For SGT’s and above, this is a good question. If you are SPC and below without dependents (married and/or children) you can expect to be required to live on post in your unit’s barracks. If you are junior enlisted and you have dependents you will have a choice for on post or off post housing.
If you have a family, especially children, living on post might be a good decision for you. Often times it is closer to child services such as the child care center, the hospital, and the youth center. If you live on a larger post there is probably a school near by, which means it will be a a short commute for you if you have to drop your kids off at school and then drive to work. In addition to that it will be closer to the commissary and PX, making grocery shopping less of a pain if you do it at the commissary.
Some people also like knowing that all of their neighbors are service members. You know that your neighbors must abide by the same post regulations as you do, and they are most likely not throw a fit if you tell them their music is too loud. Plus since they are Soldiers it is assumed that they have roughly the same values as you do, meaning there is probably less crime if you live on post.
If you don’t have a family, NCO quarters are usually not bad. On some posts the single Soldier housing is actually pretty nice and resembles an apartment. Most of the time if you are a single NCO you won’t have a room mate, but it just depends on where they put you.
One of the problems with on post housing is it is hit or miss whether or not the family housing is nice. Some times it is in good condition, some times it’s not. Some times it has recently been remodeled, sometimes it looks straight out of the 50’s. Also, some of the junior NCO family housing I have seen is straight ghetto, but I know a lot of posts are working on getting that fixed.
Many Army bases also have a waiting list for on post housing that can range from a month, to a year. You might not have a choice to live off post. The good thing is that if you do want to live on post, and there is a waiting list, the Army will pay to move you to your off post quarters, and then when on post housing opens up they will pay to move you on post.
If living on post is not your cup of tea, don’t worry many service members feel the same way. Living on post, you will have to worry about having your grass be too long, or taking your trash cans to the house in a timely manner, or not rendering the proper greeting of the day to higher rank NCO’s or officers. Some people (including me) like living off post because I do not want to think about the Army 24/7. When I am off, I want to be off. I don’t want to have to worry about living next to a dick head Captain, or a Major that is always up my ass. I am always aware I am in the Army, but some times its nice to forget.
The nice thing about this too is you get Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) if you live off post. If you live on post you are trading your BAH for quarters on post with all utilities paid for. An off post apartment or house with rent lower than your BAH means you can pocket the spare money. Also if you are in the market for a house, you can use your BAH to pay your mortgage. You might want to weight the house decision carefully though, if you buy a house and two years later you PCS, you will have to do something with the house. Some people have a hard time selling it, some people have a hard time renting it. Just remember, the Army won’t pay for your house at your old duty station and your new house.
Lastly, if you are renting, you are protected by the Service Member’s Civil Relief Act which allows you to break your lease without a penalty if you get orders to deploy or you PCS (this also works on cable companies).