05. January 2005 · Comments Off on Confined to Quarters · Categories: General, Military

The Air Force powers that be made occasional institutional stabs at calling those quarters designated for the single enlisted types �dorms� or �quarters�, much as they tried referring to the mess hall as a �dining facility�. They were usually roundly defeated by hundreds of years of traditional nomenclature; while official documentation made a wistful show of calling it a dormitory, everyone else�especially those living in it— went right on calling it a �barracks�, even if it did rather look more like a college dormitory building, and less like the open-bay with fifty bunks and lockers arrayed with precision in two open rows the length of the place, which is what most civilians think of as a barracks.

Such barracks do still exist, of course; in basic training, for one, and on deployments in the field, for another, but in the main junior enlisted military personnel living on-base doss down in a wide variety of buildings in varying degrees of newness and repair, at bases and posts in practically every time zone. Generally, the older the building, the greater the odds that the room will be a small one, and not have to be shared with a roommate (or several), but the latrine/shower/washing area will be a central shared facility. There may even be a common lounge or day-room, sometimes even a kitchen attached. Newer barracks offer larger rooms with a semi-private bathroom, but the additional onus of having to share the place with a roommate. In any case, the walls are painted in some institutionally invisible no-color, and furnished in one of three basic styles prevalent in the military world: GSA Tacky, El Cheapo Danish Moderne or Budget Motel Functional� or an unappealing combination of all three.

Whether the barracks is old or new, privacy and quiet are almost nonexistent and aesthetic considerations minimal at best. Growing up in a large family, attending a rackety boarding school, or residence in a commune may be the best preparation for barracks life. (For certain life situations, the barracks life may be a material improvement.) It is my experience that only young troops, blessed with physical stamina and low expectations really enjoy it. With maturity comes a longing for peace, privacy and not to have to put on a robe and slippers and schlep down an icy corridor at 2 AM to take a pee� let alone having a teen-aged airman, all bright eyed and bushy-tailed at 6 AM pop into the women�s latrine while you are attempting to apply foundation, blusher and mascara and chirp, �Gee, Sgt Hayes, you�re the same age as my mother!�.

No, after a certain age, you only want to share a bathroom with teenagers to whom you are related by blood. Also, after a certain age, you really, really want to keep a degree of separation between the people you work with, and the people who are privy to your off-duty life. Such a degree is just not attainable when living in a barracks. A degree of quiet is not attainable either, because many of the other residents appear to have been raised by wolves, have purchased expensive stereo systems courtesy of the BX Deferred Payment Plan, and are charmingly clueless about the offense given when cranking up their latest CD rattles pictures on the walls� of a room three doors away. At 2 AM. That the building was constructed by the lowest bidder anyway, and the dividing walls appear to be made out of sheets of Kleenex and a thin skin of plaster only intensify the amusement when a guy who works for you takes to noisily and energetically schtupping the women who live on either side of your room on alternate evenings. And the two women cannot stand each other� oh, yeah, you don�t need to watch a soap opera when resident in a barracks, just being there provides all sports of entertainment.

Eventually it all begins to pall; you get sick and tired of other peoples� messy love lives, drinking bouts and jam sessions all conducted at top decibel. You also get sick and tired of the interest that other people are taking in your life� especially the tedious official interest taken by your command, the barracks management and assorted high-ranking nosey-parkers in the state of your devotion to housekeeping in what is after all supposed to be your home. On a regular basis, any assortment of these interested parties can demand entrance to your room, and inspect the state of the refrigerator seals, the windowsills, whether the bed is properly made and what you have left on the top of the dresser. Such interior inspections are not performed in the married housing areas, which house personnel of the same rank and which are also maintained by the military. Of course, even a government landlord has a vested interest in making sure that all quarters are not allowed to degenerate into slum hood. And some few military personnel— single and married alike— do give the impression of having been raised by wolves as far as housekeeping abilities go. But still, the different treatment rankles.

Most military people tend towards the fastidious side of the scale and eventually the single ones living in the barracks tire of repeatedly proving it to every Master Sgt. Tom, Major Dick and Colonel Harry who wants to satisfy themselves about how the troops are doing by tromping heavily through your not-so private bed-sitter. So after a couple of years of barracks life, the older troops decamp� either marrying or renting a place of their own, were one can at least leave an unwashed coffee cup on the end-table without exciting unfavorable comment from someone who doesn�t live there also. They do spend the rest of their lives, though, being rather exacting about lining up shoes, and hanging shirts just so.

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