Military Families Face Harsh Realities When Forced to Relocate

The Department of Defense's Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) plans to close 20 military bases across the country by Sept. 15, 2011. Once a military facility closes, the ripple effect is felt throughout the surrounding communities: families lose neighbors, businesses lose customers and workers lose jobs. In this series of stories, DailyFinance looks at how closures have affected communities in the past, and what some military families and the businesses that cater to them plan to do once their base closes.

Tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel and civilian federal employees are packing up their belongings as the U.S. military's Base Realignment and Closure program (known as BRAC) goes into effect. BRAC not only calls for shutting down 20 major military bases around the country, but it also requires the shifting of some commands to other areas, all of which must be done by next September.

The moves will be jarring to several communities across the U.S., as some towns lose the bulk of their population and others make room for thousands of troops and their families. One of the most significant migrations will occur in the southeast, where the U.S. Army Reserve Command and U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) will leave Fort McPherson in Atlanta and head 325 miles northeast to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. According to North Carolina's BRAC Regional Task Force, the region around Fort Bragg is expected to see "additional gains of 40,000 military and civilian personnel and their families" over the next several years.

Merrilee and Rex Norman were among some of the first people to make the migration. The couple, who met while in the Army and now work as civilian information technology professionals with FORSCOM, were part of a "torch party" (pictured above) of the first 50 soldiers and civilians to move to Fort Bragg from Fort McPherson last month. They are the vanguard of about 3,000 people in their commands coming from Atlanta -- and just two of the estimated 22,000 civilian employees of the U.S. Army who are affected by BRAC.

The Pitfalls and Perks of Relocation Programs

Rex has been giving "mini-seminars" to his colleagues back at Fort McPherson on the Defense National Relocation Program (DNRP), which offers financial counseling, home marketing assistance and "a guaranteed buyout offer to purchase the employee's residence at the prior duty station." But even with government assistance, the decimated real estate market is working against them.

"They come in, appraise your house with a relocation company," says Rex. "In the end if they don't sell it through
your real estate agent, then the government will purchase it for you at the relocation appraisal price. In our case, it was about $40,000 below the fair market value of our tax assessment. It was an ugly price."

"Luckily, we get the guaranteed sale and luckily we were also able to find a buyer for our home before we had to take the offer from the relocation," Merrilee adds.

The program does have its perks, including a 25% pay incentive for the move, paid moving and temporary housing expenses and financed house-hunting trips to the new post. Despite the loss they took on their old home, Rex says the DNRP incentive package and the better mortgage rate they received on their new home in North Carolina has allowed them to break even on the move.

A Rude Awakening in North Carolina

Civilians relocating as a result of BRAC will face yet another obstacle once they arrive in North Carolina: qualifying for a home loan. Even though the Normans have a very good credit rating, they had to jump through several hoops to get a loan in North Carolina, says Rex.

"People who are making their mortgage payment every month in Atlanta, never missed a payment... got pretty good credit, they sell their home [and] think they're going to qualify for a loan," says Rex. "But they're going to find it's a different story, and I don't know if that word is getting out to people or not. I think it's just because of the housing market now and the state the market is now in."

When the Normans started shopping for a new home in the Fort Bragg area they discovered a real estate market they believed was overpriced. With the anticipated influx of new residents from Fort McPherson, many homeowners in the area appeared to have raised their selling price or were unwilling to negotiate -- an especially harsh reality for the couple after selling their old home at such a substantial loss.

"We searched and searched for a home," says Merrilee. "Some of these owners were just not willing to come off their prices. And I think they're going to start realizing the impact when all of us start coming into town And some of us have taken losses at Fort McPherson in Atlanta and they're just not going to take those high prices."

Weighing the Pros and Cons: Career Versus Lifestyle

Nevertheless, the Normans consider themselves lucky. Merrilee says the economy and the need for jobs is putting a strain on some of her colleagues and their families. "We know of a lot of people that are going to be coming [to Fort Bragg] as a bachelor or bachelorette," she says. "They're going to leave their home and family in Atlanta because they need that job. And they're going to come here and set up another household, whether it be an apartment, just so they can keep their jobs and lifestyles. They'll be the ones that cannot afford to sell the house." Some of the Normans' colleagues are even considering early retirement, rather than go through the financial uncertainty of relocating.

Despite all of the relocation challenges, the Normans remain upbeat about their new move. "You've got to realize, we're civilians with over 30 years federal service," says Merrilee. "A move is pretty traumatic and we were not wanting to go to Fort Bragg, but I'm pretty excited about it, coming into work every morning now. You see the soldiers out there in their uniforms running PT, we're reminded every morning as to why we have a job. The bottom line is the benefits were good, they helped us out with the lock on the home and we're here because we want a job and we love what we do -- and we want to stay and retire with the federal service."

