I often forget that I live on a military installation. From an outsiders view, I'm sure that's hard to believe since I spend my days surrounded by uniformed service members, vehicles and aircrafts you'd only see in a war movie, and bleak buildings (the picture above is my office, not a jail) with names such as "Combat Battalion etc."
I guess I've just gotten so used to it that it feels no different than my civilian life did. Even though this has become my new normal, I do hope that this is the last time Ben and I live on base. There are a ton of benefits to this lifestyle, but for me there's arguably even more annoyances.
Below is my own personal list of the pros, cons, and just flat out weird things that come with living on base in Okinawa. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for this experience and can honestly say that living on base isn't bad at all, however, now that I've done it once I am ready to move back in the civilian world!
1. Colors: Every morning at 0800 and every evening when the sun goes down, colors are played over a loud speaker for the entire base to hear. During the morning, the National Anthem is played followed by the Japanese National Anthem and at sunset the "Retreat" song (don't quote me on that) is used. At the completion of both the morning and evening colors, a bugle will with sound the "carry on" call which means you can continue on your way. During the music, if you are outside you must stop what you are doing, remove your hat, face the direction of the music and respectfully listen until the ceremony is over. If you are driving, you are required to pull over, put your flashers on and also wait until you hear the "carry on" call. I always get irrationally nervous when colors are about to play because I am usually in my car and it's really difficult to hear them while driving. I often only notice colors has begun because the people around me who are either walking or driving have suddenly stopped and are motionless (yes, it's a weird sight.) Also, since evening colors occur when the sun sets the time they play is constantly changing. You never know exactly when they will be unless you're literally watching the sunset... The base is kind enough to sound a warning call five minutes before they play, but I rarely ever hear that either. Although I think the tradition behind colors is awesome, I will not miss this inconvenient part of living/working/being on base 24/7.
2. AFN Radio: Since we are in Japan, the only American radio station available is the Armed Forces Network Radio also known as AFN Radio. This applies to any American, both on and off base, in Oki. While I used to enjoy listening to nonstop music on my commutes stateside, I'm now at the mercy of AFN which plays anything from obscure 80's music to commercials for the military golf course, updates about the latest training exercise in the Philippines, sea condition information, a reminder about the dress code, and in some cases, an entire 30 minute long speech by the President or Commandant. It's a crapshoot what you might be listening to at any given moment. I'm really quite used to it now, honestly part of me has really grown to enjoy AFN Radio, however it will be nice to have the option of choosing my radio station again once we're stateside.
3. Dress Code: Ben and I live on a Marine base and unfortunately for us the USMC has the strictest dress code of all of the military branches. What happens if you break this dress code? You can actually be asked to leave or get chewed out by a higher ranking Marine if you show up to an on base facility not dress appropriately. Some of the clothing items that are banned include: flip flops, ripped clothing, exposed midriffs, any type of work out clothes (yes, even leggings), hats, pajamas, too tight or too loose clothing and more. Fun fact: Marines are the only service members who are also banned from wearing their cammies off base! I have mixed emotions about the dress code, on one hand I really miss wearing athleisure when I'm running errands but on the other hand it is really nice to see people give somewhat of a concern about their appearance. Call me stuck up, but it appalls me when people find it appropriate to wear pajamas or ill fitting clothing out in public. Have some self respect, people!
4. Guarded Gates: Once again, another pro and con. To get onto the bases where I work and live I am required to stop at a gate and show my military ID to an armed guard. This security precaution does give my husband and I the peace of mind that we are living in a secure location which is especially nice since we are overseas. However, waiting in a long line to be let onto base every morning while going to work can be quite annoying because it lengthens my commute. Another issue that arises due to these guarded gates occurs when people want to bring guests without military IDs onto base. If you have family/friends/whoever visiting you and they don't have a military ID it is required that you pick up a guest pass for them which is both time consuming to do and annoying. Also, on Friday and Saturday nights past rougly 2000, anyone leaving base is required to stop and show their military IDs, drivers license, and liberty card. My husband has a very lax liberty due to his rank, but if it was stricter we would be required to return to base as early at midnight! Another con about these gates (as if there aren't enough) is that if there is a typhoon the gates are closed and we aren't allowed to leave. Last typhoon I desperately wanted to go grab food during the eye of the storm but was out of luck! If you're a fan of security, guarded gates are a definite perk to on base life. However, if you're into convenience this added security measure can be much more of a nuisance than a benefit.
