Editors note: This article was written in March 2013 by DeAntha Wright-Thornburg and is used by permission.

No Vacancy

We all know the military has a rule or regulation or instruction manual, for just about everything. Anyone who has had any association with the military will recall the rules that guided their lives and careers. What to, where to, and how to accomplish even the simplest task from making the infamous hospital bed corners, to setting up a GP Median, or the more primitive task of digging a latrine.

Fast forward to 2013, we have come a long way; many of the same rules, regulations and instruction manuals still govern out lives even today. But today we have transcended our lives into retirement from setting up a GP Median, to setting up a RV Trailer or Motor Coach costing sometimes more than $100,000.

Our soldiers have been rewarded with several programs and amenities. We now have medical and retirement facilities, commissary and PX privileges, travel programs and other activities to explore. One of the military’s programs is sadly being abused by a select few. That being our MWR Outdoor Recreation programs or FAM Campgrounds located on many of our military bases. The unfortunate thing these FAM Camps or rather Family Campgrounds, lack of a uniform code between the Army, Navy and the Air Force. Remember those rules and regulations and don’t forget that instruction manuals we mentioned. The wording that stands out in all three regulations between all branches of service directed at our FAM Camps is ‘NO Homesteaders’. That means any military person active or retired cannot establish a residency at our Outdoor Recreational facilities or Family Campground. The intended use of the MWR Fam Camps is for ‘short term’ recreational use for both active duty and retired veterans. The statement of ‘short term’ does not mean establishing your family in a 5th wheel trailer in a military campground.  The term ‘short term’ is not intended to mean 6 months or more of residency.

Due to the lack of proper management and ‘or’ lack of enforcement of the regulations, our recreational areas have been turned into trailer parks at the military’s expense. Many of the amenities offered at the Fam Camps include free electric, water and sewage, Wi-Fi and cable.  Mail Service, restroom and shower facilities, plus coin operated Laundry Facility. Thus, the only expense is lot rent and laundry. Lot rent will vary between 200 to 400 dollars a month laundry will cost 75 cents to a $1 per load. Why move if the utilities, plus amenities are free? The military campgrounds are being used as temporary housing, ‘homesteaders’ for those who want to profit from the military housing allowance. And above all this the housing allowance is a non-taxable income. In one documented incident at Kessler Air Force Base, one resident has occupied the same site for the past 7 years. The results a rusted Winnebago siting at the park for an indefinite time, some say as long as seven years.

Because of budget cuts managers of the outdoor rec centers, want to maintain a 100% capacity year around. This element of poor management denies the active duty families, and RV travelers access to installation amenities. The active duty soldiers or ‘homesteaders’ blend in with the RV travelers. This is not the extreme but has become a norm for the use of our Outdoor Recreation Family Campground. Fellow retirees or ‘snowbirds’ travelers, as we are called; find it difficult to find a vacant spot to park their recreational vehicles even for an overnight stay. Forget the definition of the wording short term period mentioned earlier. The military has found this rather lucrative project has become all too tempting they have chosen to ‘look the other way’ and ignore their own regulations. Some of these Family Campgrounds are located near some of the larger cities, offering an assortment of area events and activities in the area for active and retired persons. An example of that being Lackland Joint Forces at San Antonio. As the results of mis-management two homeless gentlemen reside. The lack of enforcement of the most basic regulations goes as high as the base commanders. Until everyone steps onboard with the enforcement of military regulations and guidelines already established; “homesteaders” will continue to occupy some of the most pristine recreational areas. One sure way to find out how a FAM Campground is operated; is to establish a short term stay yourself. By observation you will see who and how many individuals are residing in each unit. Signs of being a long term resident is refrigerators or freezers sitting outside the units, or maybe even a commercial hot water heater. The building of permanent fencing sheds or patios with wooden steps attached, or including excessive decorations, or full size patio grills. These are just a few of the examples of a long term or ‘homesteader’.

No Vacancy

In February of 2013 at Lake Walker, Camp Shelby Joint Training Base, MS all 37 sites were occupied by ‘homesteaders’. An inquiry was made to persons at the outdoor rec. They stated they didn’t know when there would be an available camp site. This action denies all military person active or retired access to a recreational amenity. At Kessler Air Force Base, Biloxi, only one site was available for a small trailer. There was no mention when a site would open for a full size RV. A definite date of availability was not given.

What can anyone individual do to make a difference? Know the facts, if you’re denied occupancy, acquire the name of the manager and director of the Outdoor Recreational facility. It would be helpful to gather as much information as possible. An example would be to make a reservation or make repeated phone calls to check availability. Keep track of the number of calls, email, and their results.

Make note of the situation, and the regulations then write positive letters or email. Review your observations, and request action.  Note the regulations and reference the number and section. The only way we can make changes is to forward information about the regulations to the managers, directors, and post commanders. The more email, phone calls and inquiries they have, the sooner they will make the changes required to bring all facilities in order with the regulations the military has already set in place.