Deployment Ahead: Should I Move Back Home or Stay Put?
When faced with a deployment (or two or three!), the entire family must make a difficult decision. Should you move back "home" near family and friends where you have deployment support, stay put at your current location, or move on to your new duty station after the deployment? It’s a complicated decision that I've faced many times, and each deployment scenario was different.
Military families come in all shapes and sizes, and our needs before deployment differ depending on jobs, children, and monetary considerations, to name just a few. Here are my experiences deciding whether or not to stay or go. Hopefully, you’ll find some insight into your situation.
Separation #1: Unaccompanied to South Korea
Less than a year after our wedding, my husband headed off on the dreaded one-year unaccompanied tour to South Korea. Luckily, I had options for where I could live during the separation.
- Oklahoma, where we lived while he was in school at Fort Sill? Nope. Seen my share of tornadoes.
- Arizona with my parents? No, too hot and far from the East Coast.
- Move back to my childhood home state of Michigan with an agreeable aunt and a room to spare? Yep, I couldn’t beat the “no rent” policy. Plus, she was cool with my 100-pound golden retriever stealing food off the counter.
I was only 22, and the deployment was an excellent year for personal growth. I worked two jobs and spent a lot of time at the gym. I now know I am a terrible legal secretary and a pretty good floral assistant. We saved money, and I had a fantastic year reconnecting with childhood friends and strengthening my relationship with my aunt.
This blog has the information I wish I had years ago: 6 Ways to Prepare for Your Spouse's Deployment.
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Deployment after Deployment after Deployment
The September 11th attacks occurred not long after, and the marathon of deployments began. Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was our home, and I weathered several years of deployments alone but in the company of many friends whose husbands were experiencing the same thing. I learned all about house maintenance, car care, and managing the 100-pound golden retriever after an ACL knee surgery (the first of two, might I add).
On to Fort Meade, Maryland, with many more months of deployments, I had the attitude, “Hey, I've got this. I'm a pro now!” And I was, for a while, until the baby girl came and her dad was leaving for another trip when she was three months old.
We chose to have a baby knowing a deployment was likely. My strategy: I was tough, capable, and didn’t need any help; I could do it alone! It took much convincing from my husband, who was worried about his newborn and her mother’s sanity alone for days on end. Ultimately, we packed the car and headed to Michigan again with the baby and the 100-pound (ancient at this point) golden retriever. We were welcomed with open arms, and I was so grateful.
Since I stayed and went, here's my advice about what to expect.
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Lessons Learned from Living with Family
- Know everyone in the house needs mental adjustments. It’s tough for an adult to move into another adult’s home. Everyone thrives if they have their own space to process the situation.
- Even if your family doesn’t require rent, the right thing to do is to contribute to the household in other ways: buy groceries, walk the dogs, rake leaves, and take out the trash. Gratitude is always important, and so is thoughtfulness. So bring your host a gift now and then.
Lessons Learned from Staying Home
- It is much harder than you anticipate. Even if you’ve lived alone before, there will always be a new challenge, such as an ER trip or an expired power of attorney.
- You will need help. This one was hard for me because I figured responsible adults handle their business and don’t burden others, especially other military spouses doing the same deployment scramble. So use the help when you really need it and offer it to others when you can.
3 Questions to Ask Before Before Deciding
If you’re still considering what to do, these questions will help you make the best decision.
1) Can You Afford It?
Moving is expensive, even when the military pays for the relocation, so you’ll have to consider your overall finances. These include any income change, like the remaining spouse’s job, additional deployment money, daycare, new rent or mortgage payment, utilities, and car payments.
If you’re wondering about deployment and BAH, most people have three options:
- Stay at home and receive the same BAH rate.
- BAH can also be calculated from the servicemember's home of record or where you move back home. You'll have to check the BAH calculator to compare rates.
- If you're due for PCS and you know where you’ll be living after the deployment, you can go ahead of your spouse and receive BAH for that location.
2) Can You Find Medical Care?
Anything can happen over a deployment, including routine medical care and the occasional emergency room or urgent care trip. Everyone knows Tricare is tricky. Will it be hard to navigate the system in a city or town unfamiliar with handling the paperwork? Or is the deployment your chance to move closer to military medical care and have a more extensive network of options?
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3) Will You Have a Support System?
You might be ready to take on your post-deployment PCS and head to your next duty station, but this doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly. Making new connections as a solo parent is tough—you’re basically just trying to hold your home together with limited free time.
Maybe you think it’s best to stay at home while your spouse is gone, but will your friends on base PCS and leave you behind? And, as much as you crave independence, maybe you’ll appreciate and need the extra hands your family can provide if you move back to your hometown.
Although my Should I Stay or Go examples probably sound similar to yours, they also might sound somewhat different. That’s because everyone’s circumstances are unique. So there isn't one correct answer, just the best one that works for your family at the time.