You may find yourself at the end of the move with bills much higher than you anticipated," she said. "It can put you in arrears, especially when you move into a rental and have to pay a security deposit, the first month's rent and, in some cases, the last month's rent."
Service members who fail to prepare adequately for their move often end up turning to the Army Emergency Relief, the Air Force Aid Society or Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society for financial assistance, Bulls said. "You really have to plan," she advised. "You have to know where you're going, how much it's going to cost and where you're going to stay and for how long."
Military Acclimate helps estimate the cost of a move based on personal requirements and military allowances. It also compares service members' current financial standard of living to communities in and around the new duty station. The Web site provides a "best-fit analysis" that lists important neighborhood demographics, along with a ranking of the communities around a selected military installation. Using Military Acclimate coupled with a visit to the installation Family Center Relocation Assistance Manager can greatly assist first time movers, Bulls said.
"Only 30 percent of our people live on base," she said. "The rest are going to be in the civilian community, so there's a big demand to know that kind of information."
Let's say a soldier and his family are transferring from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Fort Hood, Texas, for example, Bulls said. "They can compare the cost to rent or to buy a home in Fort Bragg to Fort Hood as well as what the schools are like in the area. It even gives them the SAT scores, the student-teacher ratio -- an entire 'market basket' look at the community."
Users fill out a worksheet and the software program does the math and tells users their entitled allowances, based on rank or grade, when they move. "It will even estimate how much furniture you have, so that you know how much you'll be allowed to ship," Bulls said.
Military Acclimate also provides links to other DoD Web sites that feature specific information on the military community at the new site, Bulls noted. Relocation assistance managers at every major installation for example, run the Standard Installation Topic Exchange Service, known as SITES. SITES, at www.dmdc.osd.mil/sites, provides a wealth of information on military housing, child care and other base facilities and services. When used together, SITES and Military Acclimate provide the member and family a good idea of the resources and costs in their next community, Bulls said.
Military Acclimate is similar to programs used by realtors in the corporate relocation industry, Bulls said. "We've had the program tailored to specifically address the needs of our military personnel and to make it user-friendly," Bulls said. Because it's Web-based, the program can be easily updated to reflect up-to-date information. "When we get comments from people using the program, the contractor can revise the program it to make it more responsive to the needs of our members."
DoD's Office of Family Policy and the Military Personnel Policy office recently surveyed 20,000 service members who permanently changed stations last summer, she noted. Family policy officials expect to announce the results by the end of July. DoD plans to use the results of the study to better meet the relocation needs of members and families, Bulls said.