On Post VS. Off Post

After my husband and I got engaged, the discussion shifted from when we were going to get married to where we were going to live after we got married. Thanks to his commitment to the US Army, he couldn’t move to Kentucky (unless he were to somehow get stationed at Fort Campbell but because of the “82nd black hole” that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon) which only left the option of me moving down there. I didn’t mind of course, I had intended to live down here before we met anyway, so then it became a discussion of on post or off post.

This is a question I’ve had a lot of people who are moving to Bragg ask as well and I wish I had a better answer for them. Really what it all comes down to is preference. There are pros and cons of each and the only way to determine which is for you (without trying them both out) is to take a look at what both have to offer and see what works best for you and your family. In this blog, I’m going to go over the good and the bad and hopefully answer any questions someone might have. I’ll try and keep my points general so that they can be applied to any duty station.

Living On Post
When you live on post, housing works almost exactly like an apartment complex. Generally, the places you can live are broken up into neighborhoods. In those neighborhoods there might be single family homes and there might be duplexes. There might also be more apartment style housing. There is one housing building that acts like a main office for the neighborhood. All complains and questions can be directed there. Generally, there’s clubhouse like area there with a pool, game room and gym that’s accessible by residents of the neighborhood only.

The benefits to living on post: all your rent and basic utilities are paid for. Well, that’s putting it simply. The enlisted service member in the family gets Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and when you live on post, all of that goes towards rent and utilities (not including cable). It goes into his/her paycheck and comes right back out automatically. You never see the money, but you live for free. For the most part. If your electric bill exceeds a certain amount (usually determined by taking an average of how much electric the entire street is using) you have to pay whatever is over that amount. But adversely, if you are under that amount you get money credited back to you. Since living here we’ve gotten one heating bill (not sure where the others went) and we were $15 dollars under the average, so we got that money back.

Another bonus to living on post is that you’re generally in pretty close proximity to a Commissary or PX. Now, there’s nothing stating you have to shop at this places if you’re in the military (and living on or off post), but they do have their perks. Either way, being close to anywhere you buy groceries is nice, whether it’s a Commissary or not. Not only are the Commissary and PX usually pretty close, but just about anything else you’d visit on post is as well. My neighborhood is within five miles of the Comissary and PX, the library and a gym. We’re super close to my husband’s company and my recruiter’s office.

Being so close to my husband’s work is why he likes living on post, but he’s used to being in the barracks where he could literally walk to work every day. A lot of guys I know don’t like being so close to work and that’s why they prefer living off post. Probably one of the biggest draws to living off post is having the very definite distinction between “home” and “work”.

Living Off Post
Now, when you live off post you can live anywhere you want so long as your service member doesn’t mind whatever drive they have in the morning back on post for work. I know people who literally live right outside the gates and I know people who live 30 or more minutes away. Off post living gives you more options as to where you can live. You can do an apartment, a duplex, a house or even just rent a room inside a larger house. This last option is ideal for those service members who are single and have the option of not living in the barracks. I know guys who go in a rent a house together just like friends would do in college.

The way your BAH works when you live off post is that the allotted amount (which changes depending on your rank and how many dependents you have) is deposited into the service members account every time they get paid. You are responsible for using that money to pay for rent and utilities. If your bills are less than your BAH, you pocket that extra money. This is the number one reason people live off post. When you’re on, you see none of it (unless your utilities are less than the average but even then you never see much). If you do you research, you can bank a hundred dollars (or more) a month.

Living off post gives you the ability to live like a normal civilian family. You’re not forced to live by the rules of post (whatever those rules might be) and you’re able to distance your service members work life from your home life more easily. It also affords you the opportunity to make civilian friends. That may or may not be important to you, but I find having those kinds of friends helps keep the world in check a little. You’re better able to escape the military troubles when you’re with someone who has no idea what those troubles even are.

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I’ve never lived off post while being part of this military family, I did live in Fayetteville before getting married (even if it wasn’t for that long). I liked it well enough and wouldn’t mind doing it again, but when we looked at our options it just made sense for us to do on post housing at the time. Daniel’s currently recovering from ankle surgery that has essentially forced him to stop jumping, which means that if i wants to stay in when his contract is up he’s going to have to pick a new job and only the Army knows where that job will send us.

While breaking any contract we signed because he got new orders wouldn’t have been an issue, it was just a headache we’d rather avoid. Though, to get on post housing he had to have at least a year left in his contract (which he had a year and a month). He doesn’t have to stay here for a year, but he couldn’t have gotten housing if he were getting out of the Army in the next eleven months.

So, all-in-all, no one can really tell you which is better in the “on post VS. off post” debate. Everyone has their own opinion of the lifestyle and neither is wrong. It really does all come down to personal preference. It also all depends on which duty station you’re moving onto. To determine which is best for you, I suggest reaching out to people who already live in the area and see what they have to say. Join all the Facebook groups you can that are geared towards that specific duty station and ask away. Those already living there will have insight that no one else can give you that might help sway your decision.

Above all else though, never be afraid to ask any question, no matter how stupid it sounds to you. Chances are you’re not the first to ask it and if you are it’s only because someone else hasn’t gotten up the gall to ask it themselves.

What are your thoughts in the on post VS. off post discussion?

EDIT;; It was brought to my attention by a fellow Army wife that there is at least one restriction to living off post. Well, there is here at Bragg. Apparently, there are stone black listed locations where you can’t live for whatever reason. I suppose you could probably find a way around that if you really wanted to, but the way I look at it is it’s black listed for a reason. Stay away.

