Many active military members and military families stay on the move. Their service takes them to different base assignments, on tours of duty, and more. Making these frequent moves makes storing personal belongings and vehicles a necessity. Unfortunately for many, the Army has discontinued a years-old policy that gave soldiers who were sent on deployment the ability to store their stuff at no cost while they were away. The decision was made by Army personnel officials in recent months and took effect on the first day of fiscal 2024.
Until now, the Army storage service had offered vouchers for soldiers to store their belongings. During deployments, some troops even ended their apartment leases and rented a storage locker, subsidized by the Army, to save money on rent. Now, according to Military.com, the Army G-1, which oversees personnel policy, has decided that current travel policies note only that a soldier's belongings "may" be stored, meaning the Army doesn't have to do so.
"HQDA G1, the proponent for [storage] entitlements, recently determined that the Army would no longer support [storage] entitlements because there is no Army policy explicitly authorizing storage in support of soldiers deployed for contingency operations," Col. Heather Carlisle, director for support operations at Army Sustainment Command, wrote in a memo.
She did not return their requests for comment, although Stars and Stripes says the impetus for the change are budget constraints, while noting that the news comes on the heels of reports that the Army, Air Force, and Navy failed to meet their recruiting targets for fiscal 2023. All three were a few thousand recruits short of their goal.
Military Faces Social Media Scorn
When word got out about the discontinuation of the storage policy, the backlash was swift. “Once again, our soldiers are being asked to pay the burden of being deployed,” writes one critic of the new Army policy on social media. The widespread scorn includes this video in which a former drill sergeant highlights how the military could help soldiers with storage, but since no policy exists stating they have to, they will no longer will. The video has gained nearly 290K views and over 2K comments.
In the meantime, soldiers are authorized to store their vehicles in motor pools, however these are often occupied by tactical vehicles and frequently are not covered or climate controlled.
An Opportunity for Self Storage
While the discontinuation of the program is unfortunate, it does give self-storage facilities an opportunity to help service members by offering discounted storage. We spoke with one military family who recognizes the benefits of self storage.
“Having self storage at a discount or any free service would be very helpful,” Anita Kaestner, whose husband serves in the Air Force, told MSM. The couple recently moved from Florida to Georgia and had to quickly sell their home and find a new one. Wondering what to do with their belongings in the interim only added to the stress of the move.
“A lot of military families move fairly often and it gets very expensive,” says Kaestner. “Plus, housing isn't always available where you're headed, so your things are often in storage for months before you can rent or buy or get housing on base. There are families that live in hotels or RVs for weeks while trying to close on a house or get something on base because the military member has to be at work before housing is ready.”
Self Storage Responds To The News
Many self-storage facilities have been offering military discounts for some time. This new policy may present additional opportunities. The policy is so new, however, that many – whether military or civilian – aren’t aware of it.
“The new policy has not previously been reported in the press,” Military.com wrote just last week. “The order has not been widely distributed to the force.”
“I hadn’t heard of this new policy,” says Sara Munoz, who helps oversee five National Self Storage facilities in Texas, one of which is situated by Fort Bliss, home to the largest military training area in the United States and comprising more than 965,000 acres.
Of course, Munoz knows the value of military tenants. “We offer 10% discounts to the military, and will often waive administrative fees for them,” she says. Munoz acknowledges that their Horizon City facility, the closest to Fort Bliss, has a significant number of military tenants. However, there may be more than even she is aware of.
“Veterans will often ask about military discounts, but not active-duty military. We look and listen for cues. For example, if someone has an out-of-state ID, or says they’re temporarily moving, then we may ask if they are military.”
“We’ve had many active duty military store vehicles with us,” says Arlo Dill, Vice President of Operations for National Self Storage. “I understand that some bases allow storage on site, but that’s often just a dirt lot with little security. So, we offer discounts and other amenities to bring them to us.”
Dill says that to support service members, little things can go a long way. “One of our former indoor RV storage facilities offered to start military members’ vehicles once per week, so they would know their ride would be running when they returned.” Continues Dill, “Right now, we use a smart access app that allows them to check in on their unit. Knowing that they can see who, if anyone, has accessed it gives them peace of mind.”
Marketing to the military isn’t always a homerun, of course, and self-storage owners should always test the waters. “We currently use a local magazine given to incoming military and their family,” says Angela Wright with Simply Storage in Virginia Beach. “We utilize this across four of my Virginia locations. Our metrics show that this has not been a good spend for these locations as we have only seen two rentals from it.”
If newspapers or publications aren't getting results, Kaestner recommends reaching out to the military base Public Affairs office to look into sponsorship opportunities. "Sponsoring community events that the bases put on can also be a great opportunity to get your brand in front of the military members coordinating the event and the thousands of people from the community who attend."
Military Considerations for Self Storage
Self-storage facilities in a position to serve military members should keep in mind what is most valuable to them. A few items for consideration include:
Flexible Leasing Agreements - Providing month-to-month rental terms as service member assignments and deployments may change frequently.
Online Bill Pay Service - This makes it easy for military service members to make payments regardless of their location.
Vehicle Storage - The need to store a vehicle is a top priority for many service members.
24-Hour Access - Offering 24-hour gate access for those who need to access their storage units outside of normal business hours is a plus for military service members arriving at off-hours.
Climate Control - Service members may need to store the majority of their belongings, which includes temperature-sensitive items like electronics, furniture, clothing, books, and more.
Security - Service members tend to be acutely aware of security measures. Video surveillance and electronic gate access, along with individual unit locks, will help put them at ease.
Policy Changes in the Future?
With the recent change in policy receiving widespread scorn, the Army may look to change things in the future. "We understand the burden [the recent change] could potentially place on soldiers, and HQDA G-1 is drafting policy that would enable such storage," Sgt. Pablo Saez, a service spokesperson, told Military.com.
When and if a new policy allowing storage goes into effect remains unknown, providing self-storage operators with a chance to “serve those who serve” by offering military discounts and other deals outlined here.
Brad Hadfield is a news writer for Modern Storage Media. He also manages the MSM website.
Photo credit: Spc. Anthony Zane 362nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment