Servicemembers still complain about missing cars
By MIKE FITZGERALD | Belleville News-Democrat | Published: September 1, 2014
NEW BADEN, Illinois (MCT) — Retired Air Force officer Michelle Kastler is happy to be reunited with her 2012 Hyundai Accent after a nearly three-month wait.
But Kastler remains upset that International Auto Logistics, the federal contractor that shipped it from Great Britain, got it to her just last week -- six weeks later than promised, and with a dead battery.
Just as rankling, Kastler's received no apology for the long wait on her car, or for all the time she spent on dozens of phone calls to IAL's call center that went unanswered.
Kastler doubts very much that U.S. Transportation Command, based at Scott Air Force Base, could ever fix the problems at IAL that have led to hundreds of complaints being filed over missing military members' vehicles.
"If they can't figure out how to answer phones, how are they ever going to make it work?" Kastler said.
Kastler picked up her car last Tuesday, only a few days after six separate U.S. Transcom survey teams, working with IAL personnel, visited port facilities in Germany and in Hawaii, Texas, Georgia, Virginia and California to look for lost cars.
The teams counted all the cars parked at 34 IAL vehicle processing centers and container freight stations across the United States, according to Navy Cmdr. David Nunnally, a Transcom spokesman.
Nunnally, however, could not state how many service members' cars were actually counted and how many were not.
"We were not able to count vehicles that were sealed in containers or are aboard ships in transit between ports," he said.
Once a vehicle tracking system is updated, Nunnally said, "We are very hopeful in the coming days that our service members are going to be able to access the tracking systems on the IAL website and get the most accurate information about the location of their cars."
Nunnally noted that "Right now we collected an awful lot of data and that data's being put in data tracking systems, and we should see some results coming from that soon."
Nunnally also pointed out that IAL has promised on-time delivery for 90 percent of all vehicles entrusted to it after Aug. 1.
"Clearly, momentum is in the right direction," he said.
But people posting on the Facebook page created by IAL's unhappy customers reported no change in the quality of service they are receiving.
The Facebook page, which has nearly 3,800 members, is a forum for service personnel and their spouses looking for missing vehicles, or who are eager to vent their frustrations to a sympathetic audience.
People posting on the Facebook page were nearly unanimous that they had noticed no change in IAL's performance since Transcom sent out the survey teams.
"Nope, nothing," wrote Claire Batley-Isenberg, of San Antonio.
"I've seen no change," wrote Christie Cooper Romero of Fort Campbell, Ky.
Nikki Lee Haskins, who lives with her family in the Tampa area, elicited dozens of Facebook comments when she wrote that on Friday, she, her husband and three small children drove seven hours north to Atlanta to pick up their car, a 2012 Dodge Journey.
They had to make the trip Friday because IAL vehicle centers are not open on weekends. Their car, which had been shipped from Portugal, was 16 days past the required delivery date.
Once at IAL's Atlanta vehicle processing center, however, the Haskins family waited four hours before an IAL worker told them their car had not arrived after all. The reason: there was not enough room on the IAL delivery truck, Haskins said.
"This 'company' is a joke and I'm so disgusted with the way military families are being treated, we deserve a lot better than this crap!" an angry Haskins wrote on the Facebook page.
A few hours later, Haskins and her family found a motel room, where they planned to spend the night before heading back to Tampa with no idea when they could pick up their car.
"I'm just exhausted," Haskins told the News-Democrat during a phone interview. "It's just run-arounds ... no communication."
IAL, of Brunswick, Ga., became the target of hundreds of complaints regarding service members' missing cars soon after the firm took over the five-year, nearly $1 billion Transcom contract May 1.
Former IAL employees, as well as employees of the previous holder of the contract, blame IAL's woes on an exodus of experienced workers and the absence of a computer system that could track vehicles in a timely manner.
So far, the Army's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, which directly oversees IAL, has received 245 formal inspector general complaints about missing or damaged vehicles since IAL took over the contract, which was awarded to IAL nearly a year ago.
In addition, 117 people have asked to join a class-action federal lawsuit against IAL filed by a pair of law firms in Brunswick, Ga., according to Dorian Britt, a senior associate with the Tate Law Group.
Meanwhile, Transcom's 12-member "fusion" cell team made up of military and civilian logistics experts will continue to work closely with IAL, said Nunnally, the Transcom spokesman.
"The fusion center will remain in place until we have every confidence that IAL is delivering to the requirements of the contract," Nunnally said.
Regular inventories will take place, along with the monitoring of data, "so that we have visibility of their supply chain system and we're going to continue informing our service members of the location of their cars. What we want is for the contractor to provide the level of service they committed for. And we want our service members to have their cars."
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, whose district includes Scott Air Force Base, has called on the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to hold a hearing investigating the problems that led to the complaints against IAL.
Claude Chafin, the communications director for U.S. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, the committee chairman, declined to say if a hearing will be scheduled when the committee's calendar is set next week when Congress ends its summer break and reconvenes.
"It's an issue the committee will continue to monitor as Transcom executes its get-well plan," Chafin said.
"Member-level engagement" among committee members will be valuable and help prevent similar problems from happening in the future, Chafin said.
"I don't know what shape that member level engagement will take," Chafin said. "I think that oversight takes a lot of forms."
©2014 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.