The Benefits of Family Life on Base

CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER GELORMINE

It’s been three months since the housing rules for incoming military personnel and their families stopped allowing off-base housing at will here on Okinawa.  This new mandate has caused some disgruntled feelings among those hoping to live off-base; for many who wanted to experience the living away from their place of employment and the living among locals, this has been a huge sense of disappointment… and more.

My husband and I chose to live on-base when we PCSd here.  For us it was a sense of not knowing what to expect in living somewhere foreign; we felt that for our soon-to-be in elementary school it would be easiest for her sake – and ours – to be within minutes of her school.  Though that particular line of thinking didn’t end up being completely valid; had we lived off-base she would have been bused to school, but because we live on-base that’s not an option for us – I have to bring her to school myself each day – we have found many unexpected pleasures in our new home.

World hands

The Sense of Family Community
This is our first time living in housing on a military installation.  In all our previous assignments we chose to live twenty to thirty minutes away from my husband’s office, and in doing so we separated ourselves from others in his unit and the military community in general.  I certainly never thought I was missing out on anything; we never regretted any of those decisions.  Those homes worked well for us; we made a few acquaintances here and there in our neighborhoods.  But we never felt as though we were actually a part of a community.

Here I know all my neighbors.  I have their phone numbers; I know their kids’ names and what schools they attend.  My husband and I have found that if we need something – whether it’s the cliched borrowed egg or someone to watch one of our children for an hour at the last minute – there are many who are willing and able to do so.  Because we’re all in the same boat of living far from family, we’re all a little more willing to stretch ourselves out for others in need around us.  I’ve asked favors of my neighbors here that I never would have dreamed of asking of similarly situated people in the United States, and I’ve reciprocated for them as well.

The Sense of Kids’ Community
Almost from the moment we moved into our home here, my daughter made friends.  Prior to this assignment her exposure to peers had been limited to preschool hours and playgroups.  Here, however, there are little girls her age surrounding us.  In our fairly small neighborhood alone are six little girls, ranging in age from six to nine.  There is hardly ever a lack of someone to play with at any given time; she spends much of her time playing between our house or at the houses of those around us.

I love that my daughter is learning the pleasures of playing outside with friends; I love knowing that if I can’t watch her every single second there are other sets of moms’ eyes on the kids.  I love that she has the pleasure of a little more freedom to be on her own than I would ever afford her had we lived off-base or even in our previous neighborhood at our last assignment.  In a world that grows evermore frightening in which to raise children, she has this small amount of luxury wrapped up in the safety of where we live.  We both would have missed that had we lived elsewhere.

BX

The Convenience Factor
When we lived in Germany, we lived in a small Bavarian community with German neighbors and local grocery and convenience stores, about twenty minutes from post.  While it truly gave us that “We’re living in a foreign country” feeling, it also imposed a significant burden on us; we had to be more on top of things.  Planning ahead was essential; if I ran out of milk on a Sunday I couldn’t just make the quick trip down the street to grab some from the store.  Most businesses were closed on Sundays there; to complicate matters a bit further our Commissary was closed on Mondays and there were no other military installations around within an hour’s drive.

Here I don’t feel nearly as limited by store operating hours; if I lived off base I’m sure I’d utilize the MaxValue and Jusco grocery stores more often, but even with those available there are some American ingredients that I just can’t find anywhere other than the Commissary.  It’s nice to know that I can make a five minute trip to grab those forgotten-from-my-previous-shopping-excursion items and not spend an hour or more fighting traffic (and traffic lights) to grab one essential ingredient.  Could I get by without having such things at my easy disposal?  Certainly.  But it is really nice to know that everything’s within easy reach for us here; with little kids in tow, sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference between sanity and, well, the other options.

For those of you currently living on-base, what do you like about the experience?  If you’ve lived in military housing before – stateside or abroad – how do you find it here as compared to those other places?  Has living on base here in Okinawa made you consider doing so again at follow-on assignments?

39 COMMENTS

  1. Monika, you can find tons of info on this site. I’d suggest that you start with the “Island Newbies” link in the left sidebar above. Then if you have more questions, you could try the forum – just click the maroon/tan Okinawa Hai Society on the right sidebar. Welcome to the journey!

