Where are the best overseas military bases? The answer to that question depends greatly on what you’re looking for in such a location–a place to bring a family? A place to discover a larger foreign country? A combination of both?
Some locations are great for those on active duty–they can travel to many destinations without worries of being turned away without a sponsor or someone at the final destination who can escort them on base.
But among those locations are bases family members may have difficulty accessing such as bases in rural South Korea where there is no family housing or such facilities are restricted to higher-ranking service members.
Other bases are definitely family-friendly. Many of those are located in Europe and Japan, and getting to these destinations will require current IDs, passports, and may require travel orders where applicable (leave, TDY, PCS, etc.).
Best Military Bases Overseas: Japan
There are many bases in Japan; some are on the island of Honshu, some are in Okinawa. The most desirable for some is Yokota Air Base in Fussa City, one of Tokyo’s western cities.
Proximity to Tokyo is a major bonus for anyone assigned to the area. Major sports, music, arts, and a very active food culture in the area make this a must-see.
Much farther north on the tip of Honshu and just a few minutes away from the Pacific Ocean, Misawa Air Base is a military community that includes a large number of families, and a multi-service environment that includes operations by the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF).
This is a beautiful area known for its at-times harsh winters, good skiing nearby, and plenty of local color. Other bases in Japan worth a look include United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Kadena Air Base, and Torii Station.
Those visiting the country will likely need some extra time to recover from jet lag–travel to Japan and other destinations nearby can bring a significant amount of fatigue from long flights from the United States. Those arriving from closer airports will have an easier time adapting.
Some PCS or come TDY to Japan and fall in love with the lifestyle; you’ll find some troops trying to extend their tours or trying to get reassigned to the base they were originally assigned to.
One reason is that Japan and American cultures where the bases are located tend to blend well. That isn’t always true of American bases in other countries where U.S. military presence can be more controversial in modern times.
Best Military Bases Overseas: United Kingdom
The United States Air Force has two very desirable locations in the United Kingdom:
- RAF Lakenheath
- RAF Mildenhall
RAF Lakenheath is located in Suffolk County in East Anglia. Located some 80 miles away from London and much closer to Cambridge (some 25 miles) this area features towns with populations up to 10,000 and there are many things to do in the local area. Nearby towns include:
- Bury St. Edmunds
RAF Mildenhall is a rural community with plenty of farms. Also located in East Anglia, local attractions there include the Mildenhall & District Museum, plus Mildenhall Stadium. Most will arrive and depart via Heathrow, which is a gateway to the rest of Europe as well as the United Kingdom.
The area features plenty of history including castles, historical sites dating to antiquity, and there is a 15th century Market Cross and town pump in the local area. Whether you want to do a British pub crawl, take in a football match, or explore the local history, both Mildenhall and Lakenheath have plenty to offer.
Flying to this area from the United States won’t bring as much jet lag as travel to bases in the Pacific, but it’s best to anticipate a standard amount of jet leg after arrival.
When traveling to the United Kingdom, some don’t believe that a language barrier will trip them up but it’s a good idea to not underestimate the power of a strong and unfamiliar accent to make getting directions or assistance a bit more complicated than you might think.
Best Military Bases Overseas: Spain
Naval Station Rota is located on the coast of Spain, which means plenty of beaches to explore. How many? Some 500 miles worth! With a population of 30,000 in the off-season and as many as 100,000 during tourist season, it’s no surprise that the town of Rota is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world.
Rota is about six hours south of Madrid, and under two hours from Seville. This area is well known for its local culture; flamenco, bullfighting, seafood and wine.
There are many historic sites featuring ancient architecture alongside contemporary designs and many come to the area to have a look at Barrio Santa Cruz, defined by some travelers as the area’s most charming neighborhood.
Those coming to visit will want to build in some time to recover from crossing multiple time zones and perhaps build in an extra day on either end of the trip. Those coming to stay should expect host nation restrictions on things that surprise some Americans such as Spanish laws regulating certain types of pets (dogs) viewed as “dangerous animals”.
Best Military Bases Overseas: Germany
U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart gets high marks for being well located to explore local German culture including the Mercedez-Benz Museum, the Wilhelma Zoological-Botanical Garden, but also Stuttgart Market Hall which is a destination for a variety of local and regional cuisine.
Also worth a look? The Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (State Gallery) features impressive works by masters such as Henri Matisse, Max Beckmann, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Willi Baumeister, and Joseph Beuys.
But Stuttgart isn’t the only base in the area. Ramstein Air Base and U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz are also active–the Army installation plays a vital role in Europe as one of (if not THE) largest concentration of American military members outside CONUS.
Both Ramstein and Rheinland-Pfalz are located at or near Kaiserslautern, a city in the southwest part of Germany near the northern portion of the Palatinate Forest. This area boasts an impressive Japanese garden, and the Theodor-Zink Museum has local history exhibits with artifacts as old as the Bronze Age.
Military bases in Germany trend more toward family-friendly than some others. There are many American military families living in the area on three-year tours or other commitments. Some try to get reassigned to the area or close by and prolong their in-country experience as long as possible.
There is a definite language barrier for some when traveling to Germany. It’s a good idea to try translator apps and be prepared to spend some extra time figuring out directions, the location of basic services, and navigating taxis and retailers when off-post.
It’s a bad idea to assume everyone speaks or wants to speak English in another country–German culture may have more accessibility for English speakers than other countries, but there is still a language barrier to overcome.