By Jaimi Erickson
When we lived on base for the very first time, I had huge expectations. I imagined that base life was going to look like the community depicted in the movie We Were Soldiers. Although each base provides a different experience, living on a military base has its charms.
Where else in the world do you get to live next to a perfect stranger who understands your life as a military family? There are many positive benefits to living on a military base. There are also some lessons learned that I keep in mind.
1. Make Your House Your Home
There are some great ideas for adding personal touches to base housing. The base housing eggshell walls can feel a bit drab. Making your temporary house feel homey is possible with a few simple touches.
The key is to have some ideas that are as easy to apply as they are to reverse. For starters, you can paint an accent wall in a few rooms. On our current base, there is a palette of colors approved by housing. If you use any of these, you do not have to prime the walls before you leave. Check with your base housing office to see if that option is available where you live.
Many base dwellers use peel and stick wallpaper creatively in their kitchens and bathrooms. Applying a faux backsplash in the kitchen brightens up the whole space. One former neighbor just applied a few sheets of peel and stick wallpaper on the wall above her stove. Covering this small space had a big impact.
Hanging curtains is my go-to step to decorate any rental or base home. There are even curtain rods that can slip right over a standard blind bracket. You can avoid drilling holes in the walls that way. Curtains add color to brighten your rooms. Curtains and curtain rods are also easy to remove when it is time to PCS.
I love the ideas here. Military spouse bloggers are filled with great ideas for base living. Keep in mind that you will need to take the time to reverse any changes when you move out.
2. Be Prepared
Living on base can feel very secure. That security requires some prep on your part to avoid a couple of big awkward and inconvenient episodes.
First, keep your military ID with you at all times when you leave your house. You will need it at the Exchange and Commissary. You will also need it to get back on base.
As someone who has lost their ID before, I know first-hand how vital it is to keep track of it. Although it’s a fixable problem if you lose it, I definitely still recommend avoiding the issue by being prepared.
Stay current with all of your life documents. Whether it is a power of attorney, living will, ID, or something else, you should check them for expiration regularly.
When my husband had to leave on a response mission, with only a few days’ notice, we did not check the expiration dates of our power of attorney or my military ID. A few days after he left, my ID expired. I found this out when I tried to get back on base after driving my son to his piano lesson. This caused so much stress. The ID office was backed up with appointments. To make matters worse, my husband could not access the correct form that was required for me to get a new ID. It all added to the challenge, and this was one more issue on top of all the other obligations that were on my plate when he was gone.
Always keep your ID in a memorable place. You will need it with you, especially when living on base.
3. Be Patient with Friendships
I always jump in too soon. I can be friends with anyone — well, anyone willing to allow me my opinions while I allow them their opinions. Easier said than done. Truly, I am just over 40, and only now have I begun learning to take relationships a little slower.
Go slow with opening up your whole self to new people. As someone who is an open book, not everyone is able to understand my story. It is meant for those truly willing to have a mutual friendship.
Friendships of convenience are common in military life. They happen even more readily when you live on base.
When your husband and their husband are both deployed at the same time, it is easy to gravitate to someone who is dealing with the same challenges. In these situations, it’s easy to become fast friends even without knowing much about each other.
Definitely take some risks and meet people, be social, and build relationships. Just stay aware that these relationships can slowly fade away when the spouses return. Appreciate each friendship no matter how long or short it lasts. No matter what, we gain and give in these friendships just due to having Military spouse in common with each other.
4. Prepare to Live in a Fish Bowl
No doubt about it, on military bases there is an element of small-town dynamics. Six degrees of separation is true on Marine Corps bases. In fact, it is more like one degree of separation on USMC bases when you have been active duty for a certain number of years.
Most people choose to live on base for certain reasons. They want instant community. They enjoy the safety of it for their kids. You get to be in the know.
My husband and I were just talking about how we each look at one-on-one conversations. When I speak to someone, I assume the conversation is in confidence. Not everyone looks at things that way. My husband’s advice was to never say anything to anyone that you do not want repeated. Wise words.
We have all had those conversations where we told a story to just one person. Then somehow, someone we did not speak to knows the story too. These small town aspects of life are thick on base.
Not everyone means it in a negative way when they share what is going on with you or your family. Often meal trains or help during deployments rise up from these conversations. Just keep in mind, people will know things about you and talk about it. You are not anonymous when you live on a military base.
5. The Best Military Spouse Friendships You Can Imagine
I had the iconic village of friends at one duty station. It took me two years on that base to meet the great ladies that have become my best military-spouse friends. A few of us still visit each other even though we live states apart these days.
The two-year search for my community on that base was rewarded with one year of movie-like community. It is worth it.
In seasons of military life when you have kids, base is a great place to live. You gain immediate access to a community of people with at least one thing in common: military life. There are so many sub-groups to join like spouses’ clubs, playgroups, homeschool meetups, or fitness events.
If I could start all over again on this journey of military spouse life, I would hold fast to this list. When you approach each new experience living on base with an open mind and some helpful perspective, it can be a truly enriching experience.