That didn’t go as planned – Our messed up PCS move

Moving has to be one of the most stressful tasks we’re forced to endure as military families. I’ve personally never found the actual act of moving to be the daunting part. It’s always the leaving part that I’ve had a hard time with. Leaving friends, your home, your community – that’s the part that sends me over the edge. We’ve had a half dozen cross country PCS moves at this point and none of them have ever gone any way other than smooth…until now. This last PCS move tested my patience and strength more than any ever have before.

How to Navigate a Bad PCS Move

Here’s a story about one military family that had a PCS move from hell. My hope is that by telling our story, another family will learn from our experience and be better equipped to handle a similar situation. I also hope that this story will reach the powers that be so they might know the real life impact the policies (and missteps) have on military families.

What is a PCS move?

Let me start by sharing a brief explanation of what a PCS is for my non-military affiliated readers. A PCS or a permanent change of station is what the military calls a work reassignment. Every service member has a different rotation schedule but for us, it’s typically been every three years. When we are given a new set of PCS orders, we contact TMO (the transportation management office) and they get the ball rolling on our move.

As a military family, all of the actual packing and moving is contracted out to one or more moving companies. We get assigned a moving company (sometimes it’s more than one moving company) that will pack our stuff, pick it up, and deliver it to our new duty station. I believe it’s designed this way to relieve the stress of packing and moving of stuff from the military family so they can focus on the other vital requirements that come along with moving: finding a new home, getting children enrolled in school, finding providers, etc.

Our farewell to Florida was going to be challenging for our family no matter what but it was made infinitely worse by a bad PCS. Our stuff was packed out on July 8th and on July 9th it was loaded into a truck and sent on it’s way to California. We were told our stuff would likely beat us to California since we weren’t leaving until the next morning and we’d be taking our time to drive. We figured, either way, it would be delivered to storage because we still didn’t have an address in Twentynine Palms. We set our expected delivery date for August 30th knowing that it would get there well before that but giving us wiggle room since we knew we didn’t yet have an address.

How our PCS move went really, really wrong

We arrived in Twentynine Palms on the 14th of July and on the 19th of July we got an address. Matt called the moving company to schedule a delivery and the dispatcher informed him that they weren’t sure where the truck was. She said, “he may be parked somewhere, we’ll look into it and call you back.” A week went by and we didn’t hear anything. By this time, Matt was on leave and we were visiting family trying to kill time waiting for a house. He called back around the 26th of July and learned that the driver of the truck carrying our household good was in an accident and a portion of our stuff had been severely water damaged. The details of the incident were very vague (and wrong) and over the next few days we learned that the accident was the day the truck left Jacksonville, almost three weeks prior, our stuff was now in mold remediation, and nobody contacted us.

While we were getting our bearings on the new place, expecting that our belongings were safe in storage somewhere in Twentynine, half of our things were sitting in a warehouse in Jacksonville while the other half was at a cleaning service getting aired out from the water damage.

In detail, the government contracted company A to move us. They subcontracted to a company B who was local to us. Up until we learned of the damage, company B was the only company we had contact with. Once we learned of the damage, company B informed us that they were simply the subcontractors and to gather any further information we’d have to contact company A. According to what we’ve been told by the moving companies, this is where the breakdown in policy begins. When the accident happened company B promptly notified company A and company A was to notify us.

They never did.

As a subcontractor, company B didn’t have the authority to contact us directly so they relied on company A to relay the message. One of these two companies took it upon themselves (without notifying us or getting our permission) to send our belongings to a cleaning service for “mold remediation” which apparently is also their policy. After the cleaning service did their work, they wrote a report that indicated what items they deemed “non-salvageable” and the moving company let us know that those items would not be returned to us but we could immediately file a claim for those items. We have so many questions as to why they would do this. Was the plan to clean up our HHG and send them along without ever letting us know about the incident? It’s hard to say but it doesn’t feel like it was in good faith.

We finally received our household goods from our PCS move on Saturday sans the “non-salvageable” items which happened to include things like the slipcover portion of our new sofa, two of our beds, a dresser, many clothes, some of my Annie the Brave inventory, thousands of photos, Peighton’s baby book, lots of artwork, books, etc. Some items that we did receive still had water damage that must have been overlooked so we had to toss it as soon as we got it to not contaminate other items.

