According to a 2020 report from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), there are currently about 1.3 million total active duty U.S. military personnel enlisted in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. Roughly one-third of military families live in on-base housing that is owned by the DoD.
Military personnel statistics
Under the U.S. military, there are multiple branches, including the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. Put simply, the Army provides protection on land, the Air Force provides protection in the air, the Marines are trained in combat on land and sea, and the Navy primarily protects by sea, but can also offer protection via air and land.
In addition to the various military branches, there are also several military designations. Someone who is active duty is currently serving, either in the U.S. or overseas. Guard soldiers or reserve soldiers hold civilian jobs, but maintain their military training on a part-time basis and can be called to serve their state or country in times of need.
When it comes to military housing, active duty service members are allowed to live on-post (also called on-base), as well as guard/reserve soldiers who have active duty status. Guard and reserve soldiers who are not on active duty cannot live in military housing.
Here are some general statistics on the four main military branches from the 2020 Demographics Profile, a report published by the U.S. DoD:
- More than 36% of active duty military personnel serve in the Army. (Active Duty Members)
- The gender demographic of the Army is roughly 82.8% males and 15.5% females. (Army Active Duty Members)
- Texas has the largest number of active duty Army soldiers. Almost 17% of all Army personnel live in the state. (Army Active Duty Members)
- More than 32% of Army members are in racial minority groups and 16.6% of service members identify as Hispanic or Latino. (Army Active Duty Members)
- Between 1938 and 1946, historical records show that roughly 9 million men and women enlisted in the Army during WWII. (National Archives and Records Administration)
- An estimated 24.7% of Americans in the military serve in the Air Force. (Active Duty Members)
- In the Air Force, roughly 78.9% of enlisted members are male and 21.1% are female. (Air Force Active Duty Members)
- The average age of an Air Force service member is 27.8 years old. (Air Force Active Duty Members)
- Approximately 42.5% of Air Force members are single with children. Conversely, 29.3% of Air Force personnel are married to a civilian and have children. (Air Force Families)
- Just under 29% of active duty Air Force personnel are in racial minority groups. 15.5% of Air Force members are Hispanic or Latino. (Air Force Active Duty Members)
- Less than 14% of U.S. service members are actively enlisted in the Marines. (Active Duty Members)
- A majority of Americans enlisted in the Marines are men. Data shows that more than 90% of active duty Marines are males and less than 9% are females. (Marine Corps Active Duty Members)
- An estimated 94.4% of men and women in the Marines have a high school diploma, GED or attended some college. (Marine Corps Active Duty Members)
- California has the largest population of Marines. Roughly 37.5% of all enlisted Marines live in the state. (Marine Corps Active Duty Members)
- Only 20.2% of Marines are in a racial minority group and 23.5% are Hispanic or Latino. (Marine Corps Active Duty Members)
- About 25.6% of enlisted U.S. service members are in the Navy. (Active Duty Members)
- The gender demographics of the Navy include 79.6% males and 20.4% females. (Navy Active Duty Members)
- The Navy has the largest number of active duty military service members in racial minority groups. 37.6% of Navy personnel identify as Black or African American, Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian. 16.4% of Navy service members are Hispanic or Latino. (Navy Active Duty Members)
- Most Navy personnel are located in California or Virginia. More than 90% of Navy members are located in the U.S. and U.S. Territories. (Navy Active Duty Members)
- About 48.6% of Americans in the Navy are married and 34% of Navy members have children. (Navy Families)
Military housing options
Some men and women in the military may be required to relocate at some point while serving on active duty. This is called a permanent change of station (PCS). Unlike temporary relocation, which might last a few months, a PCS is a much longer assignment, usually lasting between two and four years.
There are several scenarios in which service members and their families can receive PCS orders. For example, you might get a PCS order if you are being moved to a different military base within the U.S., or if you are completing a deployment overseas and coming back home. You may also receive PCS orders if you need to attend training at a location away from your base for an extended period of time.
If you get a PCS order, you have a few housing options. However, keep in mind that you don’t always get to choose where you live. In some cases, the military will give you an assignment that details where you are going and where you will be living. Here are a few potential housing options for soldiers and their families who are relocating from one station to another:
- Barracks: Military barracks are dormitory-style housing facilities on-post. Service members typically share rooms with one or multiple people, and are separated for males and females. It’s a suitable option for single people or service members traveling without their family. You can typically live in the barracks rent-free.
- On-post housing: If you get a PCS order and have to move to a different state, you may have the option to live on-post. Depending on the location, there may be government-owned houses or privatized military houses available on-post for families or individuals.
