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.
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.
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?