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7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Days of Living on Post

It’s normal to learn new things when you move into a new environment. Things like the fastest way to work, which areas to avoid because they’re just that sketchy or the gas stations that generally have the cheapest prices for gas. But when you move into a new environment that just so happens to be a military installation, I feel like you learn a lot of new things that you wouldn’t normally need to know.

In the seven days I’ve been on Fort Bragg, I’ve learned far more than seven things, but for the sake of your eyes and my fingers, I’ve narrowed it down to the top ones.

1) Hurry Up & Wait Applies To Everyone, Not Just Service Members.
When it comes to marrying into the military, it’s important to get things done quickly. The sooner you get a marriage certificate, the sooner you and your husband start collecting Basic Allowance for Housing (also known as BAH). The sooner you get enrolled in Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (or DEERS) the sooner you are eligible for Tricare and can get your military ID which is essential for getting on post and making purchases at the Commissary or PX (or BX). But despite the rush to get all these things taken care of, you are still at the mercy and the speed of the federal government and if you’ve ever had to deal with them you know they take their sweet time. Be prepared to wait for some things that seem like they should come pretty quickly.

2) Making Friends Is Essential.
Unless your spouse has been married while enlisted (or commissioned) previously, chances are they don’t have the answers to a lot of the questions you’ll have. They know things from a totally different aspect than you do. This is where making friends with other military wives/husbands comes in handy. They are more than willing to answer your questions to the best of their ability and if they don’t know the answer they can tell you where to find it. They get that this is something totally new for you, they were once in your shoes after all, and are generally pretty willing to lend a helping hand wherever they can.

3) Military Police (Security Forces) Aren’t Any More Or Less Unnerving As Civilian Police.
This may not come as a surprise to some of you, but MP’s (or SF) really aren’t much different than civilian police. They’re almost like county cops (if you have those where you live). Essentially, they have a jurisdiction that doesn’t go outside of a certain area. For MP’s that certain area is whatever post they’re assigned to. Now there are times where they can do things off post, but for the most part you won’t ever be in those situations (hopefully at least). But when you see one in your rear view mirror while you’re driving to the Commissary, or pass one on a two lane road, you’ll still check your speedometer to make sure you’re not speeding and your hands will slide to 10 and 2. No one likes getting pulled over. Period.

4) Calling Your Spouse’s Friends By Their Last Names Is Normal.
In the military, people don’t have first names. First names are reserved for spouses and children. Your husband or wife’s best friend will be solely known by their last name. You make never know their actual first name, but you’ll never question it. The weird part is you calling your spouse by their first name but their buddies calling them by their last name. It took me a little bit to get used to hearing someone, especially his friend’s spouses, refer to him as “Watkins” instead of “Daniel”.

5) There Are No Stupid Questions, Only Stupid Answers.
This is something I’ve said for years, but it was something I often reminded myself the first few days I was on post. If I didn’t know something but Daniel wasn’t around to ask nor could I present the question to any of the other military spouses, I would just ask. At first I felt stupid and often made the excuse that I was new to this whole thing, but then I realized it didn’t matter if I’d been in the game for years. If I didn’t know, I didn’t know and the only way to learn something was to question it. Don’t feel bad asking anyone for help. If they feel inconvenienced by you for asking, that’s on them.

6) Always Have Dollar Bills On Hand If You Shop At The Commissary.
I learned this day one. I had left a pretty bad snow storm in Kentucky when I moved to North Carolina and it followed me here. Whereas back home was getting inches of snow, it was predicted that Bragg would get one to two inches of ice. So because there was the chance we wouldn’t be able to leave the next day, my husband and I took a quick trip to the Commissary (which was supposed to be closed for President’s Day but had been opened because of the pending storm). The madhouse we dealt with is a story for another day, but it was in that trip that I learned those who work there as baggers volunteer their time and are paid solely in tips. Not only do they bag your groceries for you, but they push the little carts they load them onto out to your car and pack your trunk/backseat for you. It’s a great thing if you’ve got children to tend to but it’s a little pointless if it’s just you. However, tipping them makes sense. But if you’re like me and never carry cash, it can make for an awkward situation. You don’t have to let them take your groceries out of course. You do have the option of loading your own car so by no means do you need to feel obligated to have them do it for you, but keeping dollars on hand is still a good idea. Just in case.

7) Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff.
Another one that probably doesn’t need to be said, but it’s also another one that I’ve had to tell myself a number of times. Moving is stressful. And unless you’ve already lived on your own before getting married and moving in with your spouse, you’re likely going to be trying to furnish your house with the bigger essentials within the first few days to a week. I only had a few pieces of furniture that were mine before I moved, but not enough to make renting a moving van worth it and because Daniel had been in the barracks for three years, he had very little to his name as well. Housing comes with a fridge, range and dishwasher but those are the only appliances you get. It took us a week to get a washer and dryer (utilize the yard sale facebook groups for your post/base. They are a godsend) and I lucked out in finding a microwave for free. But not having much means you’ll be spending a lot in the beginning, but just remember that once you have those things, you won’t need to spend that money again. Don’t argue over it, just let it go. Life will calm down and things will get settled and it’s then that you can take a step back and enjoy the fact that you’re now married and living with the man or woman you love.

Like I said earlier, these are just the things I’ve learned that I feel are important. If you’ve gone through the trials of moving on post, what things did you notice in the first few weeks that you feel are important to keep in mind? I wanna know!