Published: September 22, 2021
How Do You Move 10 Family Members Every 1-2 Years? Not Easily and at a Great Cost.
Moving is a reality all military families must accept. In fact, 600,000 military-connected families move every single year. That’s a full third of our All-Volunteer Force packing up and reporting to new duty stations—some across the country, others across the globe. When you mention moving to civilian neighbors, you may hear: “What an adventure … you get to see so many new places”; or, “You’re so lucky the military packs everything for you”; and even, “It must be so nice to have a housing allowance in addition to your salary.” While some of these “perks” may be true, there are also many challenges that come with moving so often; challenges civilian peers often don’t consider. In fact, according to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 79% of active-duty military families feel the general public is largely unaware of the daily challenges they face.
The reality is the uncertainty of military life can be overwhelming — from moving every two to three years, to deployments and extended separations, and being away from family and friends. It can feel isolating. For Heather, the last 18 years as an Army spouse have been just that. She’s a mom of eight children, including two sets of identical twins. Support is what someone like her needs the most when facing the challenges of military life, such as frequent time apart from your service member spouse or living far from family and longtime friends. But, throughout each move, she hasn’t found much support from her community.
“In 18 years, we’ve moved 14 times since my husband has been active duty,” Heather shared. “At the age of 18, my oldest son has lived in 15 houses in eight different states. Our children have never had the support of extended family. Once we finally found a place that felt like home, we had to move again. It’s difficult to make new friends when you have eight children. It’s difficult for my children to make new friends when they only stay in one place for 12 months. We’ve never been stationed near our family. It feels very isolating, especially when my husband is thousands of miles away living a separate life from his family.”
When it came time for Heather’s family to move again, this time from Washington to New York, they decided to “geo-bach” — a decision that’s familiar to a number of military families. In response to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, nearly a quarter (23%) of active-duty families report they had geo-bached (when a military family chooses to live in a different location from the service member) in the last five years. Why make this nearly impossible decision? For Heather, it was partly due to her employment. Maintaining a job has been extremely difficult when moving every year or two; however, it’s necessary to rebuild their savings while keeping up with the demands of a large family. Currently, Heather is in a fulfilling full-time role she doesn’t want to lose.
Another factor? There weren’t any housing options available for her family. In some ways, the problem isn’t new to Heather’s family. With 10 members, military housing isn’t available to them. “Some installations have told us they could never offer us housing due to our family size,” Heather said. “Others told us we would have to fit 10 people into a 1,400 square foot duplex/triplex. Ultimately, we’ve never been offered a house on a military installation due to our family size and rank. It’s been a constant struggle each time we move and has forced us to geo-bach, like we are currently.”
Without military housing, the constant need to uproot has proven to be incredibly challenging and financially draining for Heather’s family over the years. “Living off the installation with a large family, we’ve always paid well over our Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) when it comes to the rent or mortgage,” Heather explained. “But our move in 2009 really hit us the hardest. When the 2008/2009 housing bubble burst, we had to PCS [move with the military] right in the middle of it all. We had to sell our house and lost a great deal. It was extremely stressful and is a position we didn’t want to end up in again.” With the current surge in housing prices, homes flying off the market as quickly as they come on, and the need to find a home that fits a family of 10, Heather and her husband weren’t willing to risk it this time around.
So Heather and the kids stayed put. But that doesn’t mean challenges and sacrifices come to a halt. Apart from the obvious and most distressing sacrifice of time apart, Heather and her husband are still taking a financial hit by paying for two homes; a small apartment for her husband, and a townhome for herself and the kids. There’s also the mental distress that should be considered. Heather has tackled many stressful situations on her own and hasn’t found a very supportive community, even after reaching out for help. “My stress level is always extremely high,” Heather shared. “I’ve reached out to military channels for help, but my husband was reprimanded. Because we’ve moved so frequently, I haven’t been able to find support from civilian neighbors and friends. As a result, I’ve learned to never ask for help…ever. Even now that I’ve been on my own for 26 months while my husband is stationed elsewhere and things have been so hard. Unfortunately, my children have also learned this from me, and I feel guilty for setting that example.”
As a community, we should never feel like we can’t ask for help or have no one to turn to in a time of need. Military families, who already sacrifice so much time apart, should also never have to choose to live separately for any reason. These situations are stressful and dangerous to the well-being and mental health of our military family members. They’re also detrimental to our ability to maintain a strong fighting force. We know from the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey that talented service members won’t continue to serve if their family members aren’t taken care of; over a third (38%) of active-duty service member respondents report “concerns about the impact of military life on my family” as a reason they would choose to leave military service.
At Blue Star Families, we knew something had to be done. While some of the concerns Heather is facing require long-term solutions, cultivating a community to reach out to and lean on for support is one of our strengths, which is in part thanks to Blue Star Welcome Week! “Blue Star Welcome Week is an annual event designed to welcome our military-connected families to their new communities,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, Founder and CEO of Blue Star Families. “It’s an opportunity for communities across the country to open their arms to military families by inviting military and civilian members alike to participate in events, provide messages of support and appreciation, and simply engage with military members. Our goal is to ease the transition and create a great sense of belonging for military families in a big, meaningful way.”
Blue Star Welcome Week 2021 is happening now! There’s still time for you to join us to honor the military families in your neighborhood. Until October 3rd and beyond you can participate in a local event, introduce yourself to your new neighbor, and connect with us. It doesn’t take much to make a big difference for those who sacrifice in service to our great country. Learn more about ways you can get involved at www.bluestarwelcomeweek.org.