Ten Things That Happen When You Go Through the Gate on a Military Base

I could write numerous posts about the life of a Navy wife. In many ways, my life is surprisingly normal. Sure, my husband works for the government under a strict contract and occasionally won’t come home for the night, a few weeks, or a few months (although thanks to a ship in dry docks, we have yet to deal with the last two), but it’s still just his job. It does affect our lives more than an “ordinary” job would, but there are other jobs that affect one’s family in similar ways.

But there are some things about being married to a Sailor that make my life unusual. And one of those things is my ability to drive onto and patronize the businesses on a military base. My dependent ID with the oh-so-flattering (not at all flattering) photo grants me access through the gate, patronage to the one base “Exchange” store and grocery store (the Commissary), as well as the gym. That ID card is the source of my “special access” to places that most civilians can’t go but also the source of a lot of my awkward encounters.

If you’ve ever gone through the security at the entrance to a military base, you know what I’m talking about. Every military spouse has their share of awkward or hilarious stories of things that happen to them during that five seconds when you hand a gate guard your ID card and he waves you through. For my fellow military spouses who need a good laugh and for those who want a glimpse into how un-cool we military spouses actually are, here are ten things that can/will happen when you go through the gate at a military base.

1. You will hand a guard the wrong card.

This is a military spouse rite of passage. We have all acquired our dependent ID and foolishly thought we could just put it in a pocket of our wallet next to our driver’s license and debit cards. It will still be easy to spot when we need it, right? In the words of Donald Trump, the forty-fifth president of the United States: WRONG. Your military ID is a sneaky little bugger. Once placed in your wallet, it quickly learns to masquerade as other cards, switch places with them, or even force other cards to masquerade as your dependent ID card. In short, your military ID is very rude and likes to hide from you. You will be at the gate, reach confidently into your wallet, pull out a card, hand it to the gate guard, and he will look at you like you have lost your mind. Because you have just handed them a credit card. Or your driver’s license. And these things, while very useful for your day-to-day life, do not grant you access to the base you are trying to drive onto. And you will have to quickly take back the card, promise the guard you do actually have base access as you rummage frantically through your purse or wallet trying to find your sneaky, sneaky military ID.

2. Your card will want to go for a trip… to the backseat.

Maybe you’ve handed a guard the wrong card too many times. Not to be foiled by your sneaky and rude dependent ID, you take a moment at that red light right before the gate to use your eyeballs to locate your ID. But then, as you’re pulling into line at the gate and confidently pulling that pesky ID out of your purse, it will suddenly learn to fly! And land gracefully in the hardest-to-reach place of your backseat. And if you have kids, do not expect them to help you retrieve this card. They will suddenly remember that carseat and seatbelt safety is very, very important and refuse to unbuckle for three seconds to help mommy get her ID card so the nice men at the gate don’t get impatient with her. Inevitably, kids in the backseat or not, you will have to stop and put your car in park so you can unbuckle and reach unceremoniously into the backseat and fish around for your impish ID card. Bonus points if you’re in the middle of a very long line during the peak of morning or afternoon traffic.

3. Your card will see a shiny object! On the ground.

As you’ve probably deduced by now, your military ID is an escape artist. It holds great disdain for being forced to always stay in one spot, and will take any opportunity it has to explore the world at large. It will often see its greatest opportunity during the hand-off between you and the gate guard. Your ID will trick either you or the guard will think the other has a firm grasp on it, and the person handing it over will let go prematurely. The ID card will screech with victory as it takes a nosedive to explore all of the shiny objects on the ground. And while your ID goes exploring the great outdoors, you get the pleasure of watching the poor gate guard try to bend down while wearing a bullet proof vest and possibly also carrying at least one firearm to retrieve the mischievous card. Awkward. 

Bonus points if your card goes flying out of your hand into the gate guard’s face, teetering on the edge of assault of a man who is just trying to do his job and not freeze or sweat to death or get mauled by savage dependent IDs in the process.

4. Your card will decide to stay home.

This is probably the worst offense that one’s ID can commit. If your active duty spouse is with you, depending on the people at the gate, this may not always seem like big problem. Chances are, if the active duty spouse is in the car, the trip onto base is simply a quick drop off and the ID-less dependent will be headed back off base as soon as her husband is deposited at the drop-off point. When reassured that no rogue ID-less spouse will be wandering the base alone, guards will typically wave you through based on the active duty ID provided.

