Active duty military families go through many challenges during their time in their chosen branch. Military service is one of the few professions where one person’s career (the servicemember) affects nearly every aspect of life for everyone else in the family.
Geographic bachelor, or “geo-bach” is an unofficial term referring to occurrences when the family chooses to live in a different location than the servicemember.
This isn’t the same as receiving orders to a duty station that does not allow for family members. These arrangements are entirely the choice of the military family.
In 2010, geographic bachelors represented 10.3% of all service member families. In 2014, nearly 24% of military service members reported “geo-baching” at some point in their career.
From education, to career, to proximity to family and friends, there are many reasons military families resort to a geographical bachelor lifestyle. However, it’s important to note the military views these arrangements completely differently than required separations. Depending on your circumstances, geo-baching can affect your benefits, pay, and expenses.
Why You Should Consider a Geo-Bach Lifestyle
Military families face deployments, training, and long-term required separations throughout the course of a career. Why would anyone want to add to that time apart?
Turns out, there are several factors that make a geographic bachelor lifestyle worth a second look.
The Spouse’s Career
According to the 2014 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, more than 30% of the families offered this as their motivation to geo-bach.
It’s no wonder: Studies have shown that the unemployment rates of military spouses of active duty servicemembers are significantly higher than that of their civilian counterparts.
Some employers view military spouses as “short timers,” since they’re required to move every few years. Certain duty stations may also be lacking job opportunities in the spouse’s career choice.
If a military spouse finds a job or business opportunity that furthers his or her career and provides a major part of the family budget, it may be worthwhile to stay in that job for your family’s financial future.
The Children’s Education
More than 32% of geo-baching families cited this as the reason for their arrangement.
Frequent moves and the stress of deployments can distract children from their educational goals in the early education years. In addition, curriculum requirements and school policies tend to vary by state or district. Alternatively, students in high school may want to finish their final years at the same school to go for sports or extracurricular scholarships.
For many families, friendship and proximity to family can be a major factor in the wellbeing of their children as well. If your child is struggling and needs consistency, the decision to not move as a family might be a good one.
Length of Tour
This was the most popular reason offered by families that geo-bach offered for their decision to live apart.
If the servicemember is close to retirement, it may be worthwhile to stay put for the last tour of his or her career. If you’ve purchased a home or want to build your dream home in your current location, it may benefit your family to use the geo-bach option.
Alternatively, if your tour is going to be two years or fewer, it may be worthwhile to keep the family in the same location while the servicemember to the new duty station. Again, whether you’ve purchased a home or rental property can play a major factor in this.
If your child or spouse has special medical needs, and you’ve built a relationship with your local practitioner, you may be hesitant to move to a new location.
This can be especially true if your order will take you outside of the continental United States (OCONUS).
You may not have access to specialists who are knowledgeable and experienced in managing certain conditions.
This varies greatly by family and situation. It’s also one of the few reasons that the military may provide additional support if you need a geographic bachelor arrangement.
Why You Shouldn’t Consider a Geo-Bach Lifestyle
While all of the above are very good reasons to consider the geographic bachelor lifestyle, there are an equal number of reasons to stay together wherever you’re able. The family unit is a consistent presence for your marriage and your children. Breaking up that unit—even temporarily—for an extended period of time should be considered extremely carefully.
It Can Be More Expensive
Just because you’re maintaining two households, doesn’t mean that the military will support two households. In fact, certain branches no longer allow geographic bachelors to live in bachelor housing on post as they have in years past. The branches that do allow geo-bach military members to live on base housing have strict restrictions.
In addition to having to pay for two off-post residences, you’ll receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). However, you’ll only receive standard BAH at the rate of the servicemember’s current duty station. That may cover the servicemember’s living expenses, but you’ll have to pay for your second home’s rent or mortgage and utilities completely out of pocket.
You’ll need to remember that the decision to geo-bach (in most cases) doesn’t warrant additional pay or allowances from the branch in which you serve. You’ll have to budget for two households.
The Military Community Is Important to Your Family
In the case of a deployment, training, or just the day-to-day life of a military family; you and your children need a community that understands your struggles. Military kids connect with other military kids who get what it feels like to lose friends every few years, and may form long-distance friendships that are greatly rewarding.
Maintaining close access to your Family Readiness System (FRS) can be extremely beneficial to a military spouse and his or her children.
This system is a collection of programs located at your servicemember’s current duty station that’s designed to answer questions and get you help when you need it.
Career Creativity Goes A Long Way
Finding consistent employment in your desired field as a military spouse is challenging, but it’s all part of the military lifestyle. Many spouses are finding new ways to break the mold and advance their careers by starting a business.
A military lifestyle isn’t a death sentence for a spouse’s career, and it’s important to weigh your family’s emotional well being in addition to your financial needs.
Alternative Education Options for Military Kids
If you’re concerned about consistency in education for your child, there are other options. New legislation and curriculum standards are creating opportunities for military kids to maintain academic progress throughout their education. This can help to better prepare them for college or a rewarding career.
Also, many military families are turning to homeschooling as an option for their children’s education.
Do your research on your child’s educational options before you separate your family. It’s always a good idea to explore all options before making any life-changing decision.