If practice makes perfect, then Army spouse Megan Harless has earned the title of relocation expert. But moving 10 times in 14 years did more than sharpen her PCS skills. It transformed her into an advocate for reforming the household goods moving process for military families.
Today, Harless is the public face of the movement to revamp the PCS process. Harless assumed that mantle in 2018 when she launched a petition on her “Military Spouse Chronicles” Facebook page calling on lawmakers to hold moving companies accountable and end the “just file a claim” response to damaged and missing household goods.
A writer, military community booster and mother of three school-aged children, Harless never envisioned herself leading the charge for PCS reform until the issue “fell into my lap,” she says. She used her platform to speak out after her family’s “horrendous” PCS to Fort Eustis, Virginia in 2017. It was when she knew her experience was becoming the norm.
“A lot of the stories I was hearing were all the same,” Harless, who now serves on Transportation Command’s (TRANSCOM) Personal Property Relocation Panel, said. “Horrible moves. Lots of damage. Lots of issues. It felt like we were at rock bottom, a turning point, where something had to change.”
A former Army officer, Harless has experienced the PCS process as both a service member and military spouse. That background adds cachet to a PCS resume that contains familiar Army duty stations such as Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Eustis, Virginia; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Lee, Virginia; and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, as well as less familiar names, Camp Atterbury in Indiana and Red River Army Depot in Texas.
“Because I’ve been able to see both sides of the spectrum, I can understand what our service members go through, what my husband goes through and, as a spouse, what we go through,” Harless said. “It’s a unique perspective of [military] life in general that allows me, when I hear there’s a deployment, TDY or PCS, to not jump off the deep end.”
That doesn’t mean all the family’s duty stations have been created equal. Harless admits to “struggling” with Fort Riley. She also has no problem crossing off Camp Atterbury or her current location, Texarkana, Texas, from the family’s list of potential forever homes.
But the family’s move to Fort Leavenworth — home of the U.S. Military Disciplinary Barracks — generated the biggest “you are going where?” reaction among family members.
“When we told my Dad we were going to Leavenworth, his first response was, ‘Oh, my gosh. What did you do?’” Harless recalls. She said her father had to explain to more than one friend that his daughter’s family ‘wasn’t in Leavenworth. They’re at Leavenworth.’”
The Kansas town best known for its military prison and U.S. federal penitentiary became one of the family’s favorite duty stations.
“It was a great little town to live in,” Harless points out. “It was a very tight-knit community, but you had all the big city amenities because Kansas City was very close.”
In the Harless household, “Home is where the Army sends us” is more than a wall sign.
“Each duty station is a new chapter,” Harless explained. “It’s a new adventure. There are some we love; some we hate. But the mindset is, this is temporary. We can make do with a small, awkward house for a couple of years. We can make do with this community for a couple of years. It’s not forever.”
That attitude has allowed Harless to view each move as another step on the journey to the family’s post-military hometown.
“Being able to travel and live in different locations gives us an idea of what areas we like, what type of communities we like, what we want to have on the other end when we are done with the military,” she said.
Whether preparing for your first or 15th military move, Harless’ advice is to “get educated.”
“Know who you can call if you have issues,” she said. “Don’t let bad stuff happen during your move. Take control of it, own it, and be active in the process so you know what’s going.”
Things to know ahead of your next PCS move:
One person can make a difference may be the lasting lesson from Army spouse Megan Harless’ efforts to improve the military move process. After Harless attracted the attention of U.S. senators and national media to 2018’s brutal PCS season, the Department of Defense announced multiple reform efforts.
According to TRANSCOM Public Affairs Specialist David Dunn, these changes are under way:
- Increased quality assurance inspections of PCS shipments. In December 2018, inspectors were “at the curb” of roughly one-quarter of household goods moves across all military branches. By October 2019, inspection rates increased to 66% for the Army, 70% for the Marine Corps and 44% for the Coast Guard. (Statistics for the Air Force and Navy were unavailable.)
- Publication of customer satisfaction scores. Military members logging into the Defense Personal Property System can now view “Transportation Service Provider (TSP) scorecards.” Scorecards are updated quarterly, with the latest update displaying TSP rankings for Oct. 1, 2019-Dec. 31, 2019.
- Military Move Hotline at 1-833-MIL-MOVE. The Defense Personal Property Customer Support Center was activated on May 1, 2019, to assist 24/7 with non-technical issues and answer moving-related questions.
- Increased crating of domestic household goods shipments. During the peak 2019 moving season (mid-May to Sept. 30), 9% of domestic shipments were containerized. To qualify, CONUS moves must be greater than 800 miles, have estimated weights less than 3,000 pounds in non-peak season or 7,500 pounds in peak season, be scheduled to enter Storage in Transit and not contain items too large to fit into a standard container.
- Selection of a “single move manager.” Household goods shipment and storage is not being “privatized,” but TRANSCOM will this spring select a private-sector company to provide end-to-end management of the movement and storage of household goods. The goal is to “improve access to and management of quality capacity to meet peak demand and enable the Department to affix the accountability and responsibility lacking in today’s program,” Dunn stated in an email. “To be clear USTRANSCOM will never relinquish responsibility to private industry.”
Harless notes other improvements also have occurred within military branches, such as a policy change within the Army to allow for payment of dislocation allowance (DLA) ahead of a PCS.