  2. Michelle,
    Sorry to butt-in but I was reading the comments above and I am on a similar boat as Amb. I will be moving to Okinawa sometime at the end of September. I live on base in California so I don’t have to worry about leaving my house behind but I would also like to know what to bring and have some other more specific questions to ask. I would hate to overload you but can you tell me some more about okinawa and how to prepare to move there?? Any info would be great 🙂
    my email is [email protected]

  3. Thanks Michelle!! I would love that. And Jen, I will go look for the Hai Society now. I am so curious as to what I need to bring. And what Camp Courtney looks like….

  4. Amb- be sure to check out the social/forum site, the Hai Society, (brown/burgundy square button in the side bar) for discussions of those very same questions. There are many discussion threads about housing, furniture, TMO, loaners, weight limits, etc.

  5. Amb – Can you send me your email address? I’ll send you pictures that way. I can also address your more specific questions there, rather than clogging up the comments section. I’ve got alot for you! 🙂

  6. Thank you so much Michelle- I have been reseaching what I can. I would LOVE pictures of the on-base housing. And what is your advice on things to bring from home?? Furniture-wise. Is the furniture that the military provides of any quality? or should we bring our own sofas and tables and things like that? We went to our Okinawa “briefing” already and the guy describing the houses said some are disgusting and that the high rises are pretty nice, what is your opinion? Also, do you happen to know anything about on base daycare/preschool? My son will be 1 1/2 by the time we get there, and we found out we are expecting again. Guess I planned on making this move to Okinawa very interesting. 🙂

  7. Amb – It all depends and changes daily. My advice is plan for your personal worst and hope for the best. We’ve had a number of families come into our shop in the last month and everyone was told something completely different. Your husband’s rank makes a difference in whether you are more likely on base or not but whatever we tell you will change by time you get here. It’s that busy right now. I live here on McT (2 bed) so if you want more specific details, pictures, anything like that, let me know. I’ll do what I can to help you out. Good luck!

  8. Mrs.A-

    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I am really excited about going to Okinawa. I have a 9 month old baby and have never lived out of California, so this will be quite the adventure. Its nice to hear that others LOVE living there. Do you know (or does anyone) know if we will have NO choice but to live on-base? I don’t mind either way, just wanting to know my options. Looks like I’ll will have to find a way to rent our home. Thank you again.

  9. Before moving to Oki we were lucky to sell our home back in the states just as the market crashed but I know a lot of friends here who rent their homes back in the states and have had very good luck with it. I don’t live on Courtney but just down the street from it on Camp McT. I have freinds who live there on Courtney and are happy with it.The Commissary is “across” the street from the side where the housing is. There is a food court and shopette on the housing side. The Exchange is near the Commissary but it’s not a very good one at all, I always end up at Kadena (Kadena is a 20-40 minute drive depending on traffic and how fast you drive oh and short-cuts), although they do try and advertise that if you want something they don’t have there they will go get it from Camp Foster and bring it to Courtney for you to pick up.
    I am happy we chose to live on base, I feel the housing here is decent, I enjoy coming home at the end of the day and my daughter has made so many new friends here. This is our first time living on base and it was a change from owning our own home back in the states but it’s temporary and let’s face it, we’re not in the states 🙂 and a great experience and I don’t regret it one bit.I will not lie I am looking forward to owning my own home again but life is what you make it and I am enjoying our time here on base. Best of luck and safe travels.

  10. I know that everyone is asking about the housing… My husband and I just found out we may be heading to Okinawa soon. Most likely Camp Courtney. I havent been able to find many comments about that base and I was wondering if anyone had some pros and cons? Did anyone own their home in the states when they had to go to Okinawa? We are just wondering what to do since we just bought our house.

  11. Alison-I recently moved here with my husband, we have no children (yet). As of right now, 2 bedroom housing is at 98% capacity on base, so we had no choice but to live off base. We were excited to hear the news because that is what we preferred. So you never know, by the time you get here, you may not have a choice to live ON base. Either way, I’ve heard that living on base is nice because it has that “small town” community feel, and it’s probably easy to make friends because you all live so close. Whatever you end up getting, I’m sure you’ll be happy once you’re finally on the island, you have a place to live, and you’re settled in. Good luck with your move! Let me know if you have any questions about our recent housing experience!