What’s worse is when you are alone, and have to be escorted on or sent back home to retrieve said missing ID. The guards will think you’re insane, you have to be redirected back off base, and everybody is watching, and they know. Someone forgot their ID. Talk. about. awkward.

5. You will get pulled over for a random vehicle inspection at the worst possible moment.

You know the moment. You’re late to pickup your husband after he’s had the longest, worst day at work ever, you’re in sweats, possibly bra-less, and if you have kids they have been swapped out for imps and trolls. The gate guards see someone in this exact situation and then conveniently remember they haven’t inspected a car in a hot minute. They direct you to the side of the road, and you get the privilege of opening up every orifice of your vehicle so the MAs can inspect every detail of your car while you stand outside, cold, pajama-clad, with whining kids in tow for the entire base community (who have chosen this exact moment to come through the gate) to see. And if you’re late to pick up your poor husband, your phone will be ringing incessantly, as you wonder if you’re allowed to breath a certain way much less answer your phone.

6. The gate guard will add an extra flourish to your brief encounter.

Maybe he’ll give a little bow, tip his cover, make a comment about the state of your hair (or children), take an extra ten seconds to just stare at your ID, or bend down to stare into your car for an uncomfortable amount of time. Or maybe, he will be in the middle of telling an epic tale about his recent weekend escapades to his fellow gate guards and check your ID without missing a beat in his story. Gate guards are the most unusual wild card you will encounter on base. They’re like a weirdly assembled box of chocolates: you never truly know what you are going to get. Some are solemn and straight-faced, while others are just… awkward. Every military spouse has a story that begins with, “You will not believe what a gate guard did the other day!”

7. The gate guard will want to have a deep, philosophical talk.

Every base has a particularly… chatty gate guard. When you approach the gate, you can see it in his eyes: he has been contemplating the depths of some deep philosophical question, and he will absolutely want your input. The most dangerous thing you can say to this gate guard is, “Hello, how are you today?” Because, inevitably, they will start philosophizing about the shallowness of that greeting, and how they’re not fine, but how can they tell you that? a la Katy Perry. And you just sit there, wondering if maybe you should recommend they try counseling or if you should just listen and nod and agree because either way you’re late to pick up your husband again and you really promised to be on time and this is not helping.

8. The person in front you of you will want to have a deep, philosophical talk with the gate guard.

Just as there is always one gate guard at every base that likes to have a meaningful conversation during your five second encounter, there is always at least one spouse, active duty, or contractor who also likes long meaningful conversations at the gate. The guard will say, “Hello, how are you?” and the driver will begin a long diatribe on how exactly their day has gone, probably paired with philosophical thoughts on the question “how are you?”

You really have to watch out for this person and the guard in the previous paragraph, especially if you’re running late. You see, extra chatty people can smell the tension that comes off someone who is late and they feed off of this tension. They smell someone who is late and that is their signal to crank up the chattiness. So if you are running late, make sure to breath, relax, and try very hard to think about anything other than being late.

9. Traffic will be totally clear when you’re ahead of schedule, and heavily backed up when you’re running late.

It’s Murphy’s Law of Military Bases: the later you are, the heavier gate traffic will be. Much like chatty gate guards and drivers, the traffic gods feed off the tension from anyone who is running late to pick up their spouse from work on base. If they notice someone who is late, they will immediately ramp up the traffic on their route and gleefully feed off the anxiety the traffic causes. Don’t let them win! Think about how happy you are to be picking up your husband or that the day is finally over instead of how late you are.

10. You will pull up to the gate, hand the guard your military ID card, he will look it over or scan it, hand it back, and you will drive on to your destination.

When the stars align, the sun is smiling down on the world, the gate guards are in a professional mood, there’s average traffic going through the gate, you left your house on time, you finally purchased that phone case that keeps your military ID separate from your other cards, and the kids are on their best behavior, getting through the gate will go smoothly without any awkwardness, drama, or random vehicle inspections. So, basically once in a blue moon or on Leap Day. Take not these moments for granted, lest your ID card go rogue or traffic be backed up to kingdom come the next time you go through the gate!

I hope you enjoyed this humorous take on that often-awkward or eventful five seconds out of a military spouse’s day. Please remember that this post is intended to be humorous and hyperbolic. Situations may or may not be described precisely how they occur. 😉 This post was written by a civilian and does not reflect the views of the US Navy or the Department of Defense. 

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