US Military Overseas: Memories and Opinions from Both Sides

Since the end of WWII (and maybe even before?) the US has based thousands of its troops and their families overseas, primarily in Germany, Japan, and South Korea, but also in Italy, Greece, the Philippines, Panama, the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, and elsewhere. Though some of these bases aren’t going anywhere soon, the number has dropped hugely in the past 10-20 years, and in some places has closed up shop for good (the Philippines, Panama and Iceland, for example).

I’m curious to hear memories and opinions on this little overseas subset of American culture - both from servicemembers and their families who were stationed at foreign bases, and from host country locals, especially those who lived near a base.

I’ve written a little before about my couple years as a kid living on and around bases in Germany and Italy, and will only say for the moment that they constituted some of the best years of my life, and - matters of practicality or geopolitics aside - it breaks my heart a little to consider the bases that have closed or that that whole life is endangered. But, I understand others may see it differently.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it can be a great experience for kids and service members. On the other hand, it seems like the military does their damnedest to make every base Little America. It’s nice to have a Burger King to eat at occasionally and a bowling alley, but it seems like some people rarely get off base and see what’s around. What’s the point of being in Europe if 99% of your time is spent on base and off-base housing? You may as well be in Texas.

True - the lengths they went to to create a Little America were amazing: 110 electrical outlets, American TV, ATMs spitting out dollars, football fields behind the high school… On the one hand, it can be a big missed opportunity for cultural immersion and the like. On the other hand, I can understand why they set it up that way, moving soldiers in and out every couple of years. (I.e., it’s not realistic for most of them to buy new appliances, send their kids to a local school, etc.) It reminds me of what I’d read about colonial towns in the 19th century: little English towns in the Himalayas that looked straight out of the Midlands, for example.

And as much as base towns are in but not really of their host countries, they also aren’t Texas: maybe like a Looking Glass Texas, from a slightly older era, and of course airlifted out of Texas and dropped a thousand miles away. They definitely have their own unique thing; at least, I’ve never experienced anything like them in civilian life.

P.S. - Erdosain: are you an American, or are you writing from the perspective of someone whose country hosts American military?

I agree that it makes sense to standardize the living experience. And, probably, fewer host country interactions equals fewer headaches for the higher-ups. The country is out there for people to explore, it’s just easier not to sometimes. Inertia and all that.

Sadly for the family members, I think that the European bases are very much on their last legs. I was there post-Cold War so I only heard tales of the glory days when there were bases in France and tens of thousands of students in Germany. My high school’s football team had an epically long season: four games. We played the two other high schools big enough to field a team.

(So to answer your question, yes, I am an American who went to school on an Army base.)

During the Cold War era I was a kid that lived for 4 years on a base in Germany. I loved it. We had our “Little America” where things were familiar (actually since our base had been a German Luftwaffe base it didn’t feel all that American), but we left the base often to enjoy the local area. My parents loved to travel so I got to see a lot of Europe at a young age, and we skied a lot in Austria (it’s fun being able to say I learned to ski in the Austrian alps - people assume I grew up with money, not that my father was in the Air Force.)

We were required to take German in school, and did exchange programs with local schools. Our base was very small so we didn’t have all the amenities on base so I feel like I didn’t miss out on learning about Germany because I was sheltered.

Me too! And your description makes me wonder if we didn’t grow up on one of the same bases. I lived mostly in Germany, two different bases (and a third if you count where I went to high school) for most of my life. My father was also Air Force and the base where I spent most of my formative years (and high school) had been a Nazi base, and was very small with mostly a German “feel” to it, it was not at all like bases stateside or America at all. It has been “given back” to the Germans and from what I hear is now a luxury resort where I couldn’t afford to stay. :wink:

I loved the travel and the the Alps and I have a very love/hate relationship. I love them, they hate me and tried to kill me a time or two. :wink:

Bad Aibling? I think I read somewhere it was now a resort or something. Beautiful area for it.

No freaking way! Yes! And the 45 minute bus ride to Munich American High School. I lived in building 310 (I think) until we moved off base. Now when were you there and how many times did you stumble on base from the Kirchenbaumer? :slight_smile:

PS That name is not right…the Gasthaus just off base…I will get it in just a minute…

PPS: If you don’t know already there is also a Facebookgroup for us :wink:!/group.php?gid=50886363288

Wow! It is either a very small world or the Dope is truly vast. Late 70’s, we left before I made it to high school, but my sister made the trip to Munich every day. I guess I now have a reason to join Facebook.

Touring around Wiki I found out to my surprise that Bad Aibling lasted longer than Bad Tolz their base seemed huge next to ours (in my memory).

I am surprised too. Bad Tolz was where we went to go to the “big base” LOL. I was there in the 80’s; 83-88 or something like that. :wink: 6th grade through junior year of high school. The Facebook group was the reason I joined Facebook at all.

In 1985 or so we were still finding boxes of Nazi memorabilia and personal items in the “Pillar Building” (I have no idea what the building was but I am sure you know which I mean) and in the attic of the teen club that was the officers club during WWII. And of course all the buildings and a lot of the people were German, so it was very much the same whether you were on base or off as far as the experience. As far as I know that base was never “Americanized” we never had Burger King or a large BX (although we did in Munich) and the activities etc. were all local and not American-centric (with the exception of the base sports teams). I think that at least with that particular base, there was not as much lost culturally as there is for kids who live on other military bases and never venture off.

Of course it might make a difference that Bad Aibling Station was a DOD base and not a military base per se…things might have been a lot different if it had been an Air Force Base or an Army Base. I also lived in Berlin as a child, and I remember friends who never left the gates and had no clue about the culture and history that was right at their feet.

Were they still busing kids in army green US military buses in your day? I met a guy who was in Spain as a kid in the eighties and he said they always put American kids on unmarked tour buses to keep them from being targets. I always wondered if that was a timing thing (things were friendlier in the 70’s) or a location thing (the Germans didn’t mind us being around so much).

It wasn’t until later that we realized how creepy it was that they gave the kids they bused to Munich dog tags with their ID’s on them. The naiveté of children is amazing.

Ha! No, by the time I got to high school we had luxury buses, but the green army bus was still used as the after hours bus (late bus from school and weekends). And we didn’t have dog tags, but we (MAHS) did have direct threats from the terrorist groups (the Red Army Faction I believe) which prompted posting troops with heavy-duty artillery at the doors of the high school, and book bag searches etc. along with the “normal” security precautions and because of the nature of the base, before it was declassified and we were all supposed to believe that the “Golf balls” were just decorations, we (dependents) weren’t allowed to travel to communist-controlled countries because of the “kidnap risk”. There were a few organized protests at the gate of Bad Aibling Station, but I think overall relations were pretty friendly. It’s all quite scary as an adult, but not something I even thought about when I was there.