  12. Also, for your earlier questions about on-base housing… My husband and I are also pretty young 25 & 26 and don’t have any children (don’t want any anytime soon either) and we live on base (Foster) in one of the tower apartments. We didn’t want an apartment at first, but we were only offered apartments to choose from. Now, we love it there (with the exception of them not allowing pets:( To be honest, I DID feel a little isolated living on base with no kids, because it seemed like it was so easy for the people WITH kids to meet other families, and I had no way of doing that. Also, it seems like EVERYONE here has kids, but its not true – there are many other child-less couples that live on-base as well. I finally started to meet some of these other girls/women when I would go to zumba class at the gym or took some cooking classes offered by MCCS. I recently got a part time job and love it – it still gives me enough time to explore the island, but I also got to meet a lot of other girls/women through my work who don’t have any kids – that’s why they work! I’m not sure if you are too into church or not, but young women’s Bible Studies are good ways to meet others as well. I was really nervous about living conditions on base as well (came from Camp Pendleton where we had an amazing townhouse), but they definately were better than expected – just watch out for Camp Kinser – the towers there are gross from all the ones I’ve seen! Foster is much better & newer!

  13. Alison,

    Definately don’t pass up this opportunity to see what overseas living is like, because you are a little nervous about the protesters! This is a great island with a ton of neat culture, shops, restaurants, things to do and explore… and Joanna is right, the protesters are generally nothing more than a traffic hazzard and we are fore-warned about their demonstrations so we know when to stay away. The Japanese are EXTREMELY gentle and peaceful people – even these “protests” are peaceful – you NEVER have to worry about going out in town, because even if there are locals around who disagree with us being there, they would NEVER do anything dangerous or even unkind to us – in fact, they have such amazing and friendly customer service over here (its just a part of their culture) that they couldn’t NOT be friendly to us out in town when we are shopping at their stores, etc. I’m sure there are plenty of locals that don’t agree with us being here, but I’ve never experienced one act unkind toward me or my husband. I’m not sure how the media is portraying the protests back home, but they are not like violent protests back in the States. You should be excited to come to Okinawa!

  14. Alison, Hearing that you’re moving to a place with protests going on really seems scary. However, the same types of protests were going on when we were stationed here the first time (00-04). Although you must always exercise caution, they are peaceful protests and pose more of a traffic risk than anything else. I take my kids off base frequently, and we are never met with unkind words or comments from the locals.

    I can certainly sympathize with your situation. We moved here this past September and I left behind a job I loved as an elementary educator. I’m not sure if I’ll teach here or not. Please feel free to email me if you have any other questions. I would be glad to answer them and help you out in any way. [email protected]

  15. ps- have you gone to Okinawahai society? (It’s on the left side of this page). You might also be able to get some responses to some of your questions on there 🙂

  16. Oh and to answer your question does it deter me from going out into the community? Absolutely not! I love to go out, especially to the local stores, markets, restaurants, beaches. To me, it seems as if Okinawans are busy going about their own lives. You will also see the customer service is none like the states. Enjoy!

  17. Really, Okinawa is that big in the news in the states? We are usually forewarned of protests (at least our readiness support group makes us aware) so that we can choose to not be in the specific protesting area. We have been here over 2yrs and just like anywhere it is what you make of it. I think that you can really enjoy this island and just being on base gives you the sense of “community” with your fellow military families/dependents. It is not a big island but there is alot that you can do..as you can see by this site alone (Okinawahai). If you come with your spouse you will get to go through this experience together vs. wondering what if. Yes, I agree it can be somewhat scary (this was our first oversees together)..but we are lucky enough to be afforded the opportunity for adventure!! 🙂

  18. Okay, sorry for all the posts, but I’m looking for insiders’ views of all the protests that have been going on lately against the bases in Okinawa and don’t really know who else to ask. I know there will always be protesters really anywhere you go, but the situation seems a bit more extreme right now on the island (with the Futenma controversy, etc), at least according to news reports on the web.

    Does this affect your daily lives or your willingness to go into the community? If anyone would be willing to email me about this, too, I would greatly appreciate it. At this point with all I’m finding out, I’m wondering if I should just try to get my job back and stay in the states!

  19. I’m also wondering if we should think about bringing anything different now that we know we will be living on base instead of off?

