In the wake of a force-wide stop-movement order, U.S. Army leaders are offering special pays and voluntary assignment extensions to help soldiers and their families caught in the uncertainty of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Late last week, the Pentagon issued broad travel restrictions for all service members and family members to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus known as COVID-19.
The temporary stop-movement order -- scheduled to last until at least May 15, halted many permanent change of station (PCS) moves as service members were in the process of moving household goods and families to new assignments.
Army officials put out an All Army Activities message Wednesday night, explaining the initiatives the service is offering to help mitigate the impact of the stop-movement order on PCS moves, said Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, deputy chief of staff for Army G-1.
Soldiers and their families who were preparing to PCS are eligible for hardship duty pay (HDP) of $100 a day, not to exceed $1,500 a month, to cover the cost of additional lodging, Seamands said.
"If you are at Fort Bragg, [North Carolina], and you are on hold, you will be entitled ... to request [hardship duty pay], which would give a family up to $1,500 a month to defray those costs," he said.
Soldiers who arrived at a new station from an area affected by COVID-19 and were ordered to self-quarantine are eligible for isolation allowance, Seamands said.
"It's designed to allow soldiers and families who are ordered to be isolated after completing the PCS and ... would start after the soldier reports to the new duty station," he explained, adding that the amount of isolation allowance is based on per-diem rates determined by the Defense Department for a given area.
"So, if a soldier is en route to, say, Fort Riley [Kansas], arrives at Fort Riley, and is required to go into isolation, then this would help them offset the temporary lodging expenses while there are there," he said.
President Donald Trump and senior military officials have said that COVID-19 may affect everyday life in the U.S. into late summer.
Army officials -- recognizing that the stop-movement order could last longer than anticipated -- are now offering to allow soldiers the option of extending their current assignments.
"We are now allowing any soldiers who are on orders but still at their current duty station before the PCS to request to stay at that duty station if that works best for them and their family," Seamands said, explaining that the intent is to help soldiers and their families "adjust to the post-COVID-19 world."
Many senior-level sergeants reenlist to go to assignments such as Hawaii, "so we guess that they will continue to opt to go onto their location," he said.
"But as the soldiers and families sit down and talk about it, they may opt to say they are in a good place, they still have their house and it may be best for them to stay in place," he added.
The process would require soldiers to submit a form 4187 to request an assignment extension.
"It is a request; we are not directing that they stay. ... It would go to [Human Resources Command] and, absent any mission-essential nature of their assignment, then they should be allowed to stay in place," Seamands said.
The length of assignment extensions may vary based on the type of military occupational specialty, or MOS.
"For example, a Patriot missile soldier has certain places they can go, and there is a pretty high [operations tempo] so they may not get as much as somebody who is in a higher-density MOS," Seamands said. "So, it will be MOS-by-MOS, but we will stabilize the family likely for a year and then see what the ... readiness demands are across the force at that point."
Once orders are changed, it would be fairly simple to stop the planning process for the soldier's household goods shipment, said Lt. Gen. Duane Gamble, deputy chief of staff for Army G-4.
"If they had orders, but they wanted to stay on Fort Riley -- for their household goods, we will just amend their orders to reflect their new assignment, and their household goods will follow them," he said.
Seamands stressed that the Army will not be able to grant every request for extension.
"I do believe that, once we get back to some kind of conditions of stability where people are allowed to move freely, that most of the people who are on assignment instructions will move to wherever they have their orders or are programmed to go," he said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.