5. Tax Free Shopping: A very great and much appreciated benefit to on base life is that we have access to tax free shopping. Our PX (our Target like store), Commissary (food store), Shopettes (like a 7/11 with alcohol), on base furniture stores, uniform stores, fast food, and every other type of retail service are exempt from taxes. It's hard to notice the benefit when making small purchases, but in reality these savings seriously add up! If I lived off base and farther away from these stores I'm not sure I would make the effort to frequent them so I'm thankful that for now they're easily within my reach.
6. Proximity to Coworkers: This affects Ben more than me, but many of the residents in our apartment building also happen to be Ben's coworkers. Imagine living mere doors away from your coworkers... It's a bit odd, isn't it? While we obviously like these people a lot, it sometimes makes the work/life balance somewhat difficult. When you leave work you want to leave all of work behind, including your coworkers, but that's impossible to do in our current living arrangement. Also, we are pretty much guaranteed to run into someone we know every single time we leave our apartment so there's a lot of pressure to always be presentable. Even if it's a Sunday morning Ben will refuse to leave the house if he has the slightest hint of stubble because he doesn't want to be caught out of regulations by someone he knows (it's a bad look.) Some separation from the military will be very welcomed in our next home assuming we don't live on another military base.
7. Drinking Bans: The wounds are fresh when it comes to drinking bans considering we just got off of one. When a service member commits a major crime off base (in this instance, a Marine who had been drinking ran a red light and hit and killed an Okinawan driver) the consequences affect all Americans who reside in Okinawa. For this particular situation, service members were banned from drinking both on and off base, dependents were highly encouraged not to drink, and alcohol sales were banned at any on base facility. This meant that we had a dry Thanksgiving this year. I'm not a huge drinker, but it would have been nice to have a glass of wine at dinner! We've actually been banned from drinking twice now since we've been in Okinawa. In addition to the incident I just mentioned, the second incident occurred the month after Ben and I moved to Okinawa. A US contractor raped and murdered an Okinawan woman and in this situation we were banned from drinking for well over a month (I can't remember the exact length.) Needless to say, our freedom to drink is always hanging on the line and since many service members are 18-21 year olds who aren't mature enough to make smart decisions it's just a matter of time before the next ban.
8. Restricted Liberty: Another consequence implemented when one person out of 50,000+ royally messes up is restricted liberty. This means that any US citizen, both on and off base, can only leave their home to go to work or run errands. When this happened a few weeks ago, we could not go out in town at all. It sounds like house arrest because it is house arrest. Since I've gotten to Okinawa this has happened twice (for both incidents mentioned above.) It's an unbelievably frustrating feeling knowing that your liberties can be taken away at any time on any day for the actions of one person.
9. No Rent or Utilities: Easily the biggest perk of living on base is that when it comes to our apartment, we do not pay any rent nor utilities. Granted, if we lived out in town in the states we would get BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) which would cover the cost of our rent. However, it would then be our responsibility to pay the monthly rent and utilities (like a normal person) and then pray they don't go over our predetermined allowance or we'd incur the difference. Basically, living on base is a no brainer financially. You do not have to worry about anything. Nada. It's made life SO EASY.
10. Cleanliness: Marines are very proud people. When it comes to their reputation, they pride themselves on the quality of their uniforms (sloppy rolled sleeves are an embarrassment) and their grueling PFT standards (the highest of any military branch.) This perfection doesn't stop with their personal appearances though, the Marine Corps is also very strict when it comes to keeping our base as presentable as possible. With important visitors like the Commandant of the Marine Corps or Caroline Kennedy visiting at any time, it's important that the base always looks as kempt as possible. I love living in a well maintained community that cares, especially after visiting our neighboring base (I won't name the branch) which was COVERED in little plastic baggies filled with dog poop. It was revolting and apparently a huge, never ending problem with that base... *Yikes.* Needless to say, I'm very happy with the standards that the Marine Corps has placed on those who live and use the base. I'd be hard pressed to find anyone who didn't want to live in a clean community!
In conclusion, I've still got an entire 15 months left on this island (AFN Radio was really bizarre this morning which inspired me to write this) so I have to deal with these issues/enjoy the perks for quite some time longer. However, I'm glad these thoughts and opinions are now permanently saved in this digital record because eventually Camp Foster, and even military life, will be just a distant memory. Blogging, though, offers me the opportunity in the future to go back and relieve this exact point in time. I was rereading my first few posts the other day and it was CRAZY to see how much younger and naïve I was even just a year ago! I'm forever grateful that I started this little blog, even if it is just my grand mom who reads it... (Hi Grandma!) My goal for 2018 is to blog once a week, not sure how realistic that is but we will see.
We're Kara and Ben, a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together halfway around the world!