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Is An Unaccompanied Tour in our Future?

by PCSgrades Staff - March 24th, 2022

Is An Unaccompanied Tour in our Future?

I know this doesn't come as a surprise: military orders don't always fit in with our plans. Sometimes, a service member receives orders and the family members can't go along. No matter the reason behind unaccompanied orders, there are several factors to keep in mind when facing unaccompanied orders.

Our decision to avoid an unaccompanied tour

I always said I would never willingly be separated from my husband. Luckily for us, most circumstances have allowed us to stay together. The closest we came to being separated, aside from mandatory deployments, was when he got a last-minute assignment to Army War College. When those orders came down, we were 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 we were underwater on our mortgage. 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. 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 go along

Not everyone has the choice to avoid the dreaded unaccompanied tour. In some locations, a service member may not have the option to bring the family along.

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.

Unaccompanied tours: to stay or to go?

In some instances, the service member might receive unaccompanied orders, but the family can choose to tag along, largely at their own expense. You can learn more about that process in this blog.

Even if going along is an option, that choice isn't always feasible. There are a number of reasons that family members might stay behind, even if accompanied orders are possible:

  • Spouse employment and career prospects

  • A family member's special needs, including EFMP considerations

  • Real estate obligations

  • Elderly parents or caring for another family member

  • Having a high school senior who wants to graduate in the current location

Whether unaccompanied by choice or not, your family may have to make some big decisions.

I’ve known many families 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.

Military families have options when it comes to a PCS. An unaccompanied tour might not be right for everyone, but it could be what's best in your situation.

Unaccompanied tour options

If your family chooses not to follow the service member, or if unaccompanied orders leave you no choice, you have several options:

Stay at your current duty station

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.

Move back home

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, especially if the service member is on an unaccompanied tour overseas.

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.

Move to your next installation

You can also choose to move to the next location, 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 to this option 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!

If you plan on moving ahead to the next installation, check out our free reviews from military families just like yours.

Unaccompanied tour BAH

During an unaccompanied tour, BAH can get a bit tricky. If a family is not allowed to accompany their service member because of the location of the tour, the BAH will be based on the family's current location. This could be their current duty station, the follow-on duty station, or their hometown if they choose to go home. Use our BAH calculator tool to find the most updated BAH rates.

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, or being a geographic bachelor. In this case, the service member’s BAH is based on their actual duty station, no matter where the family lives.

If your spouse decides to geo-bach, 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 will return to your current location. 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.

Need help deciding where to go? Check out our free area guides, full of information to help you make the best decision for your family.

PCSgrades Staff