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What are your options with unaccompanied orders?

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"Honey, I have news," is how the conversation always starts. But the hard part is when news of a military move involves an unaccompanied tour. In the Army, the most common unaccompanied tour destination is Korea. More and more military families make the decision not to follow their spouse for a variety of reasons.


What becomes tricky is when the spouse staying behind is left with several options. The opportunity to move back "home" exists, as does the option to remain at your current location. Another choice is to PCS to the next duty station (if known). The decision is not an easy one. There is no 'right' answer. Of course, whatever you and your spouse decide comes with military rules and regulations.

WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS?

The basic allowance (BAH) for housing question is discussed with every unaccompanied move. The simple answer is, yes; the service member will still receive BAH for their family when they go unaccompanied. The more complicated answer is how the amount is calculated. Let's use some real-life examples.

Tracy went home to West Virginia when her husband did a year-long unaccompanied tour in Kuwait. "We were stationed in New Jersey at the time and would not be returning to that duty station, so it did not make sense to stay," she recalled. "It is hard to be in my hometown surrounded by people with no clue what military family life is like, but it was great that my kids were able to build strong bonds with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins." Since Tracy's husband was sent on an unaccompanied tour, and the family was not allowed to go, the BAH the family received was based on their actual location.

ADDITIONAL OPTIONS

On the other hand, when Mindy moved from North Carolina to Texas after falling ill, she ended up living with her parents for 15 months during a deployment. "We had to keep our apartment in North Carolina, and I went back about two weeks before he got home to get settled in," she remembered. Since a deployment does not authorize moving home, the BAH would be for the duty station where the service member is stationed, no matter where the family lives.

A third option is to move ahead to the next duty station like Amanda and Crystal have done. Amanda moved ahead while her husband was in Korea because that would put her and the kids closer to family. It was fortunate as she needed some help when medical problems arose. When Crystal's husband went to school for nine months, she also moved ahead to their next duty station. "He was gone for about nine months and then he signed into Ft. Bragg and deployed for a year." She says, "I'm glad we moved ahead to get settled into our groove instead of postponing the inevitable."

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO NOW?

If you ask a hundred military families what they would do if faced with this situation, you'd probably get an even split. One-third would stay behind, where they already have an established support system, a house, and friends. This choice is especially prevalent when a service member is returning to the same place since the military won't always pay for the family to move when the stateside duty station is the same.

Another third would PCS to the next place, get settled and keep on living. "After living this life for 17 years and having school-aged kids, I think it's easier just to get the girls settled into their new schools and save them from any further moves," Crystal explained.

The final third would move back home to live with or be close to their family. Like Tracy mentioned, giving children the opportunity to live close to their extended family is something that happens so rarely, it's hard to turn it down. Karin did just that when her husband went to Korea, "I moved back home and rented a house near my parents and in-laws, the boys were 3, 3, and 8."

ITS A PERSONAL DECISION

No one can answer this question for you. The decision has to be made with your family's best interest in mind. Sometimes that means living near the best schools for the kids. Living close to family is often a huge help to the parent staying behind. And sometimes the security of living on post puts the service member at ease so that becomes the best option. Whatever you decide, know that there is a wealth of information and a vast support system among the military community just waiting for you with open arms.

This post was sponsored by PCSgrades.

Stephanie Wade/U.S. Transportation Command

In military life, there is really nothing more stressful than a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Deployments are a close second, but a PCS takes the cake. Combine a PCS with a deployment and not only do you want to eat all of the proverbial cake, you want to guzzle copious amounts of wine, too. We see you. Cheers.

One company, PCSgrades, is trying to make the PCS process feel more like a three-letter acronym than a four-letter expletive. Founded by veteran Todd Ernst, PCSgrades is the epitome of the military community taking care of its own. "PCSing has an emotional connotation," said Ernst. "We use it as an adverb, adjective, a noun and even as a cuss word."

Ernst started PCSgrades in 2015 after seeing friends struggle with unethical real estate agents and being taken advantage of by moving companies who knew DoD would be a paying customer no matter how poorly the companies treated their clients - us.

Here are 4 resources PCSgrades provides that you need to make moving easier:

1. Housing reviews

Does it get any more stressful than finding out where you're going to be stationed, Googling base housing at that station and getting results from 15 years ago (if you find anything, at all)? Nope, no it doesn't.

PCSgrades is changing the game on that by having military families who live in an area provide honest, candid reviews of their housing so incoming families can benefit. With reviews of both on and off base locations, families can finally get the truth about housing, whether it has black mold or the best views in town.

2. Moving company reviews

Great, you've figured out where to live; that's half the battle. The other, larger, more complex half? Figuring out how your stuff is going to get there. Knowing someone else will be handling your personal property and driving away with it for the foreseeable future is stressful enough. But not knowing what that company's background is, well that's a whole different ball game.

PCSgrades has countless reviews of moving companies provided by military families who have used them. Let's be honest: You wouldn't try a new Chinese delivery place without looking at reviews … why should picking a moving company be any different?

