Life as a new military spouse is an adjustment. Not only are you adapting to marriage and the regular challenges that come with that, but you're also learning a completely different way of life from the civilian lifestyle you were most likely raised in.
One of the variables that will affect your military spouse experience is where you live. Where you live in proximity to the military installation may affect who your friends will be, how involved you are, and how you feel overall about your new military life.
Previous MilitaryByOwner posts have discussed the pros and cons of on base housing vs. living off base. (Check out the posts Off Base or On Base Housing: Which Is Right for You? and Military Housing vs. Living Off Base: Making the Decision for more info.) This post, however, is meant to provide you with some expectations of life on base as a new military spouse.
Here are some things I think you should know about living on base the first time:
Pros. Living on base as a new military spouse will give you a crash course on military life. Very quickly, you will learn not to drive over the base speed limit, to pull over during Retreat, and that alarming sounds just mean that servicemembers are at work. When we lived in military housing at Pensacola NAS, I would feel startled every time the Blue Angels flew overhead and rattled our whole house. Eventually, I learned their routine and avoided making calls or watching TV during that time. It was almost like spending your first night in a new home when you still hear every little sound. The noises seem alarming initially, but once you learn the new normal, you can tune them out. Living on base also places you in the heart of the community. You live close to your spouse’s work, the commissary, exchange, gym, and organizations where you may be interested in volunteering or working.
Cons. You may get entirely submersed in the military community more quickly than you'd prefer. When you live on base, it's difficult to involve yourself slowly, and it’s possible that you'll feel disconnected from the civilian life you once had. As convenient as it is, living where you shop, exercise, and socialize gives you few reasons to exit the front gate. You may have to put in even more effort to maintain friendships with people outside the gate. My husband and I lived on base within the first year of his active duty service. When I found a job off base, I struggled to find anything to talk about besides his career and military life. Civilians unattached to servicemembers don’t understand and, quite frankly, most do not care. That doesn’t mean that you won’t make wonderful civilian friends over the course of your spouse’s career, it just means that you might have to work a little harder to create that initial bond.
Expectations. Expect to learn a lot, have little privacy, and make the most of every situation. You're going to run into servicemembers of every rank, and one morning you will wake up and know all ranks by heart. You and your spouse will be on your best behavior. Even though my husband was a student while we lived in Pensacola, we lived in military housing next door to the base Company Commander (CO) and Executive Officer (XO), and the Blue Angels CO and XO. While we had our own space, we found it extremely important to be sensitive to our neighbors. This is obviously no different than living in an apartment off base, except that your neighbors on base might be your spouse’s superiors.
Culture. Living on base is similar to living in a small town. Everyone appears to know everyone and your neighbors are the same people you volunteer and attend events with. Wherever you go, you'll run into people you know. It's wonderful if you're looking to get further involved and immersed in the military community. It takes little effort be a part of your military community while living on base. I appreciated this fact because I desired to be in the middle of everything when I was first introduced to the lifestyle. I wanted to learn everything there was to know and build relationships with every spouse I met. Just a couple years down the road, I still stand by this. Now that we live off base, it takes more effort to stay involved, but it is just as important to build and maintain relationships.
Regardless of where you live as a new military spouse, you will make wonderful memories. You'll make friends, learn new things about your new community, and likely travel a lot. Living on base is a wonderful way to get involved and learn about your new lifestyle. Being a military spouse is a lot of fun if you hadn’t already figured that out!
Photo: Flickr/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers