I have seen a lot of posts, whether on blogs or Facebook, on the ups and downs of living either in a military town or away from one. I have reservist friends who have a hard time being hours from the nearest base and not having a local community of spouses who understand their day-to-day life. I also see friends who have lived in “base areas” going somewhere for a B-Billet and having a hard time adjusting to living outside a base community.
I am in a reverse transition, and like anything, moving to a military town has its ups and downs.
For the past six years I lived in and around Washington, D.C. My husband was stationed at Marine Barracks Washington at 8th and I, and we lived just over the border in Virginia. Yes, D.C. is a huge military town. Within an hour of D.C. (and within the city itself) there are many bases for many branches; it is a pretty broad spectrum. Yet being a large city there is also a big sense of anonymity. I could spot service members much more easily than I could a spouse (the haircuts tend to give it away). Wandering around Southeast D.C. I could spot Marines easily, but the spouses? Not so much. Sure you might see the occasional car with a D0D tag, a key chain or a t-shirt saying anything motivating, but D.C. had such a large mix of people that anyone can basically blend in.
We recently PCSed to Camp Lejeune, N.C., my first experience in a huge base area. 8th and I was just a barracks … no base. Married couples had to live out in town or on one of the local Air Force bases. Having just a barracks meant no typical commissary, exchange or anything of the sort. Every now and then I would go to one of the Air Force bases to shop or play Bunco, but nothing prepared me for how large Lejeune is. I mean, you can drive 55 mph on the main road leading in to base! Fifty-five!
There are major upsides to living in a solid military community. I love that we have a house (and that the mortgage payment is much less than the rent of our one bedroom one bathroom apartment) and that there is a huge community I can join. I love being able to drive ten minutes and be on base, to grocery shop or visit my husband for lunch or anything else. And I am not going to lie, one of the first times I drove on base and saw the fences leading there covered in homecoming signs (LOVE the red solo cup messages!) got me teary. The Barracks in D.C. were non-deployable (except for special task forces), so I never got to see homecoming signs before.
Everyone I run into in this town is military, former military or family of military in some way shape or form. I also love seeing the ospreys and cobras fly over my house multiple times a day. I lived in the landing zone of an airport two other times in my life, and I actually find the sound of windows rattling kind of comforting.
But there is a downside as well. I do miss the convenience of city life. Walking less than a mile and being in Old Town Alexandria, Va., jumping on the Metro and going into D.C. … and the anonymity of city of life, if only a little bit.
I know most people can look at me (when my husband is with me or not) and know I am a military spouse. I can see spouses in the store and recognize that is what they are as well. I was in line at Wal-Mart the other day carrying a twenty-five pound bag of puppy food, waiting in a huge line for the “speedy checkout” (HAH). A woman in front of me asked if I wanted to rest the bag on her cart since we weren’t moving anytime soon. We started chatting and one of her first questions to me was, “Is your husband at Lejeune or New River?” I was kind of surprised it came up so quick … but then again it was kind of nice to run into a nice stranger who you definitely already had something in common with.
I am also struggling in the job market. I know that other spouses are in the same situation as me and competing for the same positions. Luckily we are financially OK without me working at the moment, but I do miss having a job I truly enjoyed like I did in Virginia.
Also, this might seem silly, but the states down south are much larger. I drove seven hours across North Carolina to visit my parents a few weeks ago … and I never left the state. At our last duty station my husband would wake up in Virginia and drive through it to Maryland and then into D.C.! I teased him that it took lots of dedication to drive through two states and the District to go to work everyday.
I know there are ups and downs to every duty station, and these ups may not be major ones, and these downs may not be way down there downs. I have been in North Carolina about two months and it is already very different from our last duty station, but that can be a good thing. I always hear military families can “bloom wherever they are planted,” and that is something I hope to continue in the next decade or so my husband plans on spending in the Marine Corps.
Do you live near a big base? What are some of the perks for you? What about the downs? If you live far from a base, do you prefer it that way? Or would you rather be in a military town? I am curious to know what other spouses think!