Living on a military base: Is it worth it?

Petty Officer Andrew Gordon may look like a party animal, but his maximum excitement capacity is an hour of bowling. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter.

U.S. military troops living on a base enjoy the close proximity of necessities like healthcare, groceries and of course, where they work. But what, if anything, do they trade in order to enjoy this prime real estate?

Petty Officer Second Class Andrew Gordon lives on Fort Meade, Md., with his wife and two young children. They’ve got a nice place, about four miles from work. It sounds ideal, but it’s expensive, and the arrangement cuts down on the entertainment budget.

The family’s rented 3-bedroom townhouse came with a small backyard and is big enough, without being spacious. Most of Gordon’s Basic Allowance for Living (BAH) is sunk into rent, meaning his base pay must go towards the rest of the bills. His wife, Shanika, is at home raising the two children.

“We’re doing ok,” Gordon said. “The bottom line for us was she needed to be there for our kids. We’re making financial sacrifices so that our children are raised the way we want.”

The Gordon family relaxes after a base softball game. Photo by Ensign Michelle Tucker.

They could live outside the base and pay much less in rent, but that would mean a longer commute. But there’s another reason this is the place for the Gordon family.

“The sense of community is great,” Gordon said. “It’s nice living here because you trust everyone. Step outside the gates and you really don’t know who people are.”

As with many single-income families, the Gordon family has to think about what they spend money on. While there’s no expensive vacations on the horizon, the family makes time to dine out. Here’s where another downside comes into play. The areas immediately surrounding many bases are just plain garbage.

The food pickings are slim on Fort Meade. There’s a few more places to eat, but it’s almost all greasy and not-so-healthy. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter.

“There’s nothing for us on the main street outside the base,” said Gordon. “It’s almost all fast food it seems like. If there was a family-run diner out there they would clean up!”

A drive of about 10 miles takes them to their favorite local restaurant, so it’s not a total disaster. It’s a trip they only make a couple of times a month. Other than that, it’s cookouts with friends at the townhouse.

“We like the setup right now,” Gordon said. “I’d understand this wouldn’t be the ideal location for a single person looking to mix it up in town. For us, our kids’ safety is the most important, so we’re happy.”

While living on Fort Meade might not be for everyone, it’s working for the Gordon family. It’s all about priorities, and what kind of lifestyle the service member wants to live.

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