Home Bases

Living and working on base is a mixed bag. You have 24/7 gate guards, nonexistent crime, convenient shopping and a sense of orderliness, uniformity and shared mission. Living on base means you have a lot of neighbors who become ready-made friends. On “joint bases” the mission comes first—all branches support each other—the military is one big unified team. Mostly…

We recently moved into Navy housing. My husband is retired Army and works for a non-DoD federal agency. He works on a Marine Corps base. This causes endless confusion, an example of which is: 

When we first moved, we lived in a hotel for what seemed like an eternity. I could hardly wait to move into our new house. But–the household goods were still weeks away from being delivered. I had heard we could borrow loaner furniture to tide us over. I called the Navy housing POC, who said needed to call my husband’s command. I said we didn’t really have a “command” being that he was a GS civilian. Well, where does he work? On the Marine base. The woman said, “well, you need to phone them.” 

So, I did.

A very polite Marine told me, “You live in Navy housing; ask them.” I explained that the Navy had referred me to the Marines, and he said, that was not surprising, but since we weren’t Marines, nor living in Marine housing there was nothing he could do, but to give me a phone number…to the Navy. Sighing, I dialed the number.

When the Navy folks found out we were not DoD connected, they were even more unsure who to refer us to for loaner furniture—although they had had no problem leasing us a home for a year.

Needless to say, we never got loaner furniture, and stayed in the hotel for several more weeks. 

When I was program manager on an Air Force base, I briefed a notoriously cranky Colonel about my education program. I proudly mentioned that we supported all base assets and that we were saving the Federal Government a lot of money in the process by allowing personnel to train at our facility via satellite, rather than having them go TDY. We had the satellite and classrooms available and now, instead of being idle, our building was a bustling and much-appreciated learning hub. 

Instead of being pleased, the Colonel complained that we should be charging other commands and branches—why should we support everyone for free? 

Stung, I said the first thing that came into my head—which wasn’t the smartest thing a piddly GS-7 should do, “I hope if you’re ever on the battlefield radioing in for help, the pilot flying overhead in the airplane doesn’t look down and say, ‘Nope. He’s not one of ours’ and leave you there.”

His mouth dropped, and my boss, sitting next to him, nearly fainted. So much for one happy military family. 

As long as I held that job, I never got to brief anyone again. 

Still– there is camaraderie working and living on an installation. Recently, I read something cool. Several military wives whose husbands are deployed will move in together to share the load of childcare, cooking and companionship. This intrigues me. If I had known such a thing was possible, I might have done something similar back in the day. That might’ve been a good option for us Cav wives. With our husbands gone so often, we did get lonely. Trying to keep it all together was sometimes tough. I cannot imagine having been a Cav wife with no support or friends, or who didn’t feel welcome or comfortable enough to join in spouse activities.

The Cav worked hard, played hard, and the spouses rallied together to support the mission, keep our families stable and ourselves sane. Cav life wasn’t for everyone though, and the divorce rate was pretty high. Anecdotally, I have heard that it was 80%. So those of us who persisted– that 20%– managed to hold it together pretty well.

If I had been totally isolated, or not part of the group, it would’ve been a very lonely life. 

Every once in a while, we wives heard rumors that some of the service members were keeping their wives prisoners; either intentionally or not. For example, a trooper would go to the field, leaving his wife stuck on the economy with no car or money to buy food, should she run short. I remember a couple of times making clandestine runs out to a young wife’s house to bring her diapers or canned goods to make ends meet. 

Conversely, I heard a story about a very young servicemember who adored his new wife and wanted to ensure that she had enough to eat while he was deployed for an extended time, so he bought her favorite frozen dinners in bulk. Before he deployed, he stocked the freezer with enough frozen meals for her to eat once or twice a day– but he didn’t buy anything else. The poor woman had no variety in meal choices and thus began to hate what she previously loved. 

I hope the spouses in her command learned about her plight and were her able to bring her different meals or take her shopping. Hopefully once her husband got back, both of them learned how to create a variety of nutritious foods for her future deployment survival!

One of the downsides of base life is that everyone knows your business – – unless you keep that part of your life very hidden. 

