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Spouses and adult children now can accompany Defense Department members with orders to Bahrain after the Pentagon lifted a four-year ban that prevented dependents from following military personnel.

But the change applies only to adult family members for all DOD personnel permanently assigned to Bahrain, said Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet, headquartered in Manama.

In July 2004, safety concerns in the region forced families to relocate.

"The strong security infrastructure on and off base contributed greatly to the lifting of the ban and having dependents return," he said.

However, logistics — such as having enough schoolteachers and medical personnel for children — mean those younger than 18 can’t come, for now. The policy is under review.

"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 our adult family members reinforces the security and stability of the region, demonstrates our enduring commitment to Bahrain, and will make the quality of life for our service members and Department of Defense civilians even better."

Servicemembers — a majority of them sailors and Marines — currently serve a 12-month unaccompanied tour. The change to accompanied tours, which is effective Tuesday, makes a stint to Bahrain a 24-month tour.

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

The center includes a food court, fitness center, movie theater, laundry facilities, TV and gaming lounges, Internet Wi-Fi hot spots, a bank and a tour agency.

The Navy Exchange is twice as large as the former store.

The base’s elementary and high schools never closed, since they also cater to international, tuition-paying students.

But the student population greatly decreased after U.S. military family members were evacuated from Bahrain in 2004. Since then, the schools have undergone improvements to their security.

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. Christensen could not speculate on what the population growth might be as a result of the policy change.

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