All dependents can now accompany military personnel with orders to Bahrain, a full reversal of a Defense Department ban on families put into place five years ago for security reasons.

In November, the Defense Department loosened the restriction, letting spouses and adult children accompany active-duty and Defense Department civilian employees to Bahrain. On Sunday, the Navy announced that effective immediately, the restriction had been rescinded in full.

"We are extremely pleased with the policy change," Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said in a statement. "The return of family members of all ages is an extremely important sign of the security and stability in the region. It will also greatly improve the quality of life for our service members and DOD civilians."

In July 2004, safety concerns in the region forced the military to relocate hundreds of family members who had moved to Bahrain.

Most servicemembers — a majority of them sailors and Marines — currently serve a 12-month unaccompanied tour, with some jobs designated as 18-month tours, Navy officials said.

This latest change authorizes military members to be stationed in Bahrain for accompanied tours with their families for up to two years.

Currently, about 3,000 people serve in Bahrain, home to the Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees ships and submarines operating in the Middle East region, said Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet.

Servicemembers already stationed in Bahrain can request their families join them, Barker said. Those members must extend to an 18-month tour, and the policy mandates that families be in Bahrain for at least one year, he said.

The Navy has spent about $240 million on improvements at the base in Manama, which included sprucing up the recreation and shopping center called the Freedom Souq.

Although the student population dropped after military families were evacuated in 2004, the base’s elementary and high schools never closed because they also cater to international, tuition-paying students.

Department of Defense Education Activity spokesman Frank O’Gara said school system planners would immediately begin working with the military to prepare for any additional students.

"The first step will be to get an estimate of the number of students who will return and a timeline for their arrival. We will start working the personnel issues to increase staff based on that projected enrollment," O’Gara said. "We’ll also look at any additional resourcing that may be needed."

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now