    I am completely new to the military and this is our first move, so this is really stressful. I’ve given up my job, haven’t slept in weeks, and we were excited at first, but now keep finding out more negative things about Okinawa.

    I think you all are amazing, btw! I don’t know how you do it (and with kids)!! I can barely hold it together and I’m just worrying about myself. Guess I need to get over it!

  20. Hi Alison! My family arrived here last fall. We were pretty disappointed to find out we had to live on base, but we’re making the best of it. There are certainly married people who live on base who do not have children, so you won’t be alone. The one thing I had to remember when we learned of the mandatory base housing rule is that your home here on Okinawa does not define you. You can still get out and explore the island and learn about the culture. You can meet other spouses through spouses groups, volunteering, working, etc. You can choose to be in your base house as little or as much as you’d like- It all depends on you. As far as the type of base house you’ll end up living in, well, that seems to be luck of the draw right now. Is your husband AF?

  21. My husband has orders to move to Okinawa in August 2010, and have just learned about mandatory on-base housing. I’m pretty disappointed and nervous about this.

    I can understand why living on base with children would be convenient, as there would be a community of mothers to support you. We are young and don’t have any kids, however, and are not planning on having any soon. Our goal is to get out and explore the island as much as possible, and learn about the culture as much as possible. I’m afraid I will be isolated on base just as much, if not more, as off base because I don’t have children.

    I’m wondering if there are many other married couples on base without children? Also, does anyone have info on officer housing on base? My husband is an 0-3, so I believe we still have to live on base but I’m wondering what our housing options might be because we have no children? Any info would be greatly appreciated!

  22. My family chose to live on base when we moved here 2 years ago. Our decision was based on a few key things at the time: We wanted to live semi-close to my husband’s work so that when he gets called in to work on the spur of the moment, or the middle of the night, it wouldn’t be a burden to get there. He works a lot of odd hours, and living only 10 minutes away has been a blessing!

    We have 2 young kids, and all the housing off base that we saw (that was still close enough to base) lacked the green space/large grassy yard for the kids to play on. Their are many nice parks in neighborhoods off base but we wanted the kids to be able to play right outside our door. Living in a highrise at the sea wall would have been a cool experience for my husband and I, but the kids would have had only a concrete jungle surrounding them.

    The other reason to live on base was that we (I) wanted to be guaranteed to have American neighbors/other stay at home moms
    that I could potentially hang out with during the day. My family loves living on base and we’ve been super lucky to have great neighbors so far during our 2 years here. Our next door neighbors are truly our family here and my kids have a whole tribe of friends their age to run around with and play with all the time.

    Living on base sometimes feels like it’s a throwback to 1955/Stepford Wives/Beaver Cleaver world, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives for our family. My kids aren’t sitting on their butts all day playing video games or watching TV all the time. They both play outside a couple hours a day, usually more, and I have seen what a difference this has made in their health and behavior. I would never let my 5 and 3 year old kids have the freedom to play outside off base without me watching like a hawk all of the time. (This is NOT to say that the Japanese are more likely to harm my kids in any way! Not at all – I’d just be nervous to have my kids close to traffic all the time and also for them to not have English speakers around to ask for help in an emergency.)

    It isn’t perfect for every family, and we’ve certainly traded off the cultural immersion for convenience in many ways – but I am treasuring the feeling of truly being part of a community. Our little neighborhood of families with young kids is an example of ‘It Takes a Village’, corny as it may sound.

  23. My family is being stationed on Camp Courtney (3rd Mar Div) and I’m dying to know what the housing is like on that base. We will be moving there in early August and the unknown is killing me.. anyone have comments or pictures to share?

  24. We live on base and love it. We have had amazing neighbors who have become great friends. Our kids get to have a childhood like we did, playing outside with all of their friends. I love the large grassy areas on my base (Lester). I love that I feel that my kids are safe playing unsupervised on my base. I never have a problem getting a babysitter – and they all live close enough to walk over. If we did not have kids we would have probably liked to live off base – but with kids I really cannot imagine any other way.

    Living on base does not mean that you don’t participate in the “Japanese experience”. It is about your attitude, not where you live.

    I don’t think ALL Americans are only about convenience. And seriously – Lawsons, Family Mart, Hotto Motto and soda machines are on every corner. I think other cultures appreciate convenience too.

