Life On Hunter Army Airfield
My name is Rebecca Christian. I am a rising senior at SCAD studying to get a degree in Production Design. I have grown up in a military family- it’s the only kind of family I know. My mother is Active Duty Army, my father is retired Navy, my step-dad is an Army recruiter, and throughout the generations,my family has had many others who have served.
My name is Haley Nichols, and I am a rising sophomore at SCAD to receive a BFA in Art History with a minor in Drawing. My relation to the military is quite simple. All four great-grandfathers served in WWII in the army (one received a purple heart and fought on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day), and my grandfather served in Vietnam, also earning a purple heart. Needless to say, I am very aware of how the army has played a role in my family, and because of that have become a loyal patriot and devoted lover of American history. However, I am one generation removed from having a parent actively serve. I never grew up living on a military base. Other than the stories my grandfather and great-grandfather have told me about their experience in the military, I had no idea what life on a military base was like. That is why this project is so important to me.
Savannah is a diverse place with multiple colleges, tourism, people who grow up here, and the people who moved here, but something that is often forgotten about Savannah is its military presence. Hidden away on the South side of town lies the Hunter Army Airfield post (HAAF), a sister post to Fort Stewart which is located about an hour away in Hinesville, GA. HAAF is a rather small post, mainly used for its airstrip, but we found it interesting that someone could visit Savannah, or even live here for an extended amount of time, and only know in the abstract that HAAF exists.
Unlike other towns that have a military presence, Savannah is different. You don’t often see people wearing their uniforms publicly, you rarely hear the jets and helicopters take off and land, there are no convoys or heavy military vehicles driving through town, even on the local news you rarely see more than one or two minutes spent on HAAF related stories. This intrigued us and given our own unique relationship with the military (Haley, who knows about it in the abstract and I, Rebecca, who has grownup with it) we decided to talk to the people on base.
Since we didn’t have any contacts on base we decided to “haunt” two of the posts’s hot-spots to find people to talk to, the commissary and the PX.
Simply put, the Commissary is the military equivalent of Kroger. The one on HAAF is fairly small, but then again so is the post, so it works. They’re in the middle of refurbishing it, and when we visited, they were running low on stock as most shelves were fairly empty. Regardless of this fact, we did find two people who were willing to spare a few moments and speak with us.
For me (Haley) this was terrifying at first. My surroundings were all so new to me and it was fairly difficult to let my guard down with people who seemed to be so stoic and who held their guards rather high.
The first person we talked to was a Hispanic woman by the name of Dominique. Dominique herself is not military by profession, like many others, she married into this life style. She currently lives off post, but comes here to do shopping (probably for the good deals). Unlike many military people, dependents or not, she has lived in Savannah her whole life, and didn’t seem to want to change that. As Dominique appeared to be in a hurry, we didn’t hold her up too long, so the conversation ended rather quickly. Nonetheless we had started.
Later on, near the end of the day we decided to talk to one of the store employees to get their prospective of working on base. We had assumed that they were all either civilians or dependents. We were unsurprisingly wrong.
Mary is retired from the Air Force. She grew up in Savannah, and returned 10 years ago after serving for many years. Military service, for her, wasn’t unusual, as she came from a large military family. She told us that her father and siblings had all been in the Marine Core, and that her mother was in the Air Force. She went on a little tangent about how her dad refused to talk to her for a month after she joined the Air Force, not because she was serving but because she hadn’t become a Marine. (Something I can relate to having parents in 2 separate branches). Though retired, she continues to serve the servicemen at Hunter by working as a store clerk. She seemed to have great pride in both her and her family’s service in the military, and it was very evident that hard work is a daily routine.
If the commissary is Kroger, then the PX is Walmart. The PX contains a little bit of everything. Typically you will find clothing sales (where you can buy new uniforms), some form of fast food, a barber shop, typical superstore items, etc. HAAF has a small but efficient one, walking into the building feels like going into a small strip mall (Kiosks included), with a Burger King on one side and a Barber shop on the other.
Here we met many interesting people that gave a much broader picture of the military person or one who has become attached to the military in someway. Here also, we met Raymond.
Where to start with Raymond? After a failed attempt to interview his wife, she gently pointed us in his direction with a huge grin on her face. We quickly why. The first thing we found was that Raymond likes to talk. A lot.
