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Moving during a pandemic is hard, even for people very good at it — such as military families

Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Bayes, Kaylee, 17, Olivia, 15, and his wife Jennifer Bayes, back, and twins Matthew and Jonathan, 12, front, pose for a portrait outside their home at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa on July 30. The Bayes family made their seventh military move, from Wyoming to Florida, in early July amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

IVY CEBALLO/TAMPA BAY TIMES

By ILEANA NAJARRO | Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla. | Published: August 4, 2020

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Senior Master Sgt. Harry Kibbe got the orders in March for his family’s move from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. A week later, the Department of Defense announced a “stop-movement” order for servicemembers and their families in response to the coronavirus pandemic, throwing into question the traditional summer moving season.

“We couldn’t then schedule anything, couldn’t do any appointments,” said Kibbe, 43.

In June, as travel restrictions began to ease, he got an exception to the no-move policy. Two weeks later, on July 5, the Kibbe family arrived in Tampa.

The U.S. Transportation Command completed 67 percent of its average number of domestic servicemember moves from March through July, according to Mike Walton, spokesman for the command, and 63 percent of its average number of international moves in the same period.

The Kibbes had a relatively seamless move, but the pandemic created new challenges for settling into a community where the number of coronavirus cases is surging. Chief among them was how and whether to send their children to school in the fall.

“It affected a lot of people,” said Wendy Kibbe, 41, Senior Master Sgt. Kibbe’s wife.

Friends of theirs were supposed to move to Nebraska in March and had their household goods packed and shipped while they stayed in temporary lodging, Wendy Kibbe said. That’s when everything closed down, and they ended up in the temporary lodging — without their goods — until mid-June.

Between the peak season of May 15 to June 12, the number of military moves was down 82 percent compared to the same period last year, said John Becker, interim president of the American Moving and Storage Association, which represents a majority of movers that work with servicemembers.

Plus, packing up shipments can take longer during the pandemic. Workers need to take more breaks, he said, because they are lifting heavy furniture while wearing face masks, and they have reduced the number of workers in a room to stay socially distanced.

Becker expects the moving season to extend until the end of the year, but that remains unclear.

“We told the services that we can support 9,000 shipments a week for the rest of the year, but we’re not seeing those moves at all,” he said.

The Kibbes are settled into their on-base housing after their sixth move as a family, but challenges remain.

“One of the hardest things is, the kids not being able to make friends right now,” Senior Master Sgt. Kibbe said. Their twin son and daughter had their 10th birthday last month with their parents as their only guests. They can’t go out to places to meet new people. They can’t have sleepovers. They keep in touch with old friends over Zoom and Facebook Messenger calls, but making new ones is difficult.

And then there’s school.

The family was excited to move to Tampa to enroll their children in Tinker Elementary School on base, Senior Master Sgt. Kibbe said. But with all the back and forth on school start dates, mask-wearing rules and decisions over whether to attend in-person, they opted to home-school the twins this year.

“A lot of other families are not in that same situation, so it’s very difficult,” Wendy Kibbe said.

The Bayes family also recently moved into housing on MacDill with their four children, including an upcoming high school senior.

They arrived in Tampa on July 6 from the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming for their seventh move as a family. Mapping out the school year has been one of the most difficult parts of the move, said Jennifer Bayes, 42, wife of Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Bayes, 41.

The application process was difficult because there was no one at Plant High School, so all of the communication was through email, she said. Even the process at the on-base school for their 12-year-old twin boys took longer.

Their daughters, 17 and 15, want to tour their new school before they attend in-person and want to try out for the school’s dance team, Jennifer said, but they can’t right now.

Jennifer Bayes was concerned about moving to an area with more COVID-19 cases, she said, and they didn’t stop and visit extended family members on their drive, as they normally would during a move, over coronavirus safety concerns.

Both families are glad to be at MacDill, they said, but some aspects of their normal settling-in process are off the table.

“We’ve gone shopping and done those things, but they really wanted to go to Disney and Busch Gardens, possibly see a football game or something down here, and you can’t really do any of that,” Jennifer Bayes said.

Even leaving their previous assignments was different.

Wendy Kibbe was connected to a large group of women on base in Maryland, but missed out on the usual last gathering with friends.

“That was hugely different, not being able to see everyone and say goodbye,” she said.

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