Being a military dependent is comprised of many things, lifestyle being one of them. One of the most asked questions I receive is “what is it like living on a military base?” Personally, the following characteristics create an aura of nostalgia and delineate my experience. With hope, this article can allow military teens to relate and reminisce.
To start, all military bases are gated and protected by armed guards. Think of it as a heavily armed, gated community. No one in or out without inspection of the gate guards. Permitting your children to roam the streets would understandably appall most American parents, but the security military bases gift families eliminate this common parental worry. I recall playing barefoot as a child with my friends. We played until the maraschino sun slept and the streetlights awoke. Streetlights meant curfew. Now, I didn't have to play outside, I got to play outside. I got to play beneath the maple trees as the cicadas spoke to me. Cars didn't dare exceed 20 miles per hour, and I didn't dare break curfew and watch the street lights work the night shift. I grew up in an environment crafted for families to build theirs.
The Military ID
At the age of ten, military children are given their first military identification and privilege card. On my tenth birthday, having my own 2.63” x 3.88” plastic card topped all of the presents I was gifted. Little did I know from that day on, my ID would be fundamental to life on base. The prerogative of getting onto the post, military discounts, boarding planes first, and access to the commissary and the Exchange, all somehow depended on a plastic card displaying my image and fourth-grade toothless grin.
“Do You Offer a Military Discount?”
To elaborate on one of my previous points, the shameless question “do you offer a military discount?” is one I always ask at any store register. Whether it be 10% off, 50% off, or meals on the house, my military ID saves my wallet. I've become a broken record of “military discount?” on shopping sprees, but the perks sure are sweet.
The 5 O’Clock Retreat
The thick blare of the five o'clock Retreat is one all military base residents are all too familiar with. The playing of the trumpets and lowering of the flag signal the end of the work day. But this is no free-for-all. Courtesies are expected of both civilians and uniformed personnel. Uniformed personnel outside during retreat must face the flag at attention and render the hand salute as the flag is lowered. Civilians follow a similar notion by placing their right hand over their hearts. Anyone operating a vehicle is expected to stop and uniformed personnel must get out, stand, and salute. Sometimes I think of a military base as a busy bee hive. Five o’clock Retreat pauses all activity and creates a moment of unity on the base before everyone resumes their contrasting lives. I have to admit there were times as a kid when I'd scramble inside just at 4:59, barely making it in time to avoid interruption of my play. Do you blame me though?
National Anthem at the Movie Theater
A recent realization I had was that non-military base movie theaters don't play the national anthem before showing a movie. Who would've thought!? But seriously, I had no idea. It wasn't until I went to see the live-action Cinderella movie off-base, only then was it made clear to me. Similar to any other theater experience, I entered on red velvet carpeting as the screen illuminated the room. Each upholstered cushioned seat sponged up the smell of buttered popcorn. A baby wailed somewhere behind me- an ordinary experience. As the light's dimmed and phones were shoved into purses, I stood proudly. It was muscle memory at this point. Hand over heart prepared to pledge my allegiance. The anthem never came.
Artillery & Gunfire
The booming of cannons and shots of gunfire is not startling to us. It's quite mundane. Just part of the routine. The thunder of the artillery that rattles my window at night is a murmur of "goodnight". My mother calls it "the sound of freedom" if violence ever means freedom. You know those babies you see at concerts or on the Fourth of July? Too young to be left at home but too old to be excluded. They're always wearing the chunky earmuffs 10 times too big for them that drag on their premature necks. I was not one of those babies. I was raised to tolerate loud noises the same way we are taught to tolerate our siblings. Sure, they can be annoying, but they are a part of what makes you yourself.