This whole ordeal has turned into a full-time job for Matt and me. Between the two of us, we’ve spent countless hours on the phone with the two moving companies, the cleaning service, the government personnel, and various companies to obtain receipts for our items.

How to resolve a bad PCS move

Where do we go from here?

We continue with our claim which will be part two of this saga. Since there were items that we flat out didn’t receive we’ve been able to work directly with the moving company to file our claim. We are cautiously hopeful that a fair settlement will be offered.

What we’ll do differently for the next PCS move

Make sure all super important things are in waterproof containers.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined our stuff would get water damaged driving cross country. For the next move, I will be certain to keep our keepsakes and photos in a water-safe container.

Double-check that the contents of the boxes are listed correctly.

If you have the movers pack you out (most of us do), ask them to be more specific on the contents of the box. For claims purposes, if a box goes missing and it says pantry items but it’s really your Kitchen Aid mixer and attachments – that’s worth noting.

Do not assume that they will pack your priceless possessions safely.

If you have items that are irreplaceable make it clear that they should be packed safely or you should hand-carry them. We received a family heirloom in a dozen pieces because it was only wrapped in two pieces of packing paper with several other breakables.

Take as many business-related items with you as you can.

We took the majority of our Annie the Brave inventory with us but we couldn’t fit it all. The one box of ATB inventory that we sent with our shipment got damaged. In the future, I will absolutely ship work-related items on my own if I cannot bring them with me.

The PCS moving process is flawed

Our story isn’t unique. Unfortunately, it’s rather common. There are entire Facebook groups dedicated to bad PCS moves. In fact, as we’ve been dealing with our claim one of the rep told Matt, “you should be glad, I’m working with another family who lost everything because of a trailer fire.” And we do feel lucky. It could have been worse. We could have lost everything. The driver could have been injured or worse. We’re grateful to have anything at all. We know accidents happen. Our frustration is about how the entire thing was handled. The moving companies never notifying us about the incident or their cleaning of our items. We felt taken advantage of and violated. We gave a moving company permission to take our belongings from point A to point B. We never gave permission to deviate from that plan and nobody ever even asked.

As you have to be in the military, we’re resilient and while this ordeal has shaken us we are no worse for wear. We’re finally starting to settle in and we look forward to receiving our settlement so we can furnish our home again!

I’d love to hear your feedback if you have any about a military move and if you are so inclined, I’d love for you to share our story so we can reach more people. The more awareness we receive about PCS issues the more likely we (military service members) are to see positive change!

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  1. When we were in the Air Force we had a move from South Carolina to England. Household goods were due to arrive in 2 wks. We heard that a ship had gone down & our goods lost. They finally arrived 6 wks. later, in pretty good condition. What was left in storage back in SC however was NOT safe. An almost new large Karastan wool carpet was missing, an almost new t.v., Nikon camera & hutch were missing. The settlement was miserly and we never got an apology. In fact, the mover told us that we should be grateful – the move was ‘free’ for us. We followed some of your tips after that.

  2. That is so horrible! While it’s true that some “have it worse”, just keep reminding yourself to not let people make you feel like you can’t be upset about the situation you’re in. It’s heartbreaking to lose some of those irreplaceable personal items. I hope that they handle the settlement a lot better than the move!

  3. I’m so so sorry that you have to deal with this. It sounds absolutely horrible. Thank you for sharing your takeaways out of all of this. I will need to put our keepsakes into watertight boxes next time.

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  5. We just had our final relocation move from VA to MS after my husband’s retirement after 22 years in the Navy. Right after walking out of the title office from closing on our new home and expecting our HHG to be delivered the following day, we received a call that the moving semi-truck caught fire on the interstate earlier that morning and every single thing we owned was deemed a complete and total unsalvageable loss. The transportation management company initially told us they would be reimbursing us at full replacement value after we submitted a line by line spreadsheet itemizing all of our personal belongings. What they didn’t mention during that first call was that even in a total loss where every single thing we owned aside from what was in our personal vehicles was destroyed, we would only be reimbursed “up to” the equivalent of $6 per pound of the weight of our shipment. That amount isn’t even 1/3 of the value of what we lost.