Also in this series:
Military Base Closures and the Towns They Leave Behind
Denver's Lowry Air Force Base Defies the Odds
California's Castle Air Force Base Learns a Hard Lesson in Reinvention
A Maine Town's Long Recovery After Losing Loring AFB
Will Military Base Closures Mortally Wound These Real Estate Markets?

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Is there any way to close the bases in Europe, Italy, Korea, England, no one wants us there, just our money and we could bring our soldiers home and not have the expense of overseas. I dont see 100,000 german soldiers in the US?

September 13 2010 at 4:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to fliper49's comment

No and you won't. Why would we need 100,000 germans soldiers here in the United States? Absolutely NO reason. Our soldiers are their for a Peace Keeping/Nation Security reason.... Besides what jobs, in the civilian force are readily available for all of the returning military? I'd personally stay in...Re-up!Definatley job security and a great way to live and serve your country.

September 26 2010 at 10:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

LOL shows how much you know! you do realize those bases are payed for by the host nation? we pay some but they pay the people like you make me laugh

September 27 2010 at 2:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Its gotta be a rude wake up to come back to a country that has nothing to give back to you. I have a full line of military family dating back to the civil war. If you read letters from them you realize that what you put into the government you get nothing close in return. I wish these Families the best of Luck.

September 13 2010 at 10:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I want to know if anyone has the answer to this . When Obama took office his wife stated her first real project was to make sure and get better houing for people in the millitary. Did she mean in Iraq or aphfganistan ? Did she do anything on this project and what was it

September 13 2010 at 12:26 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mingo's comment

I dont think they have done crap for us....we moved to a base due to BRAC three years ago...our base in NC was closing to the Air Force, at our new base, which by the way is the crap hole of the south, the new housing was opened one day and people moved in...two days later they moved back sat empty for two years...the contractor backed out and when they moved people in they had not passed inspection...we ended up moving 20 miles north of the sucks here and she obviously has never been here...

September 27 2010 at 2:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

DUH! My husband was in the Army for 26 year's. Goes with the job. He retired as a SGM. A real professional!

September 12 2010 at 10:45 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply


September 12 2010 at 10:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

BRAC was started in 1986 wahen signed into law by president Reagan. It was designed to close bases in the future as recommended by the BRAC commission. No future president could alter the closings. Presidents G H W Bush, Clinton, G W Bush, nor Obama would have no say in what would be closed. All president that come after Obama will have no say either. No congress starting in 1986 and afterwards could alter the closings either, but could stop the whole list as is. BRAC was designed to take politics out of what to close. BRAC does not change the normal PCS, or TAD/TDY moves experienced by active duty military or naval members. I may be incorrect, but I can't think of any ship yards left on the west coast. Much of the yard work in now being performed by Japanese shipwrights in Sasebo Japan. I thought BRAC was a terrible thing at the time, and I still do. The average person not thinks the present day congress and or president is somehow responsible for what they see. Incidently, the Naval ship yard in Long Beach is now owned by the communist Chinese. Todd and fellows & Steward yards are close by, but they are expensive, and hard to get into. Neither can dry dock a CVN. (Carrier)

September 12 2010 at 10:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gaustin712's comment

IT is a horrible thing, when BRAC hit my husbands base, we had no say in where we went...we went to a crap hole..he made the last strip for him and now we are awaiting the orders...

September 27 2010 at 2:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Your article uses civilian workers as the example for hardships caused military families in the move. Historically federal civilians have always got higher benefits to move than active duty military. The military personnel selling houses will also sell in a depressed market with less support than the civilian. USNret30

September 12 2010 at 9:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh Please, Military families have been relocating for hundreds of years. It goes with the profession.

September 12 2010 at 9:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to landslowrance's comment

Earth to Bruce Kennedy. In the military you can expect to move every three years. This is not late breaking news. It's been happening for decades. And if you had ever been stationed in Massachusetts you can't wait to get away from the liberals who despise you.

September 12 2010 at 8:31 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to ickster01's comment

I served and found both parties welcomed me and my troops. Where did this come from ..? OPS a paid blogger?

September 12 2010 at 9:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

no you dont expect to move every three years i have no idea where you people get your info...the army may move people that often but not normally...the air force especially stateside does not move people that have to put in for orders unless you are at a rank that your base no longer needs...almost 22 years into my husbands career..i think i know what im talking about

September 27 2010 at 2:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is not something new my parent ought a house in orlando in 1960 he was air force transfered to jax and could not sell the house in orlando they took a loss on it to bad they couldn't hold on to is for a few more years they would have make a killing but that how it goes

September 12 2010 at 7:35 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply