European edition, Saturday, May 19, 2007

HEIDELBERG, Germany — In Hessen, May is totally booked.

Nothing opens up until the second week of June, and that’s already “limited.” The only way to possibly get some movers to pack your stuff in the next four weeks is if you have an emergency, are sent home in disgrace or despair or possess something called an “O-6 memo” – a note from a colonel who authorizes a soldier to ship out immediately.

Getting a speedy appointment with some burly movers is now as difficult as a civilian getting a dental appointment.

This PCS (permanent change of station) season, many U.S. Army Europe soldiers and their families scheduled to be sent elsewhere are seeing their moves delayed, their pack-out dates canceled and rescheduled for a later date.

And for once, it isn’t because there’s no money, according to an e-mail response from logistics officials at the Installation Management Command-Europe. The problem, they said, is sort of obvious: too many people being moved by too few moving crews in too little time.

But the reasons for that state of affairs are more complex: extended Iraq tours and transformation’s base closures, among them.

“This PCS season has been unavoidably compressed by the delayed return of the Ready First Combat Team, 1st Armored Division (located in Giessen/Friedberg), combined with the closure of the Giessen and Friedberg communities,” wrote Craig Deatrick, IMCOM-Europe logistics division chief, in an e-mail.

“The result is a spike of a few thousand more Soldiers and Families than are traditionally moved, in about half the time.”

The problem is most acute in U.S. Army Garrison Hessen, Deatrick’s e-mail said, which encompasses Giessen and Friedberg. But he said that soldiers who must rebook moving appointments are getting new ones in “less than two weeks.”

Summers are routinely the time that many soldiers and families change assignments, posts and lives. Each summer season, moves have been “difficult,” Deatrick said. But before transformation began reducing the number of soldiers in Germany, local moving companies could plan for extra crews in the summer, he said.

That’s now less true, he said.

“There are fewer moving companies in Germany that make a living off supporting the U.S. Government than there used to be,” Deatrick’s e-mail said.

And, it turns out, the way the Army moves people isn’t ideal for moving-company business.

“The military is often perceived to be a somewhat difficult customer since we tend to move very few people during the majority of the year, and then surge to move a massive amount of people during the summer,” Deatrick wrote. “In the past, moving companies could afford to marginally increase their work force to help meet our PCS season because the increase, while notable, was predictable and evenly spread over a five-month timeframe.”

That didn’t happen this year, and so, Deatrick said, the backlog is bigger than IMCOM predicted. But they’re working on it.

“IMCOM is working to focus and prioritize the resources that are available … to ensure units are able to meet their deadline for departing the theater,” Deatrick wrote.

Soldiers whose moves are delayed do not get to sit around the house, watch sports and wait for the movers.

“When this happens, the Soldier remains assigned to their unit and goes about the duties assigned to them by their chain of command,” according to an e-mail from Bruce Anderson, a U.S. Army Europe spokesman.

But USAREUR officials suggested, despite the regrettable inconvenience, perhaps such delays could be viewed from a larger, more positive perspective.

“When viewed in the larger perspective, USAREUR, IMCOM-Europe, and everyone involved in the process have achieved remarkable results moving thousands of Soldiers and Families over the last several years, despite deployments in support of the Global War on Terrorism, mass unit moves as part of USAREUR’s transformation and restructuring, and the normal high operations tempo work in this forward deployed location,” Anderson’s e-mail said.

“USAREUR is a great place to be stationed, and we have made a non-negotiable commitment to provide excellent quality of life services to our Soldiers and Family Members, from the day they arrive to the day they leave.”

Whether that day is postponed or not.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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