Living on a military base as a spouse can be a unique and rewarding experience, but it can also come with its own set of challenges. From navigating unfamiliar surroundings to understanding base policies and protocols, it’s important to be prepared and informed before making the move.

To help you navigate the rules for living on a military base, SpouseLink has assembled this guide of practical tips and advice for those looking to make the move. Whether you’re new to the military lifestyle or a seasoned pro, this guide will help you navigate the ins and outs of military base living and make the most of your time on base.

What Is It Like Living on a Military Base?

Living on a military base as a spouse has its list of pros and cons — all of which depend on the location. One of the main advantages can be the sense of community that comes with living in a military town. Many bases have a variety of amenities, such as playgrounds, fitness centers, and swimming pools that are available for residents to use. Additionally, military bases often have a number of events and activities for residents to participate in, which can be a great way to meet new people and get involved in the community. 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that living on a military base also comes with its own set of challenges. One of the challenges includes a little less privacy — a consequence of living in close proximity to your or your spouse’s co-workers and supervisors. Other common “complaints” is that base housing may not be as spacious or modern as off-base housing, and there may be stricter rules to follow. 

Rules for Living on a Military Base

The rules for living on a military base can vary depending on the specific base and the branch of the military that operates it. However, there are some general rules that are common to many military bases, which may include the following:

  • All residents must have a valid military identification card and must present it upon request.
  • Curfew hours may be enforced for dependents under the age of 18.
  • Visitors may need to be registered and may need to provide identification upon entering the base.
  • Certain items, such as weapons and illegal drugs, are strictly prohibited on base.
  • Base housing may have additional rules, such as restrictions on the number of people allowed to reside in a unit and rules regarding the maintenance and appearance of the property.
  • All base residents are expected to follow base policies and protocols, as well as federal and state laws.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific rules of the base you’ll be living on, as failure to follow these rules can result in disciplinary action.

Unofficial Rules for Living on a Military Base

While it’s important to understand the official rules of living on base, it’s just as important to understand the unofficial rules. These are things such as societal expectations and guidelines to follow when interacting on base. 

1. Respect the National Anthem 

You should always show respect for the National Anthem while it is being played, regardless of your political beliefs. The likelihood is that your military member will be saluting while standing at attention, so put in the effort to treat them with respect, even if it’s only for you. Your actions speak volumes about him or her. 

2. Dress for the Occasion

Being in a relationship with a servicemember will include participating in a variety of social events, from formal military balls to unit picnics and more. Here are some suggestions for “dressing the part” so that you never make your servicemember look bad and always show up appropriately for every event:

For casual family events, the most suitable way for family-focused activities such as unit family picnics and family fun days is to dress modestly. As a female spouse to a military member, avoid wearing short-shorts, micro-bikinis, or other excessively risqué attire that may gain negative attention. As a male spouse to a military member, avoid low-riding pants, short-shorts, and too-tight pants. 

For formal events, expectations and rules will vary based on the event. Typically, these occasions require modest formal wear, so avoid anything too risqué. While you can certainly wear a garment that accentuates your beauty and body, formal clothes should remain tasteful, elegant, and respectful of the service men and women who will also be attending the event.

​​3. Always Be Classy

Take precautions so that you don’t overindulge when attending these formal activities. At a military gathering, getting tipsy or excessively inebriated is not the ideal way to represent your spouse. Talk with your military spouse to gain clarity on any expectations of the event to ensure you remain respectful. It is normal for everyone to relax a bit after the command leaves.

4. Keep PDA to a Minimum

It’s easy to want to share some affection with your loved one in uniform, either because you haven’t seen them in a while, they’re looking extra nice in their uniform, or just because you love them and love spending time with them. However, always keep your surroundings in mind — it’s a good idea to avoid public displays of affection (PDA), especially if a commanding officer is present. 

Your servicemember is expected to conduct themselves in a particular manner when wearing a uniform. Hand-holding and having your arms interlocked are typically acceptable. Keep in mind they need to be free to salute when necessary. 

5. Be Cautious About What You Post Online

Having a strong network of friends and family who love and support you is key to thriving in military life. When your significant other is deployed or away on extended training, it’s important to have a strong support network since they might just end up being your rock or your savior during hard seasons. However, you should always be careful with what you post online about your or your military spouse’s life.

Take care not to discuss or post on social media any private concerns involving your significant other. Avoid posting deployment locations, personal matters, and anything else that could compromise you or your spouse. Also, be cautious with whom you provide private information. You don’t want one bad apple to start a rumor or interpret your social interactions in a bad way.

6. Interacting with Commanding Officers as a Spouse

If you choose to live on base as a spouse, you may be wondering how to interact with military servicemembers other than your spouse — specifically, commanding officers. Here are some tips to help you avoid feeling awkward or anxious should you run into someone. 

  • Be respectful: Show respect for the rank and position of the commanding officer, and be mindful of military protocols and etiquette. You don’t need to salute them, just address them politely with their proper title.
  • Stay informed: Keep up to date on any information or events related to your spouse’s unit or the base. This can help you feel better prepared to navigate a casual conversation, and also show that you are invested in the military community. 
  • Get involved: Look for opportunities to get involved in the base or unit community. This more casual setting can be a great way for you and your spouse to build a relationship (or at least a rapport) with their commanding officer.

Is Living on a Military Base Right for You?

When considering whether you should live on or off base, it’s important to make an informed decision. Now that you have some insight into the rules of living on a military base, let’s review a list of questions and answers. We’ve put together some example questions below, but be sure to add your own questions to this list that are more specific to your personal preferences. 

  • What is the cost of living on base? Are there any additional fees or expenses that you should be aware of?
  • What are the housing options available? Are there different types of housing available, such as apartments, townhomes, or single-family homes?
  • What amenities are available on base? Are there gyms, pools, parks, or other recreational facilities that you can use?
  • What is the process for obtaining base housing? Do you need to be on a waiting list, and how long is the average wait time?
  • Are there any special requirements for living on base, such as a security clearance or financial qualifications?
  • How close is the base to local schools, shopping centers, and other amenities?
  • What is the base’s policy on pets? Are there any size or breed restrictions, and are there any additional fees for having a pet?

Asking these questions can help you understand what to expect when living on a military base, and help you make an informed decision about whether it is the right fit for you. If the answers don’t meet your needs and you have the option, you may want to consider choosing off-base housing instead.

Living on a military base as a spouse comes with a steep learning curve — but don’t be intimidated! You have plenty of support and resources available to you to help make your military life better.

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