Raymond, has been retired from the military for 22 years. He was in the Army, and evidently served for a long time. Throughout his carrier he had seven different MOS’s ( Military Occupational Specialty). He currently lives off post, and has lived in Savannah for twenty-three years. During this time, he has become a noble figure in his community, with many ideas on how to improve Savannah and “End the Violence” that plaques parts of it. These are just a few issues he campaigns for. He proudly told us that he is frequently on local television, if not that, he is participating in community meetings.
Raymond attributed much of his success to his time served, and by learning to, “think outside the box.” He went on at length about how you can work around something with a little bit of creativity (even telling us how to cheat on this assignment). And he also had many ideas on how to get younger generations to come to hall meetings and become active in the city’s decisions. As he put it, “We are making decisions based on what we, the older generation, wants, but we’re not gonna be around to see its effect, you are.”
Also at the PX, we met a young man named Eeron. Eeron’s interview was interesting because it was the first interview we gave with someone who was presently serving. He is active duty in the Army with less than one year under his belt in a six year contract. There was an attitude about Eeron that seemed prideful, but not in the wrong way. He seemed a very shy and grounded young man, and it was very evident that he loves his country. However, he wasn’t amused by being stationed at Hunter. Given that he had only been there for about two months, he didn’t like the post, and its bugs (We can’t really blame him for that). We found this humorous, but nonetheless, there was a deeper meaning here which revealed the life that these young men and women have to face. They were away from their families, in places they really didn’t know, nor like, sacrificing for the freedom of people like us.
As already mentioned HAAF has a Barber Shop in the PX. After walking around for a while, we decided to venture inside and talk to some of the people there. One stylist was busy with a client getting the typical high and tight, a cut common among new recruits. These were our next interviewees, Charlotte and Brendan.
Charlotte, we found, leads as an example to all American citizens. She has no relation to the military, didn’t come from a military family, and never served herself. She is a patriot and finds joy in working in the barber shop at the Hunter’s PX trimming and shaving the hair of those men and women who are stationed there.
Brendan, it turns out, had just arrived to the post, and this was his first stop. As we began conversation, we found that he had just completed Aircraft qualifying training in Dayton Beach, FL. Brendan is part of the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, and, for all intents and purposes, is a newbie fresh out of training (both basic and MOS related). Originally from Rhode Island, Savannah must feel like a long way from home, and we could tell that he felt a little uncomfortable being in a new place with new people. (But if there’s one thing the military is good about, it’s camaraderie)
As someone who had never been on a military post before, I (Haley) have to admit, I always pictured it as being this hidden away place with nothing to do and nowhere to go except some military buildings — very stereotypical of me.
So, I was surprised to see that this base contained many of the things that are very recognizable to normal life. There were fast food chains, such as Burger King and Popeye’s, and a place which resembled a K-mart which sold everyday clothing, appliances, etc. There was a mail center, a barber shop, schools for the children living on base, a swimming pool for the residents, and a grocery store. It seemed a very normal place to live, which was comforting knowing that these military men and their families, who live such uprooted and ever changing lifestyles could find some sense of normality. I also found it to be interesting that military benefits for various stores, restaurants, and businesses were posted around base in a very patriotic way. For example, in place of typical posters hung on the walls at a Burger King off base, the ones on base were strictly about the military. This is one aspect of my experience which was unexpected and very interesting. It was at first strange and rather difficult to understand and wrap my mind around how normal, yet different, this base is. However, it is comforting still to know that our servicemen and women and their families are able to live as normal a life as possible, with the same opportunities afforded to them as those of us outside the military. It was also hopeful to know there are still people, like me, who have a heart for our military and have devoted their time and love to seeing that these people have all that they need.
HAAF is just another place, at least it is to me (Rebecca). There may be a few more rules on post versus off, but I make no distinction between the two places. I may not have lived on base as a child, but I grew up in military culture enough that being on one doesn’t phase me. It’s hard for me to step back and see how the military culture looks to an outsider, and this experience has helped me to do so, even if only a little. If anything, I think I learned to appreciate the fact that what I see as normal can be a large shock to someone who has never experienced it. This is a lesson I think most people have a hard time learning.