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Thursday, February 16, 2017

When Melania Trump said she planned to remain in New York after her husband’s inauguration as president of the United States, eyebrows went up across the country.

Few of those eyebrows belonged to military spouses. We’re more likely to nod in comprehension of the first family’s choice not to move their fifth-grader in the middle of his school year.

We’ve been there. Well, not in the White House or Trump Tower, but plenty of military families have made similar decisions to live apart, about 20 percent of them, in fact, according to the most recent Military Family Lifestyle Survey by Blue Star Families (BSF). We even have a name for it: geographic bachelor status, or geo-bach for short.

More than a quarter of military families who choose geo-baching do so for reasons related to their children’s education, the BSF survey says. Families also remain behind to sell a home, to accommodate spouse education or career continuity, for medical care and for other reasons.

Our family made this choice so our oldest son could graduate from high school with his class. So, as one who has made this decision—though at a considerably lower rank and pay grade than commander in chief—let me be the first to say, “Welcome to the geo-bach club, Mrs. Trump.”

For families used to frequent separations, geo-baching may seem like no big deal, but there are distinctions. For the first family, or any family planning to say “yes” to geo-bachelorhood, here are five “no’s” to know:

  • No extra BAH: The choice to maintain two households is unlikely to be a financial challenge for the Trumps, but the same is not true for those on military pay. Families who choose to live in two locations will receive housing allowance for only one, though exemptions are sometimes granted for medical or other issues. Families should carefully budget for housing costs: rent, utilities, deposits, repairs and more.
  • No free ride: Travel is another expense for the geographically separated family: airfare, hotels, gasoline, increased vehicle wear, etc. Also, frequent travel is emotionally and physically exhausting. When time together means travel for part of the family, it means stress during your limited time together.
  • No dress rehearsal: After multiple combat deployments, my husband and I thought geo-baching would be easy. He would be in a safe place less than 150 miles away, and we’d be together almost every weekend. We soon learned deployments didn’t prepare our family for the up-and-down dynamic of being together some days and apart on others. Families considering geo-baching need to know it’s not like deployment. The challenges of adjusting roles and responsibilities are mundane by comparison, but they are challenges nonetheless.
  • No marching band: Deployment, for all its trials, carries the cachet of heroism. In deployment, the sacrifice is for The Mission. Cue the fife and drum! With geo-baching, the sacrifice is for your family. It’s personal, and it’s a choice. Some will question why a military family would choose separation when so many separations are chosen for us. On difficult days you might even question that yourself. Make an informed decision and remind yourself of your good reasons when you need to, but don’t expect a marching band.
  • No guilt: Carefully weigh the benefits and costs of being apart. Often it’s a tough call. When you’ve made the best choice for your family, hold your head high and own it, whether you’re a first sergeant or the first lady.