Op-Ed: Taking Care of Our Military

This month we gathered to honor our nation’s heroes, those who have worn the uniform to protect our nation and defend our freedom.  While Veteran’s Day is a great opportunity to thank those who have served, that “thanks” cannot be limited to just one day. We should always remember to voice that gratefulness we have for the freedoms and liberties our military has secured for us and continues to protect. That’s why we must do all we can to support those who have served –past and present. And this includes not just our military, but their families who ultimately serve alongside them and sacrifice so much.

Our military families are constantly uprooted, either because of deployments overseas or receiving a new assignment in the US.  In many instances these new assignments require the member and family to move across the country, and this happens usually every 2 to 4 years.   They make a sacrifice to go where they are needed most. So, hearing countless horror stories from military families about services provided by moving companies resulting in broken, damaged, or missing household items is unsettling.  These “stories” include over 103,000 individuals who have signed a petition to hold military moving companies accountable.

This caught my attention and that of my colleagues. I recently joined Senators Tester of Montana, Lankford of Oklahoma, and Kaine of Virginia in sending a letter to General Stephen Lyons, Commander of the U.S. Transportation Command to detail our concerns about mismanagement and inefficiency regarding the support they provide to service members. Some of these concerns involve crates of personal belongings and family heirlooms going missing and a child’s entire room never making it to the final destination. And the service member or spouse receives the run-around when contacting the moving companies to find out the status of their household goods. Information is either missing, lacking details, or Transportation Service Providers simply don’t know.

I am calling for U.S. Transportation Command and U.S. based moving companies to enhance the accountability to our service members. Greater transparency is imperative in the process from beginning to end in order to better serve our military and their families. They deserve no less. 

I saw it as a positive sign that General Lyons, Commander of the U.S. Transportation Command responded to our letter by admitting he shared our concerns about our military families and their moving experiences. He also said that the current Defense Personal Property Program is not meeting the level of service we expect for our service members and their families. More importantly, he has pledged to do something about the problem. General Lyons is working within the Department of Defense and transportation service providers to think differently about the personal property movement system and to find solutions to meet the needs of our military.

The U.S. Transportation Command has started to make improvements in some areas such as information technology upgrades, but there is still a long way to go. General Lyons commits to revitalize Defense Personal Property Program to make it worthy of the sacrifices our service members and civilians make to serve our country.

In addition to U.S. Transportation Command, Alaska based carriers also contacted me to provide inputs. They provided feedback and are planning to work with U.S. Transportation Command to help build positive solutions. Know that I am encouraged to see these steps and will do all I can to ensure that they are carried out. Developing positive change quickly is important though. Before we know it, the next moving season will be upon us.

This next year, we will see the start of a large influx of active duty military families’ move into Alaska. Over the next four years, Eielson Air Force Base will stand up two F-35 squadrons and bring in thousands of personnel. Their first experience in Alaska will be their moving experience. Often, our military families are nervous about moving up here. They worry it will be too cold and too dark. While we can’t do anything about the weather, we can work to make sure their moving experience is not a negative one. Currently Alaska has one of the best reputations in the country for support of our military families. Some may be apprehensive at first, but many choose to call Alaska home after military service. A successful move up to Alaska is the first step in keeping our positive reputation.

Taking care of our military comes in many forms, big and small.  I ask us all to look for ways that we can step in and help those that do so much in taking care of us and our nation.  

By:  Lisa Murkowski