Though I was born in the haunted homes of F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming; my first memories of living on base come from Naval Station Newport in Middletown, Rhode Island when I was in 2nd grade. In our neighborhood there were families from all of the different branches. All of the families were in about the same rank, so the kids were all close in age. On Saturday mornings I remember waking up to the sound of the boys playing “war” in the playground across the street. We all went to the base school so our friends were also all military kids. Only living there for one year meant that we would not have much time together, but being brats we understood this, and became friends quickly. My friends and I used to go from house to house to see what had been prepared for lunch that day. Sometimes we could get away with having pb&j at Catherine’s house, pizza rolls at mine, and brownies at Lauren’s with no one ever figuring out our ploy. What a life. There were always activities too. At Christmas time the base would have a Santa visit. I don’t want to brag or anything, but this was the year I became a certified elf. My job was to help pass out candy canes to the kids who visited Santa. The base also provided each family with a pink booklet of recommended places to explore during our tour of Rhode Island. They did a good job of trying to make a real community on base.
Fast forward to middle school. My family did not live on base but we lived very close to F.E. Warren (mentioned earlier where I was born). We were reassigned there while I was in 6th to 8th grade. Nothing is better for a middle schooler looking to make a little bit of money than living near a base stock full of parents who have tons of functions to attend and kids that need to be sat on.. I mean.. looked after… My sister and I had babysitting jobs galore. There were also many volunteer opportunities from being Christmas elves, to being tour guides during the Fort D.A. Russel Days historic homes tours. Yes, I also got to don a nineteenth century gown and give tours of the civil war era haunted homes... with no air conditioning in the heat of the summer, but it was fun I promise.
Now, living on base as a senior in high school is a completely different kind of experience. I first realized how different it was going to be when about every third time I would try to go through the gates of the base, I would get pulled over at the gate for a “random vehicle search”. After a couple weeks of this, my dad had to put his foot down on the gate guards and tell them to quit pulling over his daughter. The ease of access to the gym and the grocery store being literally across the street are things I really took for granted at Malmstrom AFB. I used to describe living at Malmstrom like living in a utopian society…minus the freaky “Giver” connotations. But think about it; the grass is maintained at a certain level, the buildings are all uniform, your house size and location depends on your rank, everyday at 7:30am they play “To the Colors”, at 2:30pm they play the National Anthem and everyone stops what they are doing, and at 10pm they play “Taps”. Everyone knows each other and works together and has similar pay and health coverage. Now, to some people outside of the community you may think this is too weird, but it works in a military community. It creates a cohesive environment, which is paramount to having a strong military that works as a team with a strong support system embedded in the community.
Some of my best memories of living on base are the most simple memories. It was always fun when my dad would be working on Saturdays to bring him Taco Johns and sit in his office with the Purdue football game on and keep him company. Or going to the Officer’s Club on Fridays for dinner or the bowling alley to grab some lunch with friends. Summers always meant endless playtime with friends and frequenting the base pool, or riding bikes to the seven eleven to buy slushies.
It’s not a bad life on base. One of the things the military needs is a high morale to stay strong, and to have that you need happy families. Sometimes my mom talks about what her military experiences of living on base were like and she always says that they had even more activities for families (back in her day). Budgets have since been cut, and unfortunately the first things to go are always the “fun” things. I understand wanting to save money, but in my opinion, having a good base with a lot of support through activities and opportunities for the families is one of the best ways to make a stronger military. Because everyone knows “if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” So I guess my advice or wish for you is that you take advantage of what the base has to offer. Become a certified elf, participate in the thrift store fashion show, give tours in a civil war costume, but enjoy the unique opportunities.