- Off-post housing: Another option is to live off-post by renting an apartment, condo or single-family home. On some military bases, there is no on-post housing, so this is the only option.
- Purchase a house: After a PCS order, military personnel can choose to purchase a home in their new location. VA loans are available to active duty service members and veterans who meet certain requirements.
Top five most populated military bases in the U.S.
There are dozens of military bases in the U.S. and many more outside the country. However, some bases are bigger than others. The five largest and most populated military bases in the U.S. include:
- Fort Bragg: Fort Bragg in North Carolina is the largest military base in the U.S. There are roughly 260,000 residents and 54,000 active duty members stationed there. Fort Bragg is mostly home to Army personnel. (Soldier’s Project)
- Fort Campbell: Fort Campbell in Kentucky has a total population of about 234,914. Most of the residents of Fort Campbell are associated with the Army. (Soldier’s Project)
- Fort Hood: Fort Hood in Texas is home to about 217,000 people, including 45,414 active soldiers, most of whom are in the Army. (Soldier’s Project)
- Joint Base Lewis-McChord: Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State has about 209,000 people living on-base. It’s the fourth-largest Army base in the world. (Soldier’s Project)
- Fort Benning: Fort Benning, which is located in Georgia and Alabama, has a population of around 107,627. It’s an Army base that is home to some of the military’s most prominent training programs, including the United States Army Armor School and United States Army Infantry School. (VeteranAid.org)
Pros and cons of living on- or off- base
Whether you choose to live on- or off-post, there are pros and cons to each. Here are some things to consider before you make a decision:
|Living on-post||Living off-post|
|Your basic allowance for housing (BAH) goes toward rent, so you pay very little out-of-pocket.||There are typically fewer options available for housing.||You have more freedom and ease to travel between your home and the base.||You are further from training stations, which means a longer commute to work.|
|You’ll be surrounded by the military community, which makes it easier to build relationships.||It can be inconvenient to drive off- and on-post due to checkpoints.||If you can find a house or apartment that costs less than your BAH, you can keep the remaining amount.||Some neighborhoods around bases are not the safest or do not have the nicest housing options.|
|You have less of a commute to work every day.||Whether in a house or in barracks, you often live in close proximity to other people.||There is a much wider variety of housing options available, which may be ideal for families.||If you have young kids, you may need to consider the quality of schools in the area.|
|You often have access to amenities, like a fitness center, playgrounds, pools and healthcare facilities.||Some bases have older housing that is outdated and not well-maintained.||When your colleagues aren’t your neighbors, it’s easier to keep work separate from your home.||It can be more difficult to walk places, which means you will likely need a car.|
|You’ll have the security of living behind gates and in an area that is monitored by military police.||It’s much more difficult to escape work when you are living and working in the same place.||There will be more opportunity to integrate into the civilian community and make non-military friends.||The cost of living off-post can be more expensive, especially if you are paying for things like a gym membership or health care that is usually cheaper on-post|
Resources for military personnel
There are lots of helpful resources available for active duty military service members who need military housing, or receive PCS orders and are getting ready to relocate. Here are some good resources to have on hand:
Most active duty military personnel who are relocating for their military position receive a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). This money can be used to pay for rent, utilities and as income to qualify for a VA loan. The amount of compensation you receive is based on the average rental prices in the area, as well as your military pay grade and dependency status. You can use the DoD’s free BAH calculator to figure out how much money you will receive.
Active duty service members can qualify for a VA loan, which does not require a downpayment and has very low interest rates. Plus, you can use your BAH as income to qualify for a loan. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers many resources on how to get a VA loan, who qualifies and how the process works, like this Buyer’s Guide.
Insurance for military personnel
After you receive PCS orders, you will need to change or update your car and, possibly your home, insurance coverage. Generally speaking, USAA is widely considered to be one of the best and most reputable insurance providers for military personnel. Geico, Armed Forces Insurance Exchange and Liberty Mutual offer a military discount for car insurance.
Keep in mind that if you move, you can always switch to a different insurance provider. There are lots of companies that offer home insurance for military service members and auto insurance for military service members. Although homeowners insurance is not a legal requirement, you will probably need to get a policy if you purchase a home off-post with a VA loan. Some of the best home insurance companies are State Farm, Amica, Erie and Allstate, according to Bankrate’s research.
During this time, you might also decide to purchase a life insurance policy. Eligible military personnel can get life insurance through Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI), which provides low-cost term life coverage. The highest amount of coverage available is $400,000. Military reserve members can also get part-time life insurance coverage through SGLI.