A move to a new home can be intimidating for anyone. But for the spouse of a service member, moving to a military installation for the first time can involve even more uncertainty. How will you make new friends and get involved with the community? If you have children, what opportunities exist for them? The transition doesn't have to be difficult. With some understanding of military life in general and installation living in particular, your move to a military installation can be exciting and enjoyable. If you take advantage of all that installation life has to offer and learn from more experienced neighbors, you’re likely to make lasting friendships and build a lifetime of good memories.
Advantages of installation life
You may be surprised at the number of benefits available to you and your family as part of life on an installation. They include
- A sense of community. Because others around you share your situation, concerns, and many of your feelings, there is a sense of fellowship among people living on an installation. Sponsors, who are people who have been assigned to an installation for some time, can help you adjust to your new surroundings and make you feel welcome from the very beginning.
- Lower-cost housing. While families on installations do give up service members' housing allowances, they don't have to write checks for rent or utilities. This is obviously a prized benefit (most installations have a waiting list to get into installation housing), and often means an opportunity to put some money into savings. In addition, home repairs are easy. If an air conditioner breaks down or a faucet is leaking, installation maintenance will fix the problem at no cost to you.
- Easy access to community services. It’s all right there – commissary, exchange, medical treatment facility, library, child care, youth activities, sports and recreation facilities. Most installations also have banks, restaurants, gas stations, and more.
- Safety. Quarters are consistently monitored by military police, which means that residents have a significant feeling of safety in the installation community.
Challenges of installation life
Any lifestyle change brings challenges, and living on an installation for the first time is no different. But there are steps you can take to help you meet those challenges in a positive way. Depending on your own particular situation, you may face the following concerns:
- Separation from extended family. You may be leaving members of your extended family who have been a source of strength and support. Keep in mind that staying in touch through phone calls, letters, e-mail and other online communication helps keep family ties strong.
- Privacy. It can take some effort to maintain privacy in a small town — which is essentially what a military installation is. If you value your privacy, then be sure to practice discretion as you get to know your neighbors. Try to keep your conversation on the light side and avoid gossip. Your common sense will guide you in setting and protecting boundaries.
- Children's adjustment. If you have children, helping them to adjust will be a top priority. This takes time, patience, and energy. Once they get to know the neighborhood children, become involved in activities they like, and start school, most children adjust just fine. Other children on the installation have experienced the anxiety of moving often, making new friends, and having parents deployed, and will be understanding of your kids' situation.
- Isolation from civilian community. If you spend most of your time on the installation you may feel isolated from the civilian community. It's a good idea to participate in the community outside your installation. There may be parks, bike paths, libraries, and other facilities for you to enjoy. You can usually find out more about your civilian community through a local Chamber of Commerce. Many towns also have websites that describe community sites and events.
- Maintaining yard and common areas. In most cases, it’s your responsibility to keep your yard mowed and the rest of your grounds looking attractive when living in installation housing.
- Protocol. The first time you see cars stopping and people standing at attention during "colors" when the flag is raised in the morning or lowered in the evening, you may wonder what’s happening and feel like an outsider. Don't worry, it won’t take you long to learn the military protocol that you’ll be expected to follow.
Building friendships and community
- Take charge of your life on the installation. A positive attitude is everything. While there are many programs and facilities available on an installation, it's up to you to take advantage of them. When you're invited to that first "coffee" or other event for spouses, be sure to accept — this is where you can get many of your first questions answered by people who are familiar with installation life. Be sure to attend any welcome events — you're likely to meet other newcomers looking for friendship. Go for walks. If you stay in your quarters and keep to yourself, you may begin to feel isolated. If you’re the male spouse of a female service member, forming new friendships can pose extra challenges. Although there isn't likely to be a large group of male spouses for you to get to know, the number is growing. Many clubs that were traditionally known as "Wives' Clubs" have become "Spouses' Clubs," and are becoming more aware of the issues that male spouses face.
- If you have children, get them involved in installation activities. Whether it's scouting, piano, swimming, or soccer, your child is sure to find an activity he or she likes. The installation youth center may offer various sports, dance, and musical classes; "skate nights" and other special events; as well as a teen room and snack area. Be sure to take your child to the youth activities building to find out all your installation has to offer.
- Get to know your neighbors. Practically everyone on the installation will be in a situation similar to yours — the town in which the installation is located is not home. Other military families seek the same things you do, including a sense of community and wholesome family activities. Reach out to these families for friendship, education about installation life, and a general sense of belonging. Resist the temptation to treat your new friends and neighbors differently depending on their spouse's rank. It's important to have respect for and be gracious to all service members and their families.
- Participate in your military community activities. Most installations offer a variety of year-round activities. These might include an introductory event where services and organizations set up information tables and answer your questions, a family fun day where you and your family can participate in games and races, a health fair, and sometimes holiday celebrations. You can usually find out about these activities through advertisements and announcements in your installation newspaper, on your installation website, on marquees, through the installation TV station, and on flyers distributed throughout the installation.
Your new house
- Make your installation house your home. Although regulations can make it a challenge to personalize your home, there are many acceptable, creative ways to make your home reflect you and your family.
- Know housing policy. Your housing office will provide this information. Most likely, there will be a schedule for trash pick-up, including when to put out the trash cans and when to bring them back to their assigned spot. Housing policy often requires that when you leave installation housing you return the quarters to the condition they were in when you moved into them. (For example, if you hang up pictures, you must fill in the holes before you leave. In most cases, you will be expected to clean the quarters before you move out.) Find out the policy for visitors and vacancy if you choose to leave for an extended time during your service member's deployments.
- Keep a list of maintenance and emergency phone numbers handy. It's a good idea to post these numbers near your land line and in your cell phone. If you have children, make sure the list is posted where they can see it easily.
How you and your family approach living on the installation will in large part determine your quality of life as a military family. If you look at life in the military community as an adventure — full of exciting new opportunities and friends to cherish for the rest of your life — you’ll learn, grow, and enjoy yourself, too.