Who can live on a military base? Many view the base from outside the fence, wondering what it’s like to live on an Air Force Base, an Army Post, a Navy installation, or at a Marine Corps Camp. Who gets to live in these places and how does it work?
Who Can Live On A Military Base?
Not just anyone can live on base.
That includes some military members and their families themselves–space is often limited, demand is usually high, and the needs of the mission can dictate who gets to live closest to it.
Many who get assigned to a base arrive, check into temporary housing, and start house hunting knowing full well they may have to wait months or even a year or more depending on demand to be considered for on-base housing.
And some military members are actually required to live on base or on-post. These are usually the most junior of the junior enlisted; single soldier or unaccompanied Airman quarters are common and easier to obtain in some cases than family housing.
We started this section by stating not just anyone can live on a military installation. That said, depending on the mission, the location, and other variables, you might be surprised at just who is permitted to live there.
They can include:
- Military members permanently assigned to the base, also known as “permanent party” military members.
- Military family members authorized to live in base housing at that particular base.
- Civilian contractors who serve in certain capacities–especially DoDEA teachers, civil service workers who serve at overseas bases, and contractors under certain conditions.
Guard and Reserve members typically live in or near communities where they serve but in general these service members live in the community not on the base where they train.
The Pros and Cons of Base Housing
Many want to live on base because of the real or perceived difference in cost. And living on base has its perks–a dramatically reduced rush hour experience is quite valuable in areas like New York, California, and Texas.
It’s also close to certain conveniences depending on the base–your Commissary, BX/PX and military clothing sales needs are never far away when living on post.
But some (again, this depends GREATLY on the installation) may find that the noise of the 24/7 mission doesn’t agree with them. If you don’t like aircraft noise, the sounds of military war games, troops running or marching in formation, etc. life on base might not be for you.
Some don’t have a choice and honestly, some of those issues are those that bother people new to the environment who haven’t gotten used to it yet. But for others, getting away from the commotion of military life might be more desirable.
Many military bases have more conveniences than others. At Joint Base San Antonio you’ll find service stations on base, convenience stores, movie theaters, fitness centers, and child-and-youth centers. Some are more rudimentary.
If you’ve ever seen a formerly active duty base that has been converted to a Guard/Reserve training center, you’ll see exactly what we mean–limited demand often means limited services.
How Do You Get Base Housing?
Base housing is only available through following a specific application process which usually starts with paperwork at the base housing office or its equivalent. You cannot obtain housing on base without going through these channels.
Base housing will require you to have orders assigning you as a permanent party military member to that base, and show proof of eligibility for the housing you seek. Those TDY or assigned temporarily to the base cannot be assigned long-term base housing. There are temporary lodging facilities to handle those needs.
For example, a single and unaccompanied service member PCSing to a new base is not entitled to apply for family housing. They must apply for single service member housing where available.
For stateside assignments, that could mean a bed in the barracks or it could mean living in the local area. Much depends on the rank and grade of the person applying for housing. In some locations, on-base housing is required and no off-post option is allowed.
This is generally true for junior enlisted members serving in South Korea, for example, and is always true for single servicemembers who have just graduated basic training and advanced training and are headed toward their first duty station.
Base Housing Is Often Privatized
Most stateside on-base housing has been privatized and is operated in a public-private venture or partnership.
That means that you may have a military housing office and a private company working toward the same end. In such cases you will need to contact the housing office to learn what your options are and whether you are required to check in with that office prior to entering into any binding commitments for off-post housing.
In some cases you may be living on-post but still paying rent to the private agency operating the housing program. In others you may not be charged anything. Much depends on the nature of the housing you’re getting. Those who live in the barracks likely won’t deal with rent, utilities issues, etc.
Those who are assigned a home in family housing may or may not have to physically pay rent, have it deducted automatically, etc. Your experience may vary depending on the base you’re assigned to, the state of the partnership program with the private provider, etc.
Overseas Housing At Military Bases
When military members are permitted to bring family members, they may be offered the choice between living off base and living on post. Some want to live “on the economy” and doing so can be very rewarding.
But the cost of living in places like Japan, Germany, and England can be higher than some expect. These people find living off base to be fine and varying shades of gray but tend to want an on base home to offset the cost of living outside the fenceline.
But in either case, the base housing office is the liaison between the local landlords and the military. You’ll definitely need to get to know your local housing policies and requirements long before you are ready to arrange your move.
If you have the choice to live on base at an overseas duty location, you may wish to take it in certain cases. Your sponsor can help you decide which way is best based on personal experience and the experiences of those you will be working with.
The questions to ask your sponsor? How does the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) or its overseas equivalent cover off-post living expenses? Just enough? Not quite enough?
What should you expect to pay in utilities and other needs compared to living at your last assignment? And most importantly, are there fees for late payments or stiff penalties to know about that could cost you more than the American equivalent? And finally, how much notice does a landlord need if you get PCS orders or must relocate?
Also don’t forget to ask about issues related to the exchange rate. Your low rent might not seem so low if the exchange rates don’t favor you or suddenly stop being as good as they were last month.
That doesn’t seem like a big deal to people who have never lived overseas before, but ask any experienced expat or military person and you’ll soon learn that exchange rates can and do make a difference in your bottom line depending on the country and the circumstances.