WASHINGTON — Soldiers preparing for a permanent change-of-station move can now request to stay at their current duty station for up to a year, as the Army adapts how it moves people during the COVID-19 crisis.
New Army guidance says soldiers can request to defer an assignment and return to their losing unit if they expect to face hardship as a result of a PCS move.
“People remain our No. 1 priority, our center of gravity in all we do,” Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, the Army’s G-1, said at a press briefing Thursday. “We’re working really hard to take care of our soldiers, civilians and families around the globe.”
On March 16, the Defense Department began to temporarily halt all domestic travel, including PCS and temporary duty travel, for service members, DOD civilians and their families assigned to DOD installations in the U.S. or its territories.
The domestic travel ban lasts until May 11 and follows other restrictions last week that stopped movement for 60 days to overseas locations with a Level 3 travel health notice, such as South Korea and much of Europe, where there has been widespread transmissions of the virus.
The latest guidance comes after Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville suggested last year that soldiers be given the opportunity to stay put if it increases their quality of life and eases the peak PCS season in the summer.
While the Army plans to liberally approve requests, Seamands said that not all will be granted, particularly for mission-essential personnel.
“Absent any mission-essential nature of their assignment, then they should be allowed to stay in place,” he said.
Soldiers assigned to Patriot missile units, for instance, may not qualify for the delayed movement since they have a high operational tempo and can only go to certain places.
For most soldiers, Seamands said they should have a say in the decision, especially if they choose to reenlist in order to stabilize or go someplace else.
“We’ll stabilize the family likely for a year and then see what the inventory and the readiness demands are across the force at that point,” he said.
The Army also plans to address possible shortages in units caused by the moves, or the lack of them.
“We are constantly balancing readiness and looking at the numbers across the board to make sure we have the right soldier with the right skill in the right place,” he said. “But there would potentially be a second-order effect and that’s our job to mitigate that and to be able to maintain readiness across our Army.”
Shipment of household goods, including personal vehicles, for those scheduled to move will also be delayed until at least May 15, unless there is an approved exception to policy.
In a nutshell, if a household goods shipment has been awarded to a moving company but no physical action has been taken, then the items will not move until the DOD stop-movement order changes, said Lt. Gen. Duane Gamble, the Army’s G-4.
But “if a soldier is permitted to continue with their PCS move, then their household goods will be moved accordingly,” Gamble said at the briefing.
Exceptions may only be granted for compelling cases deemed mission essential, necessary for humanitarian reasons or warranted due to extreme hardship.
U.S. Transportation Command continues to have daily calls with moving companies to share information on travel restrictions and any movements.
“Like any sector, this is hitting them really hard and they’re anxious to know when traffic will resume,” said Rick Marsh, director of the Defense Personal Property Program.
Soldiers who decide to stay in place for a significant amount of time will get their orders amended so their household goods and POV are returned to them, if they haven’t been shipped yet, Gamble said.
The Army Human Resources Command has set up an emergency hotline to assist soldiers and families with PCS or TDY questions at 1-800-582-5552.
Soldiers can also contact the telephone number on their orders, or reach back to their old unit or arriving unit for additional guidance.
The DOD has even created new allowances up to $100 per day — not to exceed $1,500 per month — to cover additional lodging expenses if a soldier who is not on TDY or PCS is ordered to self-isolate due to the virus outbreak.
“We’re completely committed to our people,” Seamands said. “There is a whole lot of uncertainty out there and we’re working really hard to reduce it.”