Military moving season proving as chaotic as expected

This moving season is proving to be chaotic as people who delayed moves during the COVID-19 pandemic stampede to relocate and companies struggle with labor shortages.

A new survey of moving companies is shedding light on the challenges the 60,000 service members trying to move to new orders are facing this summer.

“A lot of people are waiting a very long time on their household goods to get delivered, that is probably the number one complaint. The other issue we are seeing is cancellations,” said Ryan Carrigan, co-founder of moveBuddha, a moving rate aggregation site. “When you’re moving, a cancellation is really disastrous because it’s very hard to find a replacement option when that happens.”

The military services warned troops that this summer would be particularly tough because the Defense Department put a stop-move order on relocations during the lockdown, backing up some moves, and because of industry issues.

“Department of Defense demand this peak permanent change (PCS) of station season has greatly exceeded commercial industry capabilities, largely due to resource constraints associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Air Force Personal Property Activity Headquarters wrote in June. “Per industry, this resulted in a 25% decrease in their labor pool, resulting in decreased personal property movement capacity necessary to support private sector and government demand.”

The report shows just how much troops are being impacted now that peak season is in full effect.

“We’ve been doing this for about seven years, and the past year we’ve just been seeing a lot of different things in feedback from people and a lot of different dynamics than we’ve seen in past,” Carrigan said.

One unexpected relocation issue was around the price of lumber.

“Military moves use a lot of wooden crates,” Carrigan said. “It actually created an issue for moving companies trying to just create and build these wooden crates. That was one issue that we actually saw quite a bit.”

Another issue is simply the profit companies get from military moves compared to civilian ones.

Carrigan said military and corporate moves don’t pay as well as civilian moves and therefore contractors are less likely to take their jobs.

With civilian moves up 5% to 8%, Carrigan said military families are having trouble finding companies that will take their jobs.

“Contractors are going to go wherever the highest rate is and civilian consumers are willing to pay more in the current markets,” Carrigan said.

Certain regions are also particularly hard hit. Contractors are avoiding California and Illinois because so many people are moving out of those states.

“California is by far one of the hardest areas to service, 37% of movers are having issues servicing California, and the big reason for that is so many there was so much outbound moving activity,” Carrigan said. “It’s very hard to get a truck back to California. If you think about it from a numbers perspective in order to go pick up a move in California they have to send an empty truck there because no one’s moving into the state.”

DoD and the military services are trying to help relocating service members through policies. The services are giving troops more leeway on moving dates and trying to give lead times of six months or more.

The Air Force said there are some actions airmen can take to add more flexibility and ease the burden of moving as well:

  • Get shipping requests in four to six weeks prior to the pickup window.
  • Ask about expanding pack/pickup (a.k.a., “spread date”) windows from the current seven-day requirement to 14 days.
  • Contact the assignments team to determine if they can postpone the move by changing the report-not-later-than date.

Troops also have the option of “do-it-yourself” moves. DoD now offers 100% reimbursement of costs plus a fuel surcharge and other accessory costs.

“In addition to the old ‘rent-a-truck’ option, airmen now have access to new modes within the commercial industry called portable moving and storage containers,” authors of an Air Force release wrote. “These containers are dropped at the home, the service member packs them and the company picks up, transports, stores and then delivers at the destination. Some companies also offer a menu of associated services including full or partial packing.”

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