My next stop on my military tour of duty is at what life is like for a soldier living on a military post. It is always referred to as a post, by the way — not a fort or a base. It’s actually a little difficult to get around, especially if you don’t have a car. Before I got one, I was hitching rides with the supply sergeant, who also lived in the barracks, taking a cab, or walking.
It was particularly tough on the weekends if wanted to use the mess hall. Because attendance was always lower on the weekend, they would alternate mess halls, and sometimes they weren’t that easy to get to! It was worse after we got to North Fort because they often didn’t bother to tell us which ones were even open. One year, over a holiday, they reused the same prepared food four days in a row. It was really obvious because the chicken got drier and drier with each serving!
For the single soldiers, they just had a community center, several libraries, gyms, and the Class 6 (place to buy booze). The libraries got their hours cut any time the budget needed reduction — it always felt like no one cared about the single soldiers because we were always the first ones affected. I remember my first exposure to banned books was at the main library. They had a spiral bound book on the counter listing all the banned books for the year so we could pick one.
I thought the rec center was relatively nice — especially compared to some of the other places available to us. Though when I used it in my story “A Soldier’s Magic,” my critique group commented that it sounded more like a hospital. Of course, they didn’t see what the hospital looked like …
The original hospital, which was there when I first came, consisted of the old World War II temporary buildings. All one story, and connected together with hallways. Sort of like those futuristic space pods you see in some science fiction shows. It was a maze trying to figure out where everything was because it was all separate buildings, and yet, it wasn’t. Eventually, the post had to build a new hospital facility because they couldn’t make the old one meet code any more.
Other facilities included the PX (Post exchange), the commissary, and clothing sales. The PX is like a department store. The commissary is the grocery store. Clothing sales is where we bought uniforms. I don’t know if this is still true, but even though that was a new facility (it opened the same year I arrived) it was not made for women. You could not try on the class A uniform and make sure it fit properly before you bought it. Everything was done like the men’s section at the department store. Uniforms were folded up and stacked; class A’s were hung on a rack like suits. Shoes were the only thing I could try on.
I found this video, which was shot in 2009 — 14 years after I left North Fort. It still looks the same as when I was there (though I’ve been told they’ve opened newer, more modern barracks since then).
What do you think about military life from what you’re seeing here?