PCSing during COVID-19

When the Department of Defense announced a 60-day stop movement order March 11, Chris Curtis, sponsorship and benefits coordinator, knew the action would impact more than those with planned PCS moves.

He determined the order would directly affect the schedules of 84 civilian and military personnel. “The travel ban was more than those 84 people,” he said.

From personal experience, he knew people would need to move for reasons other than PCS. “In 1988 my mom passed away, and I out-processed in one day,” he said.

On March 15, Curtis, assumed the role of manager to the newly created Stop Movement Customer Assistance Point, where he’d have the opportunity to address the needs of the Wiesbaden community as people tried to navigate through the fast-evolving situation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Capt. Amy Molina and her husband were scheduled to PCS in June, their use of the SM-CAP office started just as it opened in mid-March while they were on personal leave in Peru to attend a family wedding. Within 24 hours of their arrival, Peru closed its borders and placed strict quarantine measures on both visitors and its citizens.

Lisa Bishop/USAG Wiesbaden Public Affairs
Lt. Col. David Chapman and his expectant wife, Jaime, have their household goods packed out May 20.

Molina was immediately overtaken by the questions associated with her upcoming PCS to Fort Leonard Wood. She had scheduled her household goods pack out, housing inspection and car shipment. All would happen before they could leave Peru. “We had to reschedule everything,” she said.

“A lot of my anxiety was greatly reduced,” Molina said, after she connected with Curtis of SM-CAP. “He was able to coordinate with all of those parties and change the dates.”

The U.S. had announced its own stop movement, and flights in and out of most international locations had come to a halt, placing additional questions on the Molinas as they sat in Peru isolation. They waited almost four weeks for permission to return to her duty station in Wiesbaden.

Curtis and the U.S. embassy in Peru coordinated a repatriation flight to the U.S. once it was determined that Molina and her spouse could return.

Molina’s gaining unit applied for an exception to policy for her PCS to move forward because her role is deemed mission essential. Her new report date is mid-July.

Curtis said, “There are multiple issues for each person affected.” Problems include housing, airline tickets, foreign regulations and health. Individuals and families have needed to travel for training, visitation with children, medical procedures and family deaths, too. “We never know what people are going through,” he said.

Brian Hall, senior civilian advisor to the 24th Military Intelligence Battalion, 66th Military Intelligence Brigade, engaged the SM-CAP when his father died two weeks after the stop movement was announced. Hall was unaware that Curtis was about to return the favor given to him in 1988. “Twenty four hours after he passed, I was on a plane,” Hall said. “That was not just Chris (Curtis), but my command chain too. He followed up on everything.”

Curtis has helped more than 200 people with planning their PCS details since the Stop Movement Customer Assistance Point was created.

Hall also coordinated with the SM-CAP office to help the Altizer family, civilians who were in temporary quarters awaiting their flights to Wiesbaden when travel was banned. For the family of four and their pets, they have been waiting patiently to arrive this week. “Curtis personally arranged their flight through Patriot Express so they could fly direct,” Hall said. The SM-CAP office also coordinated their quarantine housing for once they get to Wiesbaden.

For Lt. Col. David Chapman, his command promotion wasn’t posted until May 5. “I talked to Mr. Curtis initially for the ETP to explain the situation and get affirmation that we fit the policy requirements.” For the Chapman family, their move to Fort Hood, Texas, had two imperatives: mission essential war-fighter exercises and pregnancy hardship.

Chapman’s wife, Jaime, would not be permitted to fly past 32 weeks, on May 31. They left on May 28, just before their travel window closed.

“It’s stressful,” Chapman said. This is their eighth military move, and their quickest. Instead of 60 days, they had less than a month to coordinate their exit plans.

Curtis said his SM-CAP was “just breaking stuff down and putting out facts for what they can and cannot do.”

More than 200 cases later, Curtis has returned to his normal role and passed the SM-CAP duties to two successors. He’s humble about his contribution. “I took it and ran,” he said.

For those who are in limbo on their PCS plans, Molina encourages patience. “Every day more information is released,” she said. “Answers are coming.”

Barbara Barnett, the transition service manager for the Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program, and Rick Iglesias, the civilian misconduct actions officer, are the new co-managers of the SM-CAP. Barnett said it will be in existence as long as it is needed. “PCS is stressful, and with COVID-19 in the mix, it’s amplified,” she said.

She sees her role as a referral and information liaison. “We want people to be aware of the regulatory requirements so they don’t get stopped on the way out.”

Barnett encourages those who are in the process of PCSing to use the SM-CAP office for answers. “If there is something that impacts you, call and get information from the source,” she said. The SM-CAP office can be reached at (0611) 143-548-1201 or by email at usarmy.wiesbaden.id-europe.list.wiesbadenr2c@mail.mil.

“It was the right move to set up the office, temporary or not,” Hall said. “It has reflected the Army’s priority of people, not just those in uniform — civilians and family too.”