By Lizann Lightfoot
Military spouses spend lots of time separated from each other because of deployments, training, and schools. Why would a military spouse ever volunteer to stay behind and remain separated from their service member when the military member moves to a new duty station?
It turns out, there are many reasons this can happen. In military circles, this voluntary separation is referred to as “geo-baching” because it turns the service member into a temporary geographic bachelor (or bachelorette). Here are the main reasons family end up deciding to geo-bach:
- Military spouses with children may remain behind to allow children to complete the school year at their current location.
- Military spouses with an important job may decide not to PCS so they can continue working without disrupting their career.
- If the service member’s assignment is less than one year, the family may decide to stay put rather than moving twice in one year.
- Military couples who bought a house with a VA Loan need to occupy it for at least one year, so the spouse may remain in the house while the service member PCSes to a new location.
- When a service member is sent to an overseas duty station, some spouses decide to remain in the States rather than adapt to a foreign culture.
- A special needs family may opt to stay to continue receiving medical care at their current location.
Geo-baching facts you need to know
- Geo-baching is almost always more expensive for a military family than following PCS orders. The main costs are paying for housing at two locations, travel costs to visit each other, additional food costs, and paying for utilities at two locations.
- The default situation for a geo-bachelor is to receive one BAH at the service member’s new duty station, regardless of which location has a higher BAH. They do not receive additional housing funds and are not assigned to housing on base.
- Some military bases will grant bachelor quarters (old barracks or motel rooms) to a geo-baching service member, but these depend on space available at the base and are not guaranteed. Service members pay a fee to maintain these spaces, anywhere from $40 to $800 a month. Most bases are phasing out this housing option to save money, so the service member should be prepared to find a roommate or rent a cheap apartment off-base.
- A military member requesting geo-baching paperwork is submitting a waiver for their BAH. Instead of requesting BAH at their current duty assignment, they are asking to receive it at the location where their family is living.
- Without a waiver, if the service member stays in geo-baching quarters (barracks) on base, they will not receive any BAH.
- An EFMP family has the option to request BAH from the higher zip code if they are staying behind for medical treatment reasons, but this waiver can be denied.
- Geo-baching waiver requests are not automatically accepted in any of the military branches. There are conditions where a service member can request geo-baching quarters or BAH at a different location, but the military can deny the request for any number of reasons.
- Service member’s orders should be amended to state the geo-baching status. This will allow the family to continue receiving medical care and child care access at their current base. The service member should alert TRICARE when checking into the new duty station.
- Family Separation Allowance–sometimes referred to as geo-bach payment–is for situations where the military forces the service member to be away from the family. It is not granted in situations where the family volunteers to remain behind.
- Army: According to MILPER message 11-339, you can request geo-baching paperwork from Army Human Resources Command by submitting an email request with DA Form 4187. The request may be approved if the service member is going to a unit that is deploying soon, or to a school longer than 19.5 weeks but less than a year. If approved, BAH will be paid based on where the family stays and the soldier will be granted bachelor quarters on base. The soldier also agrees to a reduced allowance for PCS shipments.
- Navy/ Marine Corps: When checking into the command at the new base, a Marine or sailor officer or enlisted (ranked E-6 and above) can submit a Geographical Bachelor Quarters Application through their chain of command’s admin office. Quarters are not guaranteed at all bases, and the military has the right to withdraw BAH if the service member stays in bachelor quarters. Ranks E-1 through E-5 will be assigned to empty barracks rooms in the same area as single service members.
- Air Force: The service member will submit AF form 594 to request a waiver in BAH because of geo-baching. Waivers are granted for reasons demonstrating hardship, such as deployment, medical needs, or a school lasting less than one year. The airman’s orders should be amended so that Box 33 reads: “Dependent will not relocate; will remain at current PDS location.” This is the official notification of geo-baching.
- Dual military: In couples where both members are active duty, their separation is not considered geo-bachelor status. Both members receive the BAH they have earned with their rank, wherever they are stationed. Some branches or bases do not allow ranks below E-5 to move off base and receive BAH of they are geographically separated from their spouse.
What about unaccompanied orders?
It is important to note that being a geo-bachelor is different from receiving unaccompanied orders. In that case, the military has already decided not to move the family, either because of location, medical clearance problems, or an assignment under one year. Since unaccompanied orders are the military’s decision, not the family’s, different concessions are made. If a family receives unaccompanied orders:
- The family is not permitted at the new base or the military has not budgeted to move the family.
- The service member will be provided bachelor’s quarters (barracks or motel) at their new station.
- The family will receive BAH based on the dependent location. This could be either the previous base or the parents’ house.
- The family will be attached to the nearest military base for medical treatment.
There are cases where a military family has decided to geo-bach, and their military unit essentially listed them as being on unaccompanied orders. This is beneficial because it gives the family extra protection and benefits, but it is not guaranteed in a voluntary geo-baching situation.
Lizann Lightfoot is a writer, mother, and Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at The Seasoned Spouse.