The U.S. Army has issued hundreds of waivers for many military permanent change of station moves, despite a Defense Department-wide ban on international and domestic travel until at least June 30, top officials said Tuesday.
And while many PCS moves are halted amid the global pandemic, the Army is bracing for backlogs during the busy summer move season after restrictions lift, and are weighing what incentives it can offer to those who can ease the burden on logistics by moving themselves.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, said the service had roughly 48,000 personnel with PCS orders to move to their next duty station in March, when the travel ban took effect; "several hundred" of those were ultimately given permission to move anyway. To date, the vice chief of staff's office, headed by Gen. Joseph Martin, has considered 500 waiver requests, he said.
Even with the latest stop-move order -- which does not apply to basic training or deployments and redeployments within the combatant commands -- officials said the upcoming summer months will still be the busiest for troops and their families trying to relocate. And springtime moves delayed by the travel ban will add to the summer rush, which is why the Army is bracing for backlogs to occur, added Lt. Gen. Duane Gamble, deputy chief of staff for logistics.
"There are a limited supply of moving companies that exist every summer," Gamble said. "We're working to streamline the PCS process ... making sure soldiers get orders quicker so they can get their moves scheduled quicker."
That includes having families move themselves instead of waiting for the government to contact a moving company, he said.
The military commonly reimburses self-moves at a rate equal to 95% of what it would pay a moving company. But Gamble said officials are considering upping the rate to encourage more troops to take advantage of it. He did not offer additional details about the change.
"We're making recommendations to the Joint Staff and to the leadership for these changes," he said, adding a proposal to streamline Personally Procured Moves (PPM), more commonly known as DITY moves, will be sent to the Office of the Secretary of Defense this week.
On Tuesday, Army Human Resources Command also published a new survey for troops projected to move this summer, asking them to weigh in on policies.
Roughly 7,000 people moved themselves over fiscal 2019, he said.
"Juxtapose that against 48,000 [in just a few months]," Gamble said, explaining that government moves still make up the majority of PCS moves. "If we continue on the current policy, we have to move five months of people in three months."
Seamands said the Army is considering exceptions to the stop-movement order on a case-by-case basis for personnel facing hardship and those deemed mission-essential. "We're encouraging soldiers to seek help from their chain of command" to get their permanent change-of-station move done, he added.
Mission-essential personnel who had already begun the process of relocation were given preference to proceed with their moves, Seamands said. Mission-essential designations are up to the gaining command, he explained.
Officials "coordinate with the losing command to see if the losing command is prepared to allow [a soldier] to leave based on the COVID situation, their area and other readiness issues," he said. "Then the gaining command comes up through the Army staff to the vice chief of staff of the Army, who from the strategic level makes an assessment on whether or not to support the soldier to make the move based on how mission-essential they are."