The availability of on-base housing and all the wonderful perks of living within the confines of the base gates is making the military-civilian divide worse.
That, at least, is what a recent story from the LA Times times suggests. That paper is running a mostly excellent series examining the military-civilian divide, its symptoms, contributing problems and, hopefully, solutions. Some of the stories hit too close to home -- I won't lie to you, I cried. Some of the stories have that breathless window-into-our-strange-lives tone that, ironically, perfectly illustrates the divide they are highlighting. But a major publication taking the time and attention to highlight for the public the struggles of the military is always a good thing in my book -- and I am grateful.
Still, this latest installment examining life behind the gates left me wondering if they hit the nail on the head or missed the mark completely.
The story takes a look at whether the "sheltered, subsidized lifestyle on this heavily guarded mega-base" of Camp Pendleton, California and other bases like it contribute to the divide problem.
My first reaction to this story is that choosing to highlight Camp Pendleton as an example of on-base problems is simply not fair. Precious few bases boast the amenities and perks of the Pendleton base paradise. Its own coastline? Come on.
And while the story did use my own lovely - ahem - home of Fort Campbell, Kentucky as another example of a place with a ridiculously large military population centered around a post, they didn't actually come here. Had they bothered to check out our crusty family gym (which you have to pay to use) or the ancient, spider infested housing that some families call home, they may not have been so impressed. ("Just found two brown recluse spiders in my house after a deep clean. Is there a spray I can use for those spiders? Does maintenance cover it? I'm so terrified," a woman posted to a local spouse page recently. "Girl get used to it, they are all over," was the first reply. Sweet Moses.)
The story did mention that most people do not live on base -- at least two-thirds of military families live in off-base housing according to Defense Department statistics. But it didn't say that on-base privatized housing companies are having so much trouble filling spots that many bases have opened their gates to non-military occupants. Some bases are allowing non-military affiliated civilians to come in as renters. Others have limited it to retirees, gold star families and civilian government workers. Still more housing companies are offering renting specials out of desperation. Here at Fort Campbell, for example, if you choose to move on base (and agree to sign a one-year lease that can only be broken in the case of military orders) you can get your first month (and bonus spiders!) free.
In short: living on base doesn't create the huge divide a place like Pendleton might make it seem.
The problem they did identify in the story that is real is something that there is no reasonable way to get away from: the base concept itself. Military bases are often isolated, they point out. They are epicenters for large populations of military families, meaning that military families are not spread throughout civilian communities across the nation where our burdens can be shared by non-military families.
All of those things are true. But the problem here is that there is no good solution. What can be done? More bases in busier civilian areas? That seems illogical in an era of downsizing. Not stationing military personnel at bases and instead requiring them to travel for training? I think not. Or maybe the World War II model is where it's at -- the men go off to train and to war, and the families stay where they were to start with. That seems more harmful, too.
Do you think on-base living is a big contributor to the military-civilian divide? Or is it just the base concept in general? And what is the solution? Tell me in the comments.
Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Corps.