Realignments Add to Busy Summer Moving Season
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 30, 2011 With a busier-than-usual military moving season about to kick into high gear, officials are asking service members to book their moving dates early and to keep flexibility in mind when doing so.
The military moved more than 230,000 shipments last summer alone, and this year officials are expecting even more due to the base realignment and closure process, said John Johnson, chief of the personal property branch for the Army’s Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. The command is the lead agent for the Defense Department’s Personal Property Program.
Johnson said he’s expecting an additional 10,000 moves this summer due to base realignments and closures. Though that’s just a 3 percent increase to the projected number of summertime moves, it’s an extra 3 percent at an already challenging time of year, he noted.
The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is commonly known to military-savvy people as “PCS season,” which refers to permanent-change-of-station moves. With school out for the summer, or about to be, many parents view that stretch of time as the least disruptive for a family move, Johnson explained, and set their sights on moving over Memorial Day or Fourth of July weekends to take advantage of the extra days off.
But this moving cluster can create a backlog for officials, Johnson said. On average, the military moves about 600,000 shipments a year, and more than a third of those moves take place over the summer.
“The biggest challenge is expectation management,” he added. “Moving in the summer season is already difficult, and most people are set on moving on holiday weekends. It’s always a challenge when volume exceeds capacity. We need to ensure we have enough trucks and crews to move people.”
Keeping the busy upcoming season in mind, officials began a review of the moving process in August, Johnson said. They focused much of their effort on working the kinks out of the Defense Personal Property System, a computerized moving management system for military members and Defense Department civilians. Last summer marked the first time the majority of household shipments were moved through that system, he added.
While the new system proved successful, users ran into a few stumbling blocks along the way, Johnson said, citing the electronic claims process as an example.
Previously, the “submit” button for the electronic claims form was located only at the top of the page. People would fill out the form, and then fail to realize they had to scroll back up to submit the claim, he said. And by the time they realized their oversight, they had missed the 75-day filing deadline.
“Some folks got upset -– rightfully so,” Johnson said. “We’re making a big effort to fix this and some other issues.”
Johnson said a system redesign is in the works, but in the meantime, he recommends that people watch the video posted on http://www.move.mil, which explains in detail how to navigate the online claim system.
Officials also have directed training efforts at moving experts, Johnson said, including the introduction of a webinar series that covers the storage and transit process for personal property shipment offices and carriers.
Among efforts to increase capacity, officials now allow carriers to use portable movement storage containers similar to those used for commercial shipments, Johnson said. In the past, he explained, the military required household goods to be moved in “loose loaded” or in wooden crates with specific dimensions. However, in the commercial sector, carriers use multiple types of containers.
“We’re now allowing carriers to use what containers they normally use to move military members,” he said. By doing so, he added, officials hope to increase the capacity of carriers qualified to conduct military moves.
These improvements will help, Johnson said, but the sheer number of people moving over the summer calls for some extra preplanning measures. People need to book moves early, particularly if they want to lock down a holiday weekend. And, above all, he said, they should remain flexible on dates.
When people are notified of a move, Johnson said, the first stop should be their local personal property shipment office, and then the Move.Mil website. Military OneSource also offers families a host of online moving resources, including “Plan My Move,” which features a moving calendar and travel and arrival checklists, and “Military Installations,” which links families to information about their new base and the local community.