Freedom with Restrictions

We were free to come and go as we pleased on base—as long as we obeyed all the rules!
What I loved about military base life was that even though there were a lot of rules and regulations to deal with, and restrictions, there was still a great deal of freedom.

Or maybe it was just that we lived in a different time?

In the 1960s, when we lived in Mannheim, I was six years old, but went everywhere it seems on my own or with a friend. We walked to school, went to the library, and to the movies on Saturdays.

If only I had a BB gun!

Once in a while my mother would confront me about me being somewhere we not allowed to be . . . something about a “little bird” telling her where I had been. I had no idea at the time that most of the mothers in the housing area had their own spy network to keep tabs on where all the kids were.

Once my brother and I got bicycles for Christmas, we explored practically the entire base, except where fences and gates denied us access.

I loved to ride my bicycle and go to the library, but sometimes it was a lot of fun just to see where the roads went and how large the base actually was. You could never really get lost; eventually the road you were on led to a fence or guard house and you could get directions or just head back the way you had come.

Restricted areas

There were several restricted areas which we worked hard to get access to. We found there was a firing range not too far by bike from the housing area, but it was guarded.

I’m not sure who came up with the idea—me or my older brother—but we went through an opened box of C-Rations and removed all the small packages of cigarettes—Lucky Strikes and Camels as I recall. Armed with several packs of cigarettes, we approached the guard at the firing range one rainy Saturday and to our surprise the guard took the cigarettes and let us into the range.

We searched around for brass shell casings and lead slugs that were reasonably intact and spent about an hour there before we became bored and decided to find something else to do.

For a couple of days we wondered if the guard would report us, but he did not, and apparently my mother’s spy network was confined to the housing area so we did not get into trouble with her.

We did keep back at least one pack of cigarettes for ourselves to try out later on, which we did, but the cigarettes were unfiltered and after a fit of coughing I decided smoking was not for me.

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  1. Restrictions became tighter and tighter as time went by. Except for the officer/enlisted segregation, a kid could go anywhere over 50 years ago. We could even go into hangers and play in the air planes—if you knew the kids of the crew chiefs. It was not that difficult to break the segregation rules either.

    This is an area that seemed to become more relaxed as time went by. Smaller bases especially, the kids were not separated by ranked housing areas or, they were so close, it was easy to intermix.

    Perhaps I may have been naive but, I never saw a brat show any kind of rank snobbery. Officer’s kids would be the ones to tell us how much pressure was put on them regarding how the handle the enlisted kids. When it came time to date, tensions were noticed.

    This was especially the case when I dated dad’s commander’s daughter. At very large bases, we were more segregated by proximity so, naturally, we could not get together that easily. At one in particular, I met brats I knew at other bases that I never socialized with because of the stronger separation between the ranks. This large base is the only place I question if there was social pressures separating us as well.

    In looking back, the older I got, the less I co-mingled with officer kids. This could be due to my own comfort zone. It may also be due to normal social patterns of intellectual elite congregations that also exist in the civilian world. Don’t take this as a value judgement of any kind.

    A NASCAR fan would have no interest at all in the opera. Many of us care for neither. When I qualified for elite things like free membership to a country club, elected to the Press Club, etc., I was much more comfortable racing my sports car and let things that are status goals for many.

    This is why I have difficulty in determining if the social life of brats appearing more segregated as we matured was due to military pressures or were just the natural course of society as a whole. Heck, who’s to say my perception was even accurate.

    Perhaps poling our parents would provide a more accurate picture. It’s too late to ask mine. I recaall very strong conversations between enlisted wives about officer’s wives bullying them when I was younger.

    Heard nothing at all about this in the second decade of military life.Did things get better or did they learn to shut up?


  2. Growing up in the 70s and 80s in Germany (Karlsruhe and Mannheim), being able to come and go on post was something I never gave a second thought to (and neither did my parents, apparently).  I rode my bike to my friend’s house, as well as to school, every day.  Somehow, kids weren’t afraid of bad things happening to them, and parents knew that no matter where they were on post, their kids had several “eyes on.” 

    While we were fully aware of rank, even as kids, it never really interfered with who we decided to hang out with (or date, for that matter!).  My best friend (son of a SSGT at the time) dated a girl (daughter of a Major) and it never caused issues.  Sure, the active duty parents always had to be mindful of seperation of rank, but the kids just didn’t seem to care.  I guess when there are only so many kids to hang out with to begin with, the rank and position of their parents took on less significance.

  3. I don’t recall the social separation of enlisted families and officers kids. There may have been some due to proximity of housing but if you made friends at school there were no boundaries. At Knox (×2),Stuttgart, Munich, Leavenworth, and Dix, the freedom of movement was wonderful. Biling here and there and everywhere was just the norm. Going to the theater with friends or alone brought no concern for the kids or parents. These were the ’60’s and though WWII was less than 20 years past, or the Bay of Pigs was looming, we held no fear and enjoyed the freedom given us. Oh how I wish my grandchildren could enjoy such times!

  4. I was an AF brat 1953-1972, mostly in the Northeast. In 1961 dad was assigned to Sembach Air Base, airfield and TM -76 Mace Base. He disappeared for about three weeks in Oct of 62. I don’t remember Officer/Enlisted kid issues, housing was a big loop Enlisted housing next to officer.

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