My generation of military spouses, was a pretty tightlipped bunch. If there was a problem in our family, we would never say anything, because we wouldn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. Money problems? Don’t say a word. Drinking problems? Keep it to yourself.

Kids need exceptional family member program support? Don’t ask for it; don’t use it. It will ruin your sponsor’s chances of any assignment outside of the US and maybe even promotion opportunities. 

We had to keep all the balls in the air all the time, smiling as we did, hoping that no one would notice the scars, or the tears, or the twitches caused by tensed muscles in our very clenched body. Smile and juggle, don’t show weakness. Unless it’s “appropriate” weakness like shedding brave tears as our husbands deployed or happy ones when they returned. Tears in between those two events needed to be done privately.

Some of my current spouse friends assure me that this is still the expectation on some installations.

No wonder so many of my fellow wives developed anxiety or obsessive tendencies. No wonder they felt responsible for their sponsors’ success. Some spouses, it seems, more than others. Once, a fellow wife asked if  I would sleep with my husband’s commander if it would ensure my husband would get promoted. Startled, I replied no. “Well, I would,” she said, “If it guaranteed his promotion.” 

Living on base means that sometimes, you can’t get onto it—or leave it. I have been stuck in my car while the base goes into lockdown. Sometimes it’s real world, sometimes it’s an exercise—and sometimes it’s both at the same time. 

A couple of weeks ago I was in our Navy quarters when I heard the loudspeaker from the military buildings right outside the fence repeating disquieting words like “shelter in place.” I peeked out the window and didn’t see anything amiss. But–I didn’t hear the comforting words “exercise, exercise, exercise” in front of the repeated “shelter in place.”

Because the buildings were literally a couple of football fields away from the house, I decided to take the loudspeaker’s advice. I drew the blinds, I locked the doors, and I went about my business, keeping my eye on one of the spouses’ social media platforms which seemed to have all sorts of information that I didn’t. Through it, I learned what the threat was, where the threat was, and finally when the threat was over. 

When my husband came home from his job on the Marine Corps base, I asked him if he was aware of the shelter in place incident. He admitted that the only reason he knew anything about it at all was that his coworker’s wife had had to shelter in place at the Navy base and she’d called him. So much for the military keeping its people informed! And kudos to the informal mil spouse network.

Until recently, I had not lived on a military installation since 2001, but worked, shopped and recreated on one. 

Now in my new community, we feel safe in our uniform houses. We use MWR facilities and programs for recreation. We base-hop to shop at different commissaries and exchanges. Each commissary is a little different—and we know which carries our favorite brands. We make our grocery lists accordingly. 

My husband once remarked, “There’s not one commissary that stands out like oh my gosh—this one is the best, but if I have to choose one, I guess I like going to the Marine Corps Commissary the best. Fewer people and Marines are just more efficient.”

In our housing area, we greet our neighbors, pet their dogs and learn their routines. Children walk to the nearby school, herds of sailors run in packs through the housing area or play basketball in the park, enterprising spouses bake cakes, make burritos and lumpia, selling them from their home businesses. Time wafts across the fence in the form of whistles, bells and music.

–Wait, there’s the National Anthem playing over the loudspeaker. Got to stop!

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Circe Olson Woessner


For those of us who lived in the duplexes of the RGH housing area in Seoul Korea, there was a thriving nighttime community of kids who roamed the streets after curfew, but for me, having a yard that was immaculately kept by the gardener was a struggle most people will never know!

Our gardener Mr. Lee kept our yard so immaculate that the one time I managed to sneak out the window to roam around with everybody, I couldn’t help but leave footprints in the flower bed below my window. Jumping out was easy, getting back in was the problem. I had to step in the flower bed in order to lift myself back up into the window. I was certain I had gotten away with it and was looking forward to doing it again as I slipped under the covers and went to sleep.

The next morning, Mr. Lee had a conversation with my father before he left for work and explained that he had found size 11 sneaker prints in HIS flower bed, which indicated that I had surreptitiously left the house in the night through the window!

Needless to say, when my father got home from work that evening I had to deal with him. He made it clear under no circumstances was I going to be climbing out of HIS window in the middle of the night, and if you remember my father, you know that was not an idle threat.

