Command streamlines moves during busy season

by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON ― Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command officials are working hard to continually improve processes for military families moving to new duty stations during an exceptionally busy summer, the command’s
personal property branch chief said Monday.

Major points of emphasis for the peak moving season are the newly designed Defense Personal Property System and new rules to accompany it, John Johnson said.

“In November of 2008, we started phasing in a new (information technology) system and a new set of business rules to move personal property,” Johnson said. “So 2011 is the second year we’ve actually been using the system. We’re also learning new aspects of the system as we go along, and we’re continuing to discover better ways to move personal property.”

Johnson said comparisons of the last two years can be deceiving, because the first year was split between the old and new systems.

“Between last year and this year, the old legacy system program has gone away,” he said. “So we had a separate set of challenges last year than we have this year. But I think, overall, this year people were more informed on how to prepare themselves for moves, so I think that was a success.”

Cross communication among the services, industry and Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command officials has led to adjustments along the way and better communication with personal property shipping offices worldwide to facilitate shipments this summer, Johnson said, noting that the command is using “hot washes,” similar to after-action reviews, to tackle persistent issues.

“Our big job is really to make sure that we’ve got a healthy program with qualified carriers and rules and policies in place so folks know how to move personal property specifically for (the Defense Department),” Johnson said. “Then we really try to help facilitate the moves or any issues or challenges that come up in the movement of the personal property, working extensively with the military services and the Coast Guard.

“We talk to industry a lot as well,” he added. “Industry is broken up into an international market and a domestic market. So there are two associations that we deal pretty exclusively with.”

With so many movements across the Defense Department during a popular time to move, Johnson said, resources have become somewhat strained.

“From May 15 to probably July 31 is what we typically call our peak season, when everyone wants to move in the summer,” he said. “So the competition for resources is a little tight. It’s always a challenge to get people picked up.

“But we’ve had additional challenges as well the last three years, because the economy hasn’t been that good,” he said. “Industry infrastructure is kind of reduced in size, so there are just not as many trucks, drivers and local agents to do the packing as there was three or four years ago.”

Johnson said another challenge presented itself this summer, as well, noting that many major companies have been relocating people, stretching the moving industry thinner.

“They saw that business increase, so again, (that creates) even more competition for the scarce resources to move (military) folks in the summer,” Johnson said.

An additional 15,000 to 17,000 Army-specific moves resulting from base realignments and closures also are part of this summer’s equation, he added.
Implementation of the Defense Personal Property System, developed in part by U.S. Transportation Command, emphasizes convenience and customer service to service members and DOD civilians, Johnson said.

“What we’re really looking to do is make sure personal property is picked up and delivered at the other end with the least amount of damage or inconvenience to the customer,” Johnson said, noting that the days of the job going to the lowest bid are over.

“It’s based on best value, not low cost like it used to be,” he said. “So the carrier that comes to your door should be one that has been providing good service to get that business in the first place.”

The Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, with headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., is the Army component of U.S. Transportation Command, which also has its headquarters at Scott.