I grew up in military towns. When I was little I honestly thought that everyone in the world had a father or mother or spouse in the military, and it was reassuring. Then, when I was in the sixth grade, my father was transferred to an assignment in Syracuse, New York. The military housing had just shut down, and the nearest base was a two hour drive away, which we made at least twice a month for shopping and doctor’s visits. For the first time I was thrown into a large town where the focus was not the military. Fitting in was more difficult. The other kids had all known each other since birth. The teachers didn’t know how to deal with my piecemeal education. Overall the experience was positive though. I learned that the world did not revolve around the military and got to see how regular kids lived their lives. Perhaps it is a case of, “the grass is always greener,” when it comes to assessing whether it is better for a military family to live in a military town or in a bigger city not ran by and filled with military life. Instead of dreaming about how life used to be after a move though, it is important to realistically assess your situation in order to adapt to it.
There are, of course, many benefits to living in a military town. Everyone can relate to you. This can be an absolute sanity-saver for the whole family. Adjusting to a new living situation is difficult. Knowing that everyone else is going through the same thing makes it a bit easier. There is something comforting knowing that almost everyone you pass on the streets is also thinking about how to stretch their monthly pay just a bit further, and there isn’t a single in-group that “owns the town,” just because they grew up there. Besides the built in support for the adults, there are instant friends for the kids. Living in a military town is like taking a trip back in time to when parents could let their kids play outside all day, calling them home when the street lights come on.
Besides the social benefits of living in a military town there are definite financial and convenience benefits. Everything you need as a family is within reach, and usually cheap. The commissary and exchange can make the difference between being able to squirrel away a bit of cash for vacation each month or having to worry whether your budget will actually come out in the black. The schools know how to deal with transfer students and make the transition relatively easy. The doctors all know what Tricare is, and accept it without a fight. In many ways it is like living in a protective bubble, specifically designed for military families.
However, there are many downsides to moving to a military town. Living in a large city offers a bit of anonymity, allowing you and your children to float through the city without judgement. The smaller community of military towns does not allow this. The same community that offers so much support when needed can also be a hotbed of gossip. It is a daily certainty that you will come across someone you know, and have to impress everyday, which can be exhausting. Also, cities offer greater choice. Whether it is which type of coffee shop you want to go to, or taking in a bit of culture, you can be sure that your choices will be limited living in a military town. The lack of choice can be a bit frustrating as an adult, but it is downright detrimental to children. Just as my mother found herself driving two hours to see a military doctor when I was a kid, you will probably find yourself driving two hours to expose your child to various types of street festivals and cultural activities that do not revolve around military holidays. Of course, these are issues associated with any small community, not just military towns.
Ultimately, whether you prefer living in a military town or in a city, it is not always going to be your choice. The commitment service members make is shared by their entire family, and that means going where we are asked to go and making the most out of a variety of situations. Knowing the pros and cons of living in a military town is not about longing to be somewhere else. It is a rational way to make sure you take advantage of all of the benefits you can while anticipating weak points in your living situation. By preemptively addressing the cons of living in a military town you can start to build a stable, enjoyable life for you and your family.