PCS Season: 5 Things to Know About Unaccompanied Tours
What’s an unaccompanied tour? This type of permanent change of station move has the servicemember relocating to a new assignment without “command sponsorship” of a spouse or dependents. It is not the same as a deployment or temporary duty.
In other words, the military family members are not listed on the orders and are not authorized to accompany the service member to the new assignment. An unaccompanied tour is typically outside the continental United States (CONUS), typically lasting one or two years (see below).
5. What it Means to go on an Unaccompanied Tour
An unaccompanied tour means precisely what the name implies; spouses and dependents are not authorized to join the servicemember in the new location and do not have the support of the local command to be there.
Sometimes, a spouse may decide to travel to the new country regardless. However, no on-base services such as base housing, medical clinics, child care, or employment services are available to non-command-sponsored spouses or dependents.
4. Types of Unaccompanied Tours
There are one-year “hardship” or “remote” tours that have included places like South Korea, Iceland, and Guam.
There are also two-year unaccompanied tours that are more typical duty locations like Germany, Japan, Spain, and elsewhere. Unaccompanied tours lasting two years have different considerations for packing and moving than those lasting just one year.
You may be given an unaccompanied tour as a married service member for a variety of reasons, including the previously mentioned lack of essential services for family members at the gaining base. If you are married and receive PCS orders, you’ll need to ensure your family is command-sponsored if you want them to accompany you overseas. Sometimes command sponsorship is not possible, hence the need for certain unaccompanied tours of duty.
3. Unaccompanied Tours for Single Servicemembers
The single service member may be authorized a certain amount of personal property to be shipped to the overseas location, but much depends on the duration of the assignment. Your weight limits and other options will be explained in out processing appointments, but there is also plenty of information at your losing base’s official site.
Those on a one-year tour may be authorized to ship less of their belongings than those on a two-year tour. Depending on whether the PCS is a hardship assignment or not, single soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Guardians with overseas assignments may need to put some of their belongings in storage.
A single service member traveling to an overseas location may qualify for a Dislocation Allowance, which Defense.gov defines as an allowance designed to “partially reimburse a service member, with or without dependents, for the expenses incurred in relocating the member’s household on a PCS.”
Upon arrival at the new duty station, the service member will be assigned a room in a dorm, barracks, or other ‘single soldier” type living arrangements on post. Single servicemembers, especially junior enlisted, may be required to live on base for their duty at the overseas location.
2. Unaccompanied Tours for Married Service Members
Married service members have more complex options when it’s time to PCS overseas to an unaccompanied tour. The spouse and any dependent children can stay in their current home, and the servicemember will continue to be paid a housing allowance for that location.
Housing Allowance Options
If the family decides to pack up and move, the housing allowance may be based on their new location. There is another option for those who get a remote assignment and a “follow-on” assignment immediately after–in cases where the follow-on location is known, the family may be allowed to move to that duty location and draw a housing allowance there.
That is a common move amongst military families who know it’s an option. Not all PCS moves include a follow-on assignment, and in cases where a follow-on is authorized, the second location may not be assigned right away. Much depends on variables, including mission needs, force protection levels, and other factors.
Family Separation Allowance
One important benefit for military members assigned to an unaccompanied tour? The Family Separation Allowance or FSA.
Defense.gov describes this benefit as designed to “defray a reasonable amount of extra expenses that result from such separation” and is paid monthly. At press time that amount was listed at $250 but this number is always subject to change. Check your base finance office or the latest updates on this allowance.
FSA is not meant to offset the costs of the unaccompanied tour fully but it is “payable in addition to any other allowance or per diem to which a Service member may be entitled,” according to the DoD as long as one of the following is true:
- Dependents are not authorized to be moved “to or near” the Service member’s permanent duty station at government expense;
- The military member serves on board a ship away from the home port of the ship for more than 30 continuous days, OR;
- The military member is on temporary duty for more than 30 continuous days, and the dependents do not reside at or near the temporary duty station.
The FSA is not payable when a service member volunteers for an unaccompanied tour at a location where accompanied tours are authorized. This benefit is not automatic, it must be applied for using DD Form 1561, Statement to Substantiate Payment of Family Separation Allowance.
1. What to Know About Unaccompanied Tours
In addition to special pay such as the Dislocation Allowance and Family Separation Allowance, you may have special leave benefits when on a remote assignment or even a two-year unaccompanied tour.
If you are at a remote location, you may have a preference for Space-Available flights, and there is a special type of leave offered (depending on your assignment) that could help you get home mid-tour to catch up with family and friends.
Environmental and Morale Leave or EML is “a benefit which utilizes military airlift to provide relief by allowing those eligible to travel on DoD owned and operated aircraft at a higher Space-Available priority while traveling on EML orders.” Ask your gaining unit about EML options there.
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.