By Danbert Nobacon Published June 4, 2013

What is a ‘military installation’?

We assume so many things about our every day life, mostly I think because there just isn’t time to decipher everything and still function properly, that sometimes it takes being asked a simple question to stop you in your tracks and force you to become more informed. I was recently asked “What IS a military installation?” and as I fumbled for a response, I realized my best answer was “I don’t know…”

I have a sense of what a military installation is – because I’ve lived, shopped, swam, done cross fit, used the post office, volunteered and received medical treatment there, and my active duty spouse works and trains there. So, a military installation is obviously an office complex, a shopping mall, a medical center, a rec center and a spa… Right? Realizing my answer was inadequate, and basically defined any city, I went in search of the answer only to find that there isn’t one. 

I asked my spouse where I could fine the definition of ‘military installation’ and he responded “It’s just known.” He meant that the term is complex and situational, so it’s meaning its inferred based on the associated variables. He recommended some U.S. Army-published books that discuss the substance of the term, but I felt that was the response I’d already created in my earlier fumbling on the topic.

If you were to run a search engine query for define ‘military installation’ you would find a half dozen or so textbook answers. Such as:

  • “A base, camp, post, station, yard, center, or other activity under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of a Military Department or, in the case of an activity in a foreign country, under the operational control of the Secretary of a Military Department or the Secretary of Defense.” Source:
  • “Any facility servicing military forces.” Source:
  • “A stationary source, or group of stationary sources, located on one or more contiguous or adjacent properties that are owned, operated, supervised, or controlled by one or more Department of Defense (DOD) components which include the military services, the defense agencies, and the National Guard.” Source: “Major Source Determinations for Military Installations under the Air Toxics, New Source Review, and Title V Operating Permit Programs of the Clean Air Act” August 2, 1996.

Surprisingly, no official US military website pops up in such a simple search engine query. I next went to the DOD Dictionary of Military Terms, and couldn’t find ‘military installation’, or even just ‘installation’, however it did define ‘base support installation’ as “A Department of Defense Service or agency installation within the United States and its possessions and territories tasked to serve as a base for military forces engaged in either homeland defense or civil support operations.” Examples of the vast range of military installations include terms we have all heard in the news or from friends, such as an arsenal, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, or a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Iraq, an army post like Fort Hood, the Naval Station Norfolk, the Marine Corps Base Quantico, or the news-worthy closures of some US military installations overseas in recent years.

After diving into a plethora of books, magazines and websites for the Army, Navy and Air Force, and being inundated by information, I decided that a military installation is simply put ‘a plot of land owned or leased by the military,’ where people affiliated with the military system work and/or live. It’s a site whose amenities can vary from a simple barracks/office complex for a handful of soldiers to a full-blown, self-sustaining city atmosphere where families live, children go to school, and civilian and military personnel work, complete with amenities. The army generally calls its installations ‘posts’, and the Marines, Navy and Air Force generally call their installations ‘bases’.

As a military spouse, the “so what?” of it all is “Do I get to live on or near the installation with my spouse”? The answer will vary based on the orders your active duty spouse receives. Since ‘installation’ applies whether it is a Major Installation with permanently stationed forces, command and control, barracks, training grounds, and family support facilities, a Minor Installation like flying operations based out of civilian airports, or a minimally manned or unmanned Support Site tasked with something like missile tracking or radar, your personal situation can vary significantly from another’s. The best thing to do is find the appropriate office at your current installation and ask questions.


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