Why Does the Military Move Household Goods Better Than It Moves People?

moving truck and boxes

Retired Army Col. Jim McDonough is the managing director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

From time to time, particularly around Veterans Day, I reflect on our work here at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families focused on enhancing the post-service lives of vets and their families.

Transitioning from military service can be really ugly for some. And I've realized something about military transition: As a nation, we do a better job of moving service members' household goods than we do meeting those troops' needs for solutions across the same country.

In the military, there's a process guiding service members to plan their move ahead of time, to prepare for their next assignment. The process is full of written procedures, templates, checklists -- even an office with people at every installation that exists solely to see our personal possessions estimated, packed, weighed, inspected, loaded, stored, driven, delivered, and unpacked -- tens of thousands of times annually, all around the globe. Its scale and efficiency are staggering, and it involves a lot of moving parts, no pun intended.

Yes, making a permanent change of station (PCS) move to duty assignments in far-off places does seemingly take a village. And a moving truck.

That moving truck is a useful metaphor, in that it represents a vehicle by which we as a nation move personal possessions belonging to service members with GPS accuracy anywhere around the globe. Today, the Defense Department can get your charcoal grill to Barstow, California, from Seoul, South Korea, in time to cook dinner on it next week.

Fast-forward to the service member who owns that grill for a minute and replace their personal possession with a personal problem, such as housing or employment.

Now ask yourself if we can do the same thing: Can we deliver solutions for a personal problem in the least amount of time, with the same degree of efficiency and efficacy as we do with someone's personal possessions?

Up until very recently, the answer to that question was, without question, no. But that is finally beginning to change in ways that resemble the solutions pioneered by the moving industry when trucking and airplanes allowed them to think and act more collectively. Through technological and multi-modal transportation improvements, a systems approach emerged to moving personal possessions, leveraging what each element -- storage containers, trucks, ships, airplanes, RF ID chips, and people -- did best originally, individually, but now acting as only a collective, systems-oriented industry could do, globally.

Thinking and acting collectively is a great business model for a moving company, but can that process be applied to delivering health and human services solutions for the more than 200,000 military-connected members and their families who transition out of the armed forces annually?

Yes, it can. Through the same building block approach that created systems-oriented solutions to moving personal possessions and property, health and human services delivery systems are now moving people to the right solutions in the least amount of time. What the moving industry did for service members' household goods, health and human services can now do for our nation's finest and their families.

Here at the IVMF, we're leading that movement, driving a scalable, technologically driven, people-powered series of solutions found within our AmericaServes initiatives. Through coordination efforts intended to transform health care in this country, AmericaServes aims to solve two fundamental problems:

  • As consumers, we do a poor job navigating to solutions best-equipped to solve our problems. We make mistakes, sometimes costly ones.
  • Once we get there, providers do a poor job of coordinating solutions beyond themselves when confronted with problems and issues that exceed their capacity.

Much like the moving industry that today delivers personal possessions where they're going in record time, with the highest possible precision and reliability, AmericaServes networks can deliver a PCSing Marine family with an exceptional family member -- heavily burdened with needs tethered to good care and services -- from San Diego to Hampton Roads, Virginia, in a known, navigable way. And do it in record time, with the highest degree of precision to solutions required to support their child's health and well-being, before they even load up the car and drive east.

AmericaServes is doing that today across 16 communities (and growing). Now, if I could only find that silverware set that never made it through the PCS move from Germany to Indiana in 1989.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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