Summer Moving Season Remains Uncertain
The fate of a normally busy PCS season remains uncertain for many soldiers as talks continue among military leaders about when permanent change-of-station travel will resume—and who will be prioritized—amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don’t want to do anything that places the health of our force at risk,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said during a virtual town hall on April 9. “If that means further delay then that means further delay, but we will work through that as the summer months come.”
As the COVID-19 crisis worsened, the Defense Department issued a “stop movement” order in March to slow the spread of the virus, impacting permanent change-of-station moves, travel and deployments.
It is too early to predict “what the summer will bring,” but leaders are sensitive to the needs of moving service members and their families, Milley said.
“The priorities we’re focused on are probably first those families [with] school-aged kids,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said. “We know you need to get to your next assignment and get the kids in school.”
Leaders are also considering prioritizing by location, Esper said, but moves also will be dependent on the availability of movers and packers. Leaders are looking at key dates for “opening up the system again” while following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.
“We are clearly, from a policy standpoint, looking to try to open things up in the summer,” Milley said, but “the very first priority is the health of the troops and the families.”
Deployments affected by the “stop movement” order also have a wait-and-see timeline.
Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, who deployed with almost no notice to the Middle East in January amid rising tensions with Iran, are still there, Milley said, but leaders are monitoring the situation “almost daily” to decide when to bring them home.
Despite the focus on the global pandemic, Milley said force readiness remains high as the military works to “minimize impact on operational readiness.”
“The U.S. military is very, very capable to conduct whatever operations necessary to defend the American people,” Milley said. “We are ready today. We’ll be ready tomorrow.”