Grounded: making the most of dorm life

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- So you've just put on Airman First Class and are looking to gain some independence - or maybe you're a straight-from-tech-school Airman Basic who just needs more space. Either way, you're living in the dorms and you want out.

If you're permanent party, there's no rule written anywhere (unless your commander wrote it specifically for you) that says you have to stay in the dorms. But before you pack your bags, here's the bad news: there IS a rule about when you can receive Basic Allowance for Housing. That means if you choose to "ghost," or live off base unofficially, it comes out of your pocket. This is perhaps not the best idea, financially speaking. Then again, if your car is paid for and all you have for bills is insurance and cell phone, then maybe your liberation is at hand - apartments in the local area can be pretty inexpensive.

For the rest of us, dorm life is one aspect of our existence that we have to accept, each of us in our own way. Some of you may have more socially acceptable and less entertaining means of relieving stress than I do, and that's okay. Either way, here are some of the finer points of being a "dorm rat" that make it downright enjoyable sometimes:

1. Food: Complain all you want about how you don't like the dining facility, but it's the cheapest meal in town. I don't know about you, but my meal deduction last month was about $230. Here comes some math. For those of you who ave a seizure when you look at numbers, get your friends to help you.

There are roughly 30 days in a month, give or take. The dining facility offers four meals daily (midnight chow is very useful on Friday night, trust me) and they don't care if you have seconds. You might even be able to go for thirds; I never make it that far. Eight meals a day times 30 days is 240. Yes? Good, I can still multiply. That's less than a dollar per meal. Instant noodles, hallowed food of college students everywhere, aren't even that cheap! And in case you're the three square meal type, that's still 90 meals, bringing the average value per meal to $2.50. Even buying groceries and fixing all of your food by hand is more expensive and much more hassle.

2. Convenience: You're five minutes from everywhere on base - maybe ten if you're on foot like I am. That's PT in the morning, work, the previously mentioned dining facility, the clinic, the bowling alley, the library, the theater and the BX all right here. Where else can you wake up 15 minutes before work, scream, "Oh snap!" and still make it in on time? You try that off base and you'll get stuck in the gate traffic, I promise you. You don't even need an alarm clock half the time, as the students marching outside your window will make sure you don't oversleep.

3. Environment: We're our own little city here. A BX and a commissary handle 90 percent of your shopping needs. A bowling alley, library, recreational center, two gyms, a softball field, a football field and two swimming pools can satisfy just about any craving you have for ways to pass time. And if those aren't enough, you can always clean your room. No? Well, at least take out that trash.

4. Amenities: How much was your electric bill last month? Oh wait; you didn't get one, did you? Our student brethren do not live quite so well as the permanent party, but they will soon enough at their first duty station. For the price of the BAH that you don't receive every month ($597 for E-1 through E-4, in case you wondered), you get a fairly spacious room all to yourself, a full service kitchen, a tub you can actually take a bath in and a day room fit for four -- all utilities included. Ask your supervisor how much his or her electric and water bills were last month, but be prepared to support them when they start to weep uncontrollably.

5. Community: At least one of my friends stops by every day, and a pack of us get together for pretty much the whole weekend. How many times have you been coming home from the club on Friday night and seen the barbecues flaring in the courtyard or heard people laughing out on the staircases? If you've been here long, you've probably made at least
one friend and more than likely several. How many of them live right next door, or across the courtyard? It's almost like being in college, with someone throwing a get-together every weekend. Get out of your room and see what you're missing.

Assuming you didn't get bored and leave halfway through this little diatribe, let's review: the dorms are
not that bad, so sit back and enjoy them while you're here. I think you'll find you'll miss them when you're gone.