So for the rest of my time in Korea, I was unable to participate in the after-hours RGH nightlife. While I resented Mr Lee telling my father what I was up to at the time, in retrospect he probably helped keep me out of trouble, although that one night that I did get out was glorious! 

What was hilarious that night was that our group passed several other groups of kids who were also roaming around too! 

Years later I found out from my younger sister Rhonda that she routinely slipped out of the house and roamed around with her friends at night. If I remember correctly, she didn’t have a flower bed under one of her windows since she lived on the corner of the house.

At one point, my father was offered quarters on the main post at Yongson and asked if we wanted to move, but I was adamant about staying in RGH. Even though we were removed from all of the conveniences and facilities on Yongson, RGH allowed kids to do things that you could never get away with on main post because we didn’t have MPs and there was very little traffic other than our fathers coming and going to work. I’m so glad I got to experience Korea living on RGH.

What great memories!

Ramon “Ray” Rhodes

PCOS Air Force Wife

       PCOS orders!  Permanent Change of Station.  Dad had his new orders, and we were moving again!  Oh joy…  The military wife’s view of it was, “Three moves equals a fire.”  Not totally true, but not that far off either.

      The moving van drove up to our house, forever after known as our ‘old’ house.  There were big boxes to put our loose stuff in, like clothing and linen closet contents, smaller ones for heavier but breakable items like china, and padding and wheeled dollies to remove our furniture. The men in the moving company’s uniforms set to work.  A few hours later, they were gone, and our house was vacant and strange looking.

      Dad grinned at Mother and me, saying, “Let’s get this show on the road!”  Mother’s smile was a bit strained and tired as we left in our heavily laden car.  We were off! I knew we were going someplace new, but was too young to think ahead, to know I’d never see any of my friends again.  

     It took us two days to drive to our new assignment.  We finally arrived in Bellevue, Nebraska, where we found a motel for the night.  The next morning, someone came to pick Dad up, and take him to sign in on our new base.  Mother’s job was to find us someplace to live.  This was a bit of a problem.  She had two days to find us our new house before the movers were scheduled to come with our belongings. That, and Offutt, Headquarters Strategic Air Command, always had a large number of people moving into and out of the area.  Which meant there was a need for more homes than were available.  

     Mother had faced that situation before, during WWII.  Assigned to a training base in Louisiana, there had been hundreds of men and their new wives looking for a temporary place to live in a town which didn’t have that many local families.  There were no rented by the week hotel accommodations, apartments or houses available, just rented rooms, and not nearly enough of those.  She’d wailed her fears over the phone to her father back home.  His reply was classic.  “Doris, you don’t need several hundred places to rent, you and Paul only need one.  You can find one.”  And she had.

     With that mindset, she, with me trailing along behind, began looking for a new home.  Knowing better than to drive around looking for For Sale signs in this situation, she began to make the rounds of the real estate offices.  

    We were standing in line behind a lady who had two toddlers bouncing around her.  When the lady’s turn came, she said she needed to sell her house quickly.  Without even asking how many bedrooms it had,  or how much it would cost, Mother called a reply of “I’ll take it!” before anyone else could beat her to the punch.  The two ladies, and us three kids, were herded to a desk off to one side, where the office’s supervisor managed the negotiations and paperwork.  And, just like that, we had a house to move into, even though we had no idea where it was or what it looked like since we didn’t know anything about our new hometown.


 Dad bought an old car for a second car just to go to work in. He spray painted it to match the Buick Mother drove.  It used almost as much oil as it did gas.  He didn’t dare to change the oil for fear something ‘valuable’ might fall out, and the car would quit on him.  He just kept feeding it more oil.

We lived in that house for a year before moving into a second house Mother liked better, one with my school right outside our back yard’s gate, and a window that could hold an air conditioner for those summer days over 100°F!  Ah!  Luxury!

     Four years after, Dad received another set of orders taking  him to his next assignment,  We were PCOS again!  That assignment would take us overseas!

Janet Wertz

This is what my family looked like about 2 yrs after the story.  This house is the 2nd one.