I’ve been living the military life for over a decade now. In that time, we’ve lived all over the world, including homes both on and off military bases.
While living on base definitely has it’s perks, like being completely surrounded by a community that “gets” situations unique to military life, I’m a strong advocate for living off base whenever possible.
The Case for Living Off Base
Don’t get me wrong. We’ve enjoyed living in base housing. Being surrounded by mostly caring military families who understand about TDYs and deployments is great.
However, living on base, to me at least, means that my spouse is living where he works. He, and by extension our whole family, is constantly surrounded by military colleagues.
Again, that’s great when you need to have the always awkward “will you be my emergency contact” conversation with a person you met three seconds ago.
Still, living inside the military bubble 24/7 is a lot.
We Were Really Never Off Duty
From here on out, I’m going to use “we” because when our family has lived on base, we have been way more tied to everything about my husband’s military job. Every second of every day is consumed with military-centered realities.
There is no time for him to be “off.” Sure, there are weekends and he can take leave. Which is great and much needed.
But also, he’s still shaving every day and prepping for the inevitable moment when we run into his CO randomly.
Shop talk is always happening. There is never a chance to just talk-talk, to talk about literally anything other than the military life. All of his conversations when we’ve living on base seem to revolve about work – even on weekends or when he’s on leave.
He is never not on duty, which means we are also always on duty. There is no break, no complete separation between work life and home life. Everything is military 24/7.
Off Base Living Gives Us Space to Breathe
Right now, we live off base. We’re coming off of three years of living in military housing OCONUS.
We needed a break from being constantly “on.”
Sure, he’s still “on” duty and reachable by phone or email 24/7. But it feels different than when his boss lived just down the street. He has to leave our living space to physically go to work or have work conversations. It’s no longer an in-passing situation.
I can see how much he needed this space away from the grind of military duties. Living within the military 24/7 meant he was never able to switch it off, ever.
Now, he leaves and returns our home in civilian clothes. There is a clear, definite transition between job and home. When we walk outside, there is very little chance of getting roped into future planning with a colleague or CO.
There is no shop talk.
We Have Freedom to Choose
We often joke that we had our biggest home before we had kids, and it’s true. Our first on base house dwarfs our current civilian home.
But we had no choice in where we lived on base. Sure, we were given “options,” but it was mostly choice in name only.
We could go with A or B, this or that.
The lack of choice was especially apparent OCONUS. On base living wasn’t even a choice; rather the housing office made that decision for us. Then they gave us two choices, this one or that one.
Luckily, our options were somewhat different, a townhome or an apartment. Others stationed with us were sometimes given adjoining townhomes, and asked to choose. We also know people who were asked to select between two identical apartments, on the same and often in the same building.
There was no choice in where we were assigned to live.
Living off base has given us this freedom back.
Making our housing decisions during our last move was great. We could consider all sorts of factors and options that just weren’t a thing had we lived on base.
We talked about square footage, windows, yard space, schools and commute options. We talked about neighborhoods and green spaces.
We had true, radically different choices to make about where we were going to live. And it felt so freeing.
Building Connections Between Military Life and Civilian Life
One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard in the last 12 years is that civilians just don’t “get” military families or military service.
Have you ever thought that maybe it’s because many military families are self-isolating in on base housing?
Right now, we have a few military-connected neighbors, but mostly our community is filled with folks who have no immediate connections to the DOD. It’s wonderful.
Beyond just being able to turn the military side of our lives off outside of working hours, it’s really cool to see the wonder and genuine curiosity if our neighbors eyes,
When we got dressed up for the ball last year, everyone came out to see us off. They had never seen those classic dress blues up close and personal. The kids wanted to examine his sword. And everyone thought it was incredible that I still got to dress up as a grownup; for everyone else that mostly stopped after their wedding day.
A few weeks ago, my husband casually mentioned that new neighbors (also military) would have been stuck in their old duty station under the recent stop movement orders had they moved any later. That thought never occurred to them before, that your whole life revolves around orders.
Over drinks a few months ago, someone asked about deployments. When I shared our deployment story, a refrain that common in our military community, my neighbors were stunned.
They had never really considered that someone they know and like had experienced something with the potential to be deadly. Hearing that I was only in my early 20’s, sending my spouse off to combat, knowing that people we knew wouldn’t make it home alive – I think it put things into a different perspective. Suddenly the casualty numbers became a little more real to them.
Living off base allows everyone to learn and grow freely as we build these important bridges together.