I always said I would never willingly be separated from my husband. Luckily for us, most circumstances allowed us to make a choice to be together. The closest we came to considering being separated, aside from mandatory deployments, was when he was assigned at the last minute to a seat at the Army War College. We had been expecting another year at his current duty station, so the assignment caught us by surprise. Additionally, it was not a convenient time to move for me professionally, and it was a horrible time for us to leave the home we had purchased two years prior. The housing market was at its lowest in almost two decades, and our house was under water. In the end, we decided it was more important to keep our family together, so we rolled the landlord dice and later ended up on the losing end (that is an article for another day!).
However, despite the challenges of moving there, Carlisle ended up being one of our favorite tours! We loved everything about those short ten months from the newly built house we found to rent, to the kids’ school, to the military spouses who have become lifelong friends. In looking back, it was the perfect decision for us, especially since my husband ended up deploying for 13 months a year later.
No choice to come along
Not everyone is as fortunate in being able to avoid the dreaded unaccompanied tour. A service member doesn’t always have the option to bring the family along because of where the assignment is located. Korea and Turkey are two locations where unaccompanied orders are frequent. In 2016, more than 600 family members of U.S. military and civilian personnel were forced to leave Incirlik Air Base and several smaller bases in Turkey because of worsening security conditions there. The Pentagon has since changed the status of permanent duty assignments there to one-year, unaccompanied tours.
To stay or go?
Whether unaccompanied by choice or not, there are decisions to be made. Where should the family live and will a move be paid for? The answer is, it depends. There are a number of reasons why a family will choose to stay behind. Spouse employment, a special needs family member, real estate obligations, elderly parents, or a high school senior are just a few. I’ve known many families personally that have decided not to follow their service member so that their high school age student could graduate from a particular school.
I had another friend who stayed behind in Florida when her husband was sent to Japan for a year. She had little kids, and it wasn’t a good time for her professionally to move. At the end of that year, he was offered a three-year follow-on assignment there, and the family joined him.
Unaccompanied tour options
When the decision is made not to PCS with the service member, or when unaccompanied orders leave you no choice, there are several options to be considered. The simplest might be to stay at your current duty station. If selling the house is a concern or you have older children who do not want to change schools, this might be what is best for your family at the time.
Another option is to move back “home” to live closer to family Some choose to be surrounded by friends and family in a familiar environment. With a spouse halfway around the world, the comforts of home might be exactly what you need. And if you have more job opportunities and connections in your hometown than you do at your current location, moving home may offer the best financial situation.
Others might choose to move ahead to the next duty station if you know where you are headed. This option allows you and the kids to get settled while your service member is away. The one downside is that the powers that be may change your spouse’s orders and you end up moving unnecessarily. This happened to a friend of mine. She left Duty Station A and moved to Duty Station B while her husband deployed. Not only did she spend the year away from him, but she was starting over in a new area. At the end of the year, his orders were changed, and the entire family ended up back at Duty Station A!
What about BAH?
As for how Basic Allowance for Housing or BAH is calculated, it can get tricky. If a family is not allowed to accompany their service member because of the location of the tour, the BAH the family receives is based on their location which could be their current duty station, the follow-on duty station or their hometown if they choose to go home.
However, if the family volunteers not to follow the service member when they had the option, this is a different situation commonly called geo-baching. In this case, the service member’s BAH is based on their actual duty station, no matter where the family lives. It is up to the family to determine how to split the financial costs of two separate dwellings. Depending on the situation and location, the service member may need to rent a room at their duty station, or they could possibly be provided with Bachelor Quarters on the military base. Calculate the total rent for both locations and compare it to the new BAH before making your decision.
No right or wrong answer for unaccompanied tours
Deciding whether to go or stay is not easy, and there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Do your homework and ask questions to find out what is best for your situation. Your family’s particular circumstances will dictate the final decision. You may want to be surrounded by family and friends while your spouse is away. You may choose to stay put if your spouse’s follow on tour is where you are currently stationed. Or you may want to move ahead to the next duty station to give the kids a chance to settle in, giving them one more year to call a place home.
Carla Olivo has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel and their two children. You can follow her on Twitter @olivowriter.