Five months after leaving their last Army post in Germany, Christel and Steven Wilder are still waiting for the car they shipped with a government contractor to arrive at their new home.
It was supposed to reach them two months ago.
“This is just terrible service,” Christel Wilder said. “Awful service for service members. I can’t express this enough. I’m just shocked.”
The Wilders are among thousands of service members who’ve faced long delays in receiving personal vehicles from International Auto Logistics. The Georgia-based company took over a Defense Department shipping contract in May, just before the start of the military’s summer moving season.
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The delays grew so serious that the Defense Department’s Transportation Command in August assigned search teams to look for missing vehicles.
Lately, lawmakers have been demanding answers, too. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Mark Warner, D-Va., have sent strongly worded letters to Transportation Command urging a faster response for military families.
Both senators wrote that only 20 percent of IAL’s deliveries were on time in the first months of its contract. The contract with the Pentagon requires it to deliver 98 percent of its shipments on time.
“I expect IAL’s poor performance thus far will be fully considered when you determine whether or not to renew the contract, or to terminate the current contract,” Murray wrote in a Sept. 30 letter to Transportation Command Commander Gen. Paul Selva.
“I would like to know what you plan to do in the future to ensure that the same inexcusable performance is not repeated when a new contractor takes over this responsibility for the department.”
Murray has yet to receive a reply.
The company is expected to handle about 68,000 vehicles a year in a five-year agreement valued at more than $919 million. It won the contract by submitting a lower bid than its predecessor, American Auto Logistics.
American Auto Logistics filed protests about the bid in federal court and with the Government Accountability Office . It lost its challenges, but delayed IAL from beginning work for several months, a company spokeswoman said. Summer shipments also exceeded the company’s projections.
“They have worked non-stop to correct the backlog,” said IAL spokeswoman Amanda Nunez.
Complaints about delays first started hitting the military press in July.
Since then, a pair of Georgia attorneys have sued IAL, and thousands of frustrated military families have vented about their experiences at a Facebook forum called “International Auto Logistics: Reviews, Complaints and Inconveniences.”
Transportation Command officials and IAL in recent weeks have pointed to progress in reducing a backlog of vehicles that accumulated earlier in the summer.
They’re also referring military families to claims they can file with IAL to receive reimbursements for car rentals.
Service members can track their cars at the website pcsmypov.com/.
“They are living up to their promise and liability by making good-faith efforts to resolve service member claims for compensation quickly,” Transportation Command’s Brig. Gen. Paul Guemmer said in a September update on the delays.
“We will continue to work with IAL to provide timely support to service members who have been inconvenienced in this process.”
In August, Transportation Command conducted a spot audit of 500 vehicle deliveries and found 95 percent of them were reaching their destinations on time. At the time of Guemmer’s September update, about 31,500 vehicles had entered the system since May and 13,760 had been delivered.
“So far, we believe they’re putting the right kinds of things in place to correct deficiencies,” Selva told Military Times last month.
IAL did not have updated information on its backlog to release to The News Tribune by its publication deadline. Nunez said the company has identified ways to make significant improvement in Northern Europe and the U.S., as well as a way to save time on ocean transportation.
The company “expects to see the transport timeframe significantly reduce for (personal vehicles) being received,” Nunez said.
The Wilders lived in Lacey until 2011 during Master Sgt. Steven Wilder’s assignment with a JBLM special operations unit. Christel Wilder is a former Army captain.
She reached out to Murray’s staff members in August when she had not received the family Honda CRV by its scheduled delivery date. She grew frustrated trying to find where her car was when she called IAL for updates.
“Their customer service, that’s been my chief complaint with the company,” she said. “A lot of this could be communicated better and people wouldn’t have been (contacting) their congressmen about this.”
The family has two young children. Their latest move for the Army took them to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii in May.
They shipped Steven Wilder’s truck with a different company and received it on time and used it for their first months in Hawaii. That gave them one vehicler to shuttle the kids around post.
“Life was hard,” said Christel Wilder, 33. “I took him to work but could not do stuff with the kids. So I was patiently waiting for my car only to realize it’s almost five months and I still don’t have it.”
Over the past month, Christel Wilder obtained a rental car that IAL is paying for her to use while she waits for car to make its final trip from a collection point in California.
“No one could ever tell me why it was there so long,” she said.