Imagine finally getting orders to your next duty station after waiting out the long COVID year. You and your family have eagerly been looking forward to a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) for all the fun it brings - a fresh start, a new place to explore, and for Service Members, a chance to get careers back on track. You have orders, you’ve contacted your local Transportation Service Provider (TSP), you’ve attended all the briefs, completed your PCS purge, and you’re ready to go.
Except nothing happens.
Your TSP never calls to schedule your walk-through.
You’re never assigned a moving company.
And when you finally do get a chance to speak with someone at the TSP, they tell you that the bid for your PCS fell through, and now it’s up to you to move your family.
Oh, and your spouse is supposed to report in six days to an installation across the country. But no pressure, right?
For many military families, this nightmare situation is a real reality this PCS season.
This PCS Season is going to be one of the most difficult in recent memory, thanks, in part, to the multitude of delays military families experienced as a result of COVID-19. Move.mil reports that the labor challenges in the moving and storage industry are driving tighter-than-normal capacity for military moves. Department of Defense (DoD) personnel are waiting on average between four to six weeks for available moving crews in many locations. Demand is also just as high for moving containers and rental trucks.
The stop movement orders issued during the pandemic forced an unexpected pause in career trajectories and placed extra stress on military families. Now the Department of Defense (DoD) and the civilian moving industry are struggling to catch up. For military families, that means more stress than usual.
There are two significant issues at play this PCS season - moving companies not showing up for pack-outs and Household Goods (HHG) and Unaccompanied Baggage (UAB) delivery delays.
But how is this happening in the first place? And what can military families do to safeguard themselves?
Fortunately, there are several things you and your family can do to prepare ahead of time to make it a little less stressful, including filing inconvenience claims or doing a do-it-yourself move.
Here’s Why this PCS Season is Going to Be Tough
During the pandemic, the DoD places restrictions on who would travel or access installations. Eventually, it decided on a color-coded system similar to the Force Protection (FP) system currently in place. This system dictates which installations are clear for travel. Now, nearly all DoD installations are in the green zone, which means Service Members and their families are clear to move without an Exception to Policy memo or a commander’s signature. To put that in perspective, for most of 2020, around half of all DoD installations were green zoned. Sitting an extra year at installations means that plenty of careers stalled in their trajectory, so many Service Members are eager to get their careers back on track. Unfortunately, the DoD and the civilian moving sector can’t handle the increased demand of this year’s PCS season.
A Shortage of Movers
Check out any military news network, and you’re likely to see plenty of horror stories about families trying to make their PCS this summer only to have it paused or canceled at the last minute. Military.com reports that a Navy family had their cross-country PCS canceled last minute. An Army family never heard back from their transportation office because no companies were willing to agree to move their belongings. PCS season happens every year, so what’s making this year so incredibly challenging?
A shortage of movers, a shortage of truck drivers, a lack of communication with transportation offices, and a backlog of PCSs contribute to the challenges of this PCS season. And this problem is only getting worse as PCS season hits high gear. It’s especially impacting areas with large military populations like Virginia, California, and Washington state. In these areas, many moving companies are booked so far out that there isn’t anyone available to help military families PCS.
During a typical year, the Transportation Command oversees 325,000 HHG shipments. A third of those, around 130,000, have been scheduled so far, and there have been more than 100 incidents where the moving company has booked the work but failed to report for the job. Complicating matters further is when an installation's Transportation Office doesn’t return calls, can’t schedule pack-outs, and doesn’t have any information to provide to families eager to PCS. Transportation Offices send out the list of PCSs that need to be completed for any given date range. Then, contractors bid on the job. Most contractors have up until five days before the pack-out date to accept the job. If a contractor doesn’t accept it, then the responsibility to move shifts back to the military family. Imagine being prepared to PCS across the country only to be told five days before you need to leave that there’s no moving company available to help you.
So what’s a military family to do?
First, don’t panic! To help you through this hectic time, we’ve created a series of blogs to help you navigate this PCS season. Check out our Moving Series, with information about everything from Personally Procured Moves to filing damage claims to unraveling the mystery of inconvenience claims.
No matter if you decide to do a Personally Procured Move (PPM) or choose the tried and true PCS method, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your PCS is as smooth as it can be this season.
As soon as you have orders, the DoD recommends logging into the Defense Personal Property System (DPS) to upload a copy of your orders and complete shipment applications relating to your move.
You’ll also want to contact your local Transportation Office (TO) as soon as possible. The sooner you contact the TO, the more likely you are to be able to schedule a move that’s convenient for you and your family, and the higher the chance you have of receiving confirmation that your moving company has been booked in advance.
We know that moving can be stressful, and we also know that the added stress of not knowing if a PCS is going to happen makes it even more difficult. We’re here to help. If you have a question about this upcoming PCS season that isn’t answered in our Moving Series, please reach out to us on social media or give us a call. As veterans and military spouses, we know that having more answers than questions is always a good thing.
Related: Explore our glossary of commonly used acronyms you might encounter during this PCS!