3. Area guides

The giant Google machine can only get you so far in life when you're researching your new duty station. We know you're busy and you want one-stop shopping on the interwebs. What you really need is aggregate data of things like schools to attend, restaurants to try, day trips to take and neighborhoods to avoid.

Introducing Area Guides, which offer exactly that: a holistic view of where you're moving and what to do once you get there. The best part? These are written by military families who have done it, for military families who are doing it.

4. Network of realtors and resources

PCSgrades has a nationwide network of A-graded realtors who know and understand the military and veteran lifestyle. Many of the realtors are veterans or spouses themselves, which takes the empathy to a whole new level. Having a realtor who gets the pressures of PCSing and the challenges of a military move is key to finding the right home for your family.

"I have friends who are hundreds of thousands of dollars upside down after bad home choices," Ernst said. "Housing choices can be pretty limited. Our moves are way more expensive than the typical civilian move." This is why Ernst created a way to alleviate the pain points for military families through PCSgrades.

In addition to a network of realtors, PCSgrades partners with "HomeScout," which allows you to search up-to-date home listings nationwide. Simply create an account with PCSgrades and the realty world is your oyster.

Whether you're looking for a new neighborhood, trying to find a vetted realtor, need a PCS checklist (let's be honest, is it on your radar to look at the expiration date of your military ID card two months before you PCS? Yeah, we know the truth; download the checklists here), or you're just wanting to know more about where you're heading, PCSgrades is making moving easier for every military family. Pay it forward by leaving reviews and be sure to take advantage of their excellent resources, today.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

7 airplane travel hacks with kids

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Yeah! You got orders to (insert foreign country overseas)! You can already picture your kids in the international school, speaking with cute little accents and wearing local garments. Adorbs. You've got your housing picked out, adventures planned and passport photos taken. You're ready for your epic move ... except for that 13 hour plane ride. Have you wrapped your head around that yet? Before you grab for a paper bag and start hyperventilating, use our travel hacks to help make the emotional turbulence you're experiencing a little lighter.

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We've all said it: "We'll drive. It won't be that bad." We picture the adventure, the memories, the nostalgia of car trips when we were younger.

But if we're really being honest with ourselves, think back to those car trips. Someone was crying. Someone was puking. Someone was whining. That person very well may have been your poor mother. True story, my mom once got out and walked along the highway when all six of us kids wouldn't stop fighting. A long car trip can be daunting, but with our tips and tricks they don't need to be.

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Nordwood theme, Unsplash

WE ALL HAVE OUR SHARE OF HORROR STORIES WHEN IT COMES TO MILITARY MOVING!

Name the most disgusting item erroneously packed by your movers… for me it was used coffee grounds and of course, trash. For others, I've heard everything from wet towels to dirty diapers. I've caught movers raiding my fridge, lounging on my mattress in my front yard, and throwing out items that they've broken. Raise your hand (or have a drink) if you ever had packers show up late (or not at all). Ever had packers get into a shouting match among themselves as they were packing your china? Or have you caught your movers throwing boxes down the stairs to the basement? That would be me!

LESSONS LEARNED

With each military move, there are "lessons learned". For instance, I won't go into great detail but let's just say after watching one packer go directly from using the restroom back to packing my kitchen without washing his hands, we now use gigantic ziplock bags to "pre-pack" all my kitchen utensils. A packers' bare flesh has never again touched one of my kitchen utensils.

My family's last military move was by far the shortest, only 1½ miles up the road. We were moving from a rental to a home we purchased. It was by far the worst in terms of damage and overall angst. I think because we were only "moving up the road" the pack job left a lot to be desired. I found one box of dishes which had not one piece of wrapping paper! Instead two throw pillows from my family room were used as a buffer! Amazingly, nothing was broken! Go figure!

When I heard glass shatter in the moving truck, I asked one of the guys what shattered.

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There are any number of reasons why in a given situation renting might be better than buying or vice versa. For military families, it might make more sense to buy at one duty station and then rent at the next. Up for consideration with each PCS is whether to buy or rent, to stay on-base or off. In making these decisions, there are numerous pros and cons to consider.

PROS TO BUYING

  • Purchasing the right home can be a great financial investment that can grow in value over time.
  • Tax deductions such as mortgage interest and property taxes can greatly reduce your overall income tax burden if you itemize.
  • Being a homeowner can give you pride of ownership and a sense of stability, rare in the military life which can seem nomadic at times.
  • A mortgage payment that is lower than your BAH can result in a boost to your savings.
  • You can decorate however you want! Goodbye white walls! Hello, Color!
  • Anyone can stay with you at any time. So it is not a problem when your Mom or sister comes for an extended stay during a deployment or following a PCS.
  • You can do (almost) whatever you want….host a late night party, plant a garden, knock a wall down!
  • There are no security or pet deposits when you buy a home.
  • You have the opportunity to become a landlord when military orders arrive and you have to move. Your home can become an investment property, providing a source of income which can partially or totally offset your mortgage, taxes, and insurance payments.
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