A former Fort Knox military family learned a valuable lesson during their most recent permanent change of station move – making national headlines and leading to Department of Defense talks to improve processes.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Austin McNulty and his wife Valerie, who left Fort Knox in 2017, made their latest PCS from Fort Carson, Colorado, to Fort Drum, New York, in December 2021. It was during that move that an afterthought involving a GPS tracking tag suddenly became very useful.
According to Valerie, she initially placed the device in her son’s toy box with no plan to use it. However, when they later realized they weren’t getting the truth about the location of their belongings, they decided to speak up about what they knew.
“If something goes awry like this, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself,” McNulty said, expressing her surprise by the chain of events afterward. “It was never my intention for me to post this and have it go viral, but it’s been a good lesson.”
Valerie said nothing seemed amiss at first during the PCS, only that their household goods seemed to be taking longer than expected to arrive. It wasn’t until one of the drivers called them to say he had just picked up some of their belongings in Colorado because of the shipment having to be split, that she decided to login on her smart device and see the tracker’s location.
“I wasn’t checking because I was just trusting the process,” McNulty said. I immediately showed my husband while he was on the phone with [the driver]. ”
The app indicated their belongings were only four hours away from Fort Drum. Valerie said they called the carrier’s main office but didn’t receive much help.
“We quickly found out we had more information than they did,” McNulty said.
Everything with the McNultys’ shipment was resolved in the end, but Valerie said she shared her experience on social media in hopes of helping other military families. Her unique story quickly spread and was picked up by national news outlets, including the Military Times.
Fort Knox installation Transportation officer Michael Ferguson said he advises all military families to take prudent actions, such as what Valerie did as they prepare to PCS.
“It’s your move. It’s your personal belongings, ”he said. “Being more proactive is a benefit to you.”
Ferguson said his office’s mission is to help military families who are in the process of leaving Fort Knox. He urged soldiers to lean on the office when problems occur so they can work to resolve them.
“Our office really acts as a conduit between the service member and the transportation service provider,” he said. “We get them connected together, and also provide quality control and quality assurance checks when they’re packing and picking up.”
Although not everyone will experience what Valerie did, Ferguson said there are many other ways to ensure a move goes as smoothly as possible and belongings are protected.
“Take photos of your property and the condition that it’s in,” he said. “That way you have proof if something gets damaged.”
Ferguson also said it’s helpful to establish a rapport with carriers and packers. He said that way, they’ll be much more eager to communicate with soldiers, especially when calling to check where shipments are and when they’ll be delivered.
Despite all the ways his office is prepared to help, Ferguson said problems will still occasionally happen with those contracted to pack and ship goods. However, he advised families not to try and handle them on their own.
“Don’t argue with the carrier if there’s an issue; That’s what we have for our quality control, ”he said. “Give them a call. They’ll come out and handle any dispute. “
In Valerie’s case, Ferguson said he applauded her ingenuity.
“I think that’s a great idea,” he said. “GPS tracking devices are very inexpensive nowadays, but that is an expense on the service member.”
Ferguson said because shipments often contain irreplaceable items such as photo albums and family heirlooms, tracking them would be ideal. He did, however, have a specific recommendation for tracker placement.
“From my experience, I think the best place to put something like that would be your bits box with all your nuts and bolts for your beds and furniture because that’s the number one thing that gets lost,” he said. “I think it’s definitely worth it.”
Valerie echoed Ferguson’s recommendation, saying the comfort of using tracking devices far outweighs the cost.
“Worst case scenario, you’re out $ 20 or $ 30. I feel like you get your money’s worth for sure, “Valerie said. “It definitely gave us peace of mind.”
Since her story went viral, Valerie said she’s been thankful for the chance to be part of the conversation about ways to improve the PCS experience for military families.
“I am all for advocating for military families and helping them in this process,” she said. “I definitely want others to know that if they stand up for themselves and share with others, it can help others along the way.”
Valerie said it was what happened next, however, that encouraged her even more.
“The military really did step up,” she said. “I was able to be a part of a call with all the branches’ Transportation top dogs, and they wanted to hear my story personally.
“That really opened the door for conversations. I think that’s how we can move forward, “she added.
Ferguson said the Department of Defense is always working to improve the PCS process for its service members. He said although it will be a stressful process regardless, anticipating potential issues and contacting Transportation when they arise is the best advice.
“It’s your personal property. It’s more important to you than it is to the carrier, “he said. Understand that there’s Murphy’s Law out there: if it could happen, it could happen. “