A new military contractor tasked with shipping U.S. service members' vehicles to Alaska, Hawaii and abroad has come under fire by military personnel who complain of lengthy delays, misplaced cars and vehicle damage since the company began operations this summer.
Service members have been venting their frustrations on a Facebook Page set up to voice complaints about the company. The group had nearly 2,000 members as of Tuesday afternoon, including posts from Alaska. Meanwhile, reports of shipment issues have been circulating on The Hill news blog and Navy Times, among numerous other online publications.
Complaints continue to surface, and Sen. Mark Begich on Tuesday sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Command, the agency responsible for Department of Defense shipments around the globe.
"By all accounts, the failure to meet required delivery dates is substantially higher than before the transition. Vehicle damage rates also appear higher. Many service members are stymied by their inability to get in-transit visibility on their vehicle's locations," Begich wrote in the letter.
The contract is worth up to $919 million over five years, according to the letter.
Matt Felling, spokesperson for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, wrote Tuesday that "we've received a number of Alaskan concerns on this issue and are working directly on their behalf on possibly pursuing actions with the appropriate federal agencies involved."
'Very aware of the situation'
The Department of Defense will generally pay to ship a service member's household goods when they are moved to a new post, said Maj. Matthew Gregory, spokesperson for U.S. Transportation Command. The DOD will pay for the shipment of vehicles if the location is overseas, including Alaska and Hawaii, Gregory said.
About 66,000 vehicles are shipped annually through the program, Gregory said. Peak moving season for the military is between May 1 and Sept. 1. He noted that June and July saw the highest volume of vehicle shipments in the history of the program.
A separate contractor, American Auto Logistics, had held the contract since 1998 before losing the bid this year. American Auto protested the bid and lost in court, wrote Liz Poston with Prism Public Affairs, a PR firm for the company.
Gregory said U.S. Transportation Command was "very aware of the situation" surrounding International Auto Logistics.
"Some of the things we've received is folks looking for assistance in helping to find their cars," Gregory said.
Amanda Nunez, spokesperson for International Auto Logistics, wrote that the company "had less than two months to begin their contract that started during the busiest time of the year, leading to unanticipated quantities of vehicle processing requests that tested their new systems."
Nunez wrote that the company has hired additional employees, opened a new call center, and partnered with the U.S. Transportation Command and Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command in order to monitor improvements and fix the process issues.
The company is "committed to providing the military personnel they serve not only what they demand but deserve," Nunez wrote.
'Theres no rhyme or reason to anything'
Stephanie Scott relocated to the Ketchikan Coast Guard station with her husband on July 7, and said Tuesday that she had been waiting more than a month for her car to arrive. The couple dropped off their 2007 Toyota Highlander at the Norfolk vehicle processing center in Virginia on June 3. The vehicle was supposed to arrive four days before they landed in the Southeast community. When they arrived, "it wasn't here," Scott said.
"The tracking information had just said it was picked up in Norfolk and was on a truck to Seattle," she said. That status remained the same for more than two weeks.
Then, she was told that the car had come to Anchorage.
"That turned out to not be true," she said. Scott filed a claim with her auto insurance company, which told the couple the vehicle was still in Norfolk. The insurance company told Scott to file a police report, she said. A police officer went to the Norfolk vehicle processing center, and was told that the vehicle was "somewhere in Washington," Scott said.
At the end of July, a Seattle representative with International Auto Logistics sent the couple photos of the car, and explained that a mix-up had occurred in the shipment. Scott and the company went back and forth for several weeks longer.
On Tuesday, the car, originally slated for delivery on July 3, was now set to arrive in Ketchikan on Aug. 20.
"Our tracking number at this point, if you try to track it, it just shows no record for this vehicle," Scott said.
Amanda Satter, who also moved to Alaska this summer, had a similar story.
Satter moved to Ketchikan with her husband on June 15. The couple dropped off their Mini Countryman S at a vehicle processing center in San Diego, she wrote Tuesday. The delivery was slated for June 9, and when the car did not show up, they began attempting to track it down.
"The online tracking was useless, the phones rang and rang and emails were not returned," she wrote Tuesday. Eventually, Satter reached out to her insurance company, which started trying to contact the company. She also filed a police report with the Ketchikan police department, she said.
"We picked up our car on July 30th, 49 days after the estimated delivery date," Satter wrote. "To this day … the online tracking for the car still shows it in Tacoma, Washington."
"My husband, an active duty Coast Guard member, rode his bike to work from June 16 to July 31. We live in one of the rainiest cities in North America," Satter wrote.
Joni Stephens, who moved to Fairbanks with her husband in early July, said her vehicle showed up on time but damaged.
"The entire time, they had no idea where my vehicle actually was," Stephens said. "There's no rhyme or reason to anything."
When the vehicle arrived in Fairbanks, it had a dead battery, chips to the window tint, and dead bugs inside the car.
Still, she said, "my story, as it turns out, didn't end as badly as others."