  25. Off base housing or on base housing? I think the preference lies in the individual and their needs. However, I will say this: It’s too bad that Americans are all about convenience and maintaining their comfort zone. I noticed that many of you list the convenience factor as some of the main reasons for on base living (close to commissary, close to bx, close to gas stations, etc). While I completely understand that convenience is nice, I think it’s too bad that someone would let those things get in the way of experiencing another country. Yes, it can be a pain to drive onto base to shop, visit friends, go to schools. But you’re here for such a limited time…
    Quite honestly, I get disgusted by the attitudes displayed by at least part of our military community when I do shop at the commissary and bx. It’s a breath of fresh air to shop elsewhere.

  26. Since this is my husband’s first station, I don’t have any other experience whether on base or off is better. But, I like living on base because it’s really convenient to be near the BX, gas station, and commissary. I like that we have a big yard great for our dogs to run in (not so much for mowing.) We were shown 3 small apartments when we got here off base that were nice, but too small, and so the house we were offered on base was newly remodeled and a single so we took it and have been happy with our choice. I do feel bad that people don’t get a choice anymore, but I think the experience is really what you make it to be. And, I still feel like I’m experiencing the Japanese culture because I go places and do things off base all the time. My house is only my shelter.

  27. We’re PCSing to Okinawa next summer. My husband will be stationed at Futenma, which doesn’t have housing, so I’m not sure yet which base we’ll be living on. We’ve never lived on base.

    We were looking forward to having a truly foreign experience and living among the local population, experiencing their daily way of life as much as possible. And hopefully living as close to the beach as possible! So yeah, having that option taken away was a big disappointment. Was. I got over it right quick because I’m not going to let something wholly outside of my control ruin what will still be a pretty awesome experience.

    I didn’t plan on living on base, but now that I am, I will enjoy and am choosing to look forward to those benefits and having the small community feel that I’ve never had before. I can still get off base and mix among the locals as much as I want; no one is forcing me to be a base hobbit and I like to be out and about and explore. This is a minor bump in the road, not a life-altering collision.

  28. I think you can get all the things you listed as positive about living on base by living off base too. We have tons of kids playing in our neighborhoods and we are all safe and I know my neighbors as well. In fact, I feel safer off base than I do on, but that is my own experience.

    I enjoy being away from the military and I feel bad for those that have lost the “choice” about where they live…I know that being on base is good for some…but it would not be an option for me.

  29. We moved here a couple of months ago and were disappointed to learn that we would have to live on base. This is not our first time living on Okinawa, so we were pretty confident in our abilities to “survive” off base. (We lived off base during our first tour and then moved on base in an effort to save money on bills… We did save money, but traded good neighbors for inconsiderate neighbors). While many of our new neighbors are nice, we’ve already had problems with some of them, mainly stemming from irresponsible pet ownership and unsupervised dependents. I really feel that we would be happier if we had some “space” from the military community. We were told we could move after spending one year in base housing, but at our own expense and trouble.

  30. Wow- I really should have read through that. Sorry about all the spelling errors. While we have enjoyed living on base, that should have read, “we live on base” and that you are “likely” to be living… 😉

  31. We love on base and I agree, it completely brings that feeling of the family belonging to the military (in a good way) where you don’t get that when you live off base, especially 20-30 minutes away. Everyone around you has had similar experiences. Because of the nature of the way housing is set up, you are liking to be living next to families similar to your own (i.e. families with one children will likely live in a housing area of 2-3 bedroom homes and will likely only have 1 or 2 children, those with 3+ children are often close by too).

  32. April – Glad that was helpful! I was hoping to shed a positive light on what some may feel is a less-than-positive situation.

    Sue – I do often walk my daughter to school, at least on the mornings when it’s not raining, though we are more than a mile away. The school my daughter attends doesn’t do busing for students living on-base. But I don’t mind either way. Comes with the territory for me. 🙂

  33. I thought if you lived more than a mile from your child’s school they could ride the bus, even if they live on-base. If that’s true, why don’t you walk or ride bikes the less-than-a-mile with your daughter instead of driving her?

  34. Thank you for this post. We are preparing to PCS to Kadena and were disappointed to learn that our choice of housing had been taken from us. I’ve been looking for the silver lining and appreciate your view. We’ve never lived on-base before but there’s a first time for everything. Okinawa here we come.

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