Military moves this year have become a “trail of misery,” as one service member describes it, and the pain continues for some who thought they would be settled in with their belongings long ago at their new duty station.,
Typically the busy military move season is through the end of August, but this year is anything but typical. Families have waited longer to get their household goods picked up, and they’re waiting longer to get their belongings delivered. One dual military couple who moved from Hawaii to their duty station on the East Coast June 12 still haven’t received their household goods.
Military families are frustrated, and it’s costing them money.
“We’re both officers,” said the wife, who asked to remain anonymous because of their military jobs. “I can’t imagine what people who are making less money do if they have to wait four or five months for their stuff.”
Widespread shipping disruptions around the world are affecting all types of industries, to include the moving industry. The lack of laborers, drivers, trucks, railways, vessels and longshoreman has been wreaking havoc on military moves all summer, and the problem isn’t going away any time soon.
“We are still seeing a higher-than-average shipment level in the fall and anticipate the same for the winter,” said U.S. Transportation Command spokesman Andre Kok. “We are continuing to hear from the moving and storage industry that competition for labor is fierce, just like many other industry sectors,” Kok said.
TRANSCOM has received very few complaints from military families about delivery delays, he said, but noted that, in most cases, complaints are sent through other avenues.
Moving companies “can’t get stuff onto a ship, off a ship, out of a port, into a port, onto a rail, off the rail. It’s craziness everywhere,” said Dan Bradley, director of government and military relations for the International Association of Movers. There’s strained capacity across the shipping industry.
After months of trying to get answers, the dual military couple now has a delivery date of Oct. 20, which is 71 days after their required delivery date of Aug. 10 — and more than four months after they arrived at their new duty station.
Although they have received information about filing an inconvenience claim, haven’t yet filed it. But the couple has spent thousands of dollars out of pocket, mostly because they extended their stay in a furnished residence after their household goods were delayed, resulting in double rent payments in August, when the lease for their new residence began. Meanwhile, they’ve had to buy warm clothes for their children, and other duplicates of items they already own, such as pots and pans and utensils. They’ve borrowed numerous items from co-workers.
Families have also been frustrated with the lack of information from their moving companies. Military household goods offices try to help, but it’s not a problem they can usually solve.
Moving companies share the families’ frustration, Bradley said.
“Our industry guys are paying inconvenience claims” to troops and families because of the late deliveries, he said, “but the frustration on their side is, there’s literally nothing they can do about this. They can’t change it in any way, shape or form. It’s the nature of what’s going on.”
Household goods shipments “are stuck on a vessel, stuck in port, stuck on a rail. There’s frustration everywhere,” he said.
According to U.S. Transportation Command officials, the percentages of late deliveries fluctuates weekly.
“For the month of September, we had an average of 44 percent on-time direct deliveries,” Kok said. That means about 56 percent were delivered late. For calendar year 2021 to date, an average of 60 percent of direct deliveries have been on time. Those direct deliveries are known as “door-to-door” deliveries, without the items being put into storage.
Further information was unavailable on overall percentages for all deliveries, nor were there comparisons to previous years. But according to a January 2020 DoD Inspector General report, about 57 percent of household shipments delivered within the continental U.S. in 2018 were delivered on time, which means about 43 percent were delivered late in 2018. That moving season lives in the memory of some military families as one of the worst, with broken and lost household goods, delayed deliveries and other problems.
Jessica Perdew, a Marine Corps civilian employee, moved from Iwakuni, Japan, to Georgia in April. She and her husband, a retired Marine, waited until Aug. 23 for their household goods to get to Georgia, two months past the June 24 required delivery date. There’s a separate shipment that’s also delayed, already a month past its required delivery date. Perdew’s daughter, a Marine lieutenant, also moved this summer, from Hawaii to North Carolina in July, and hasn’t yet received her household goods.
“The inconvenience claim is a joke … $350 is not even close to what it takes to purchase the stuff you need when you have to live five months with what you could carry or check on your flight,” Perdew said. “Our winter clothes are in our still-undelivered shipment. We have to go to Colorado for my mother-in-law’s memorial service. We have no coats, gloves. … We also don’t have suits for our son and my husband. Those are in the shipment. We never imagined we would still be waiting in October when we decided what to carry and what to ship.”
The Perdews and the dual military couple experienced frustration in getting information about where their household goods were. A heads up about potential problems could help families figure out a plan for their situations, said the wife in the dual military couple.
Even before COVID, those in the military moving industry had advocated for the government to increase the expected transit times to more accurately reflect the the time it takes to ship household goods by vessel, trucks and rail. This could result in more realistic delivery dates and would provide better information to military families for their planning.
TRANSCOM’s Kok said the government “will continue to assess and address areas where we have the ability to take action, such as instituting increased transit times for shipments.”
Perdew said their problems haven’t been limited to delays. When they moved to Japan three years ago, they decided to protect some fragile items, including her grandmother’s china, from breakage during the overseas move by leaving them behind in storage.
“The boxes arrived [in Georgia this year] filthy and crushed,” she said. “Nearly everything was broken and one box is still missing. The condition is shameful.
“It’s a circus. They have to fix this. We had international moves, and there was no option for [personally procured moves],” she said.
Since that 2018 moving season, U.S. Transportation Command has been working on a new Global Household Goods contract that will change how DoD manages household goods moves. That is expected to be awarded no earlier than the end of October.
As thousands of military families know, it’s not just about the money when it comes to their personal belongings. The wife in the military couple said her brother got married while she was in Hawaii, but they couldn’t return for the wedding because of the pandemic. Upon their return to the East Coast, they were especially looking forward to a one-year anniversary celebration.
“My new sis-in-law wore her wedding dress, my daughter was going to wear a blue dress that matched the bridesmaids’ dresses and was sewed by my mother, and I was going to wear my bridesmaid’s dress,” she said.
“But, of course, the two dresses are in the shipment because I assumed there was no way they wouldn’t arrive by Labor Day,” she said. “I was wrong. It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it meant something to me.”
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.