Ins & Outs of Geo-bachingUpdated: March 18, 2021
What are the ins & outs of geo-baching? If you’re new to military culture, “geo-baching” is a term for what used to be referred to as being a “geographic bachelor”.
In the bad old days, when the uniformed services were male-dominated, this type of descriptor was commonplace. As the military has learned to catch up with modern society, the term has given way to the shorthand “Geo-bach”.
The first and most obvious question is what is meant by the term “geographic bachelor”. It is exactly what the name implies–a married service member performing duty away from a spouse and family.
The family stays in a different location while the service member goes through the entire PCS process without them, serves the required time, and moves on to a new assignment–presumably with a whole-family move (or a move back to the family) planned at some point.
Geo-Baching Versus Unaccompanied PCS Orders
At one time, any married service member who was serving without bringing family along was thought to be a geographic bachelor. But the concept has changed over time; geographic bachelors in the context of this article are specifically those who choose to accept PCS orders away from home without choosing to bring the spouse and/or other dependents.
This is NOT the same as being sent on an unaccompanied tour where the family is not permitted to go–certain assignments in Korea, Greenland, Guam, or other locations have in the past been designated as unaccompanied tours by various branches of the military.
But when you get PCS orders that permit the family to relocate with you, and the choice is made not to uproot the family? That’s when the service member becomes a geographic bachelor.
What happens if you get unaccompanied orders? Remember, those are orders cut instead of getting PCS orders where the family is permitted. Unaccompanied orders are not the same as geo-baching because of the following:
- The family is not permitted at the new base, and this is stated on the PCS orders
- The service member will be provided bachelor’s quarters at the new duty station
- The family will receive BAH based on the location
- The family will use TRICARE or avail themselves of the nearest military medical facility in their location
In cases like these, it’s the choice of the DoD to assign the service member to a “remote” or unaccompanied assignment, and the DoD must continue to care for the dependents in the meantime.
For geo-baching, it’s the service member’s choice to PCS alone, and appropriate steps must be taken to provide for the care of the spouse and dependents left behind.
Is Geo-Baching Bad?
At first glance, geo-baching sounds a bit…negative. Why leave your family behind to pull a tour of duty that could last a year, two years, or more, without bringing the loved ones? We’ll cover some of the financial aspects of all this in the pages below, but what about the personal motivations to consider it?
When you get more familiar with the choices open to military families, it becomes clear that geo-baching is usually not negative or a sign that the relationship is in trouble. Many times these choices are made based on the stage-dependent children are at in a school program. Other times the choices might be tied to the civilian or military spouse’s career needs.
Reasons Some Consider Doing It
Geo-baching can allow time for a spouse or dependents to complete school for the year or for the entire program. It can also be a way to avoid multiple PCS moves that put too much stress on the family. And for those who own a home, it can be tricky to sell the property before it’s time to pack and depart for a new duty station.
And one type of PCS move that can be truly rough on dependents? The overseas PCS. Some choose to keep their loved ones home in the USA instead of moving overseas.
Exceptional Family Member Program Participation
One reason not to uproot the entire family for a PCS move and try geo-baching instead? Situations where military families with special needs children may not have the resources or care options they need at the new assignment. Those enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member program have a more limited range of assignment options based on the levels of support provided at bases on CONUS or OCONUS.
Mil-to-Mil Couples Have Different Considerations
Mil-to-mil couples where both spouses are officers or enlisted members are sometimes the most likely to choose a situation similar to geo-baching, but there is a BIG difference here–mil-to-mil couples are paid BAH (without dependents) for each service member regardless of location.
The financial concerns for mil-to-mil couples are much different than those with one spouse in uniform and the other working in the civilian sector.
One motivation to serve apart for these couples? If one spouse gets assigned to a desirable location after taking on a hardship tour, it may be wise to consider the separation rather than trying to jump through hoops to get the other military spouse assigned to the same hardship tour base.
Finishing professional military education or college degree programs also serve as powerful motivations to consider separate duty locations.
It’s tricky to coordinate PCSs between mil-to-mil couples who work in different commands or in different career fields. Geo-baching can be a good option to consider depending on various variables.
What You Need To Know About Geo-Baching
Several considerations need to be made regarding geo-baching. The first is financial. There’s no guarantee that the service member will be allowed to live in barracks at the new assignment like a single enlisted person, so the family will need to be prepared financially to accept two housing payments, two sets of utility bills, etc.
Your PCS orders must reflect your status–if your orders do not acknowledge that you will relocate without your dependents, you may have difficulty maintaining your benefits, including TRICARE, childcare, etc., to sustain the family in their original location while you serve elsewhere.
Discuss your needs with your detailer, first individual, assignments manager, Senior Chief, Command Sergeant Major, etc. Explain that you want to explore your options for geo-baching and why–you may learn of alternatives or assistance that may be available specifically for those who need to pursue this course of action.
Remember that the military housing allowance you receive as a married military member is assigned based on the current duty location for the service member and without a waiver (which may or may not be possible based on any number of variables, including current DoD finance policies) you may not be able to keep the BAH for your family’s current location.
Additionally, if you are allowed to stay in the barracks as a geo-baching service member, you will not receive BAH for that duty location unless you get into a situation where you must pay rent or live off-base.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News