'Too Early to Tell' When PCS Moves Will Restart, Pentagon Officials Say

Movers pack a military member’s property into boxes
Movers pack a military member’s property into boxes and load it into crates to be transferred to a temporary storage facility in O'Fallon, Illinois, July 1, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo/Stephenie Wade)

The Defense Department is working to determine how best to lift a stop-move order that has halted all permanent change-of-station moves and most military travel since March 14, weighing considerations such as school calendars and medical readiness across duty stations.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday that U.S. Transportation Command officials, the Joint Staff and service representatives have been discussing the issue for weeks and were scheduled to meet Thursday to sort out prioritization, weighing factors such as the upcoming academic year, the availability of moving companies and pandemic hot spots.

"We know there's a date out there by which we must decide and determine if we are going to help people either get their kids in school, get to their next assignment or get to the next professional schooling. … We are working pretty aggressively on it," Esper said during a town hall discussion broadcast from the Pentagon.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said it is "too early to tell with any definitive guidance what the summer will bring," but added that the first priority is preserving the health of service members and their families.

Related: All Military Moves Could Be Delayed into July, Says Air Force Chief of Staff

"We're clearly, from a policy standpoint, looking to open up things in the summer, but ... we don't want to do anything that places the health of the force at risk. If that means further delay, it means further delay," Milley said.

The original travel restrictions were to end May 11. Milley said he understands the need for the summer surge of moves but added that the DoD will be watching how the COVID-19 crisis affects communities in the coming weeks.

"We don't want to be PCSing or moving anyone anywhere unless we feel confident that all the appropriate mitigation measures have been taken for that individual," he said.

In addition to family moves, the stop-movement order blocked personnel from returning from deployment, taking leave or traveling beyond the general area of their duty stations.

Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Benjamin Ridenhour has been in Kuwait for a year with the 401st Army Field Support Brigade, serving on unaccompanied tour orders. During the town hall, he asked via an email whether consideration would be made for personnel at duty stations without their families.

Milley said that all service members are experiencing a "degree of sacrifice" during this crisis.

"There is sacrifice if you are on an unaccompanied tour or an accompanied tour if you are being extended. ... But it's all being done with the intent of keeping you and your family safe," he responded. "Hopefully, [the rules] will open up shortly."

Another consideration being weighed by military transportation and health officials is the availability of moving companies and their ability to provide services safely, Esper said. Moving company employees may need to be screened, wear face coverings or take other precautions to safeguard the health of military families, he explained.

Also on many troops' minds regarding the travel restrictions, which have left them unable to take vacations or travel for personal reasons, is whether they will lose leave at the end of the year under a "use it or lose it" policy that lets them carry over a maximum of 60 days into the next fiscal year or 120 days for troops who served in a combat zone for at least four months of the year.

Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Ramon Colon-Lopez said he is working with Milley and Esper on altering the policy, depending on how long the travel restrictions continue.

"We want to make sure service members out there don't lose that entitlement," Colon-Lopez said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at patriciankime@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Read more: DoD Considers Stop-Loss Order to Maintain Troop Levels During Pandemic

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