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Drum houses fewer off post

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WASHINGTON — Soldiers from Fort Drum may be filling the housing around Watertown — but the facility actually stands out for keeping more families on post than other major Army installations.

Sixty-one percent of 9,313 families stationed at Fort Drum live off post, compared to at least 70 percent at several other installations, the Army reported.

The tilt toward off-post housing endures even as the Army makes strides to draw more soldiers, especially junior enlistees, on post. The housing privatization effort under way for several years at Fort Drum and other duty stations has lifted the number and quality of housing units for those who live on installations, but most Army families continue to live in areas surrounding them.

At Fort Carson, Colo., 10,645 of the installation’s 13,309 families, or 80 percent, live off post. At Fort Bliss, Texas, 77 percent of the installation’s 18,361 families live off post. At Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., 72 percent of 6,361 families live off post.

The numbers are more comparable at some smaller posts. At Fort Riley, Kan., 65 percent of 9,924 families live off post. The figure is 58 percent at Fort Benning, Ga., which has 9,505 families. Only at Fort Polk, La., where the 10th Mountain Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team is stationed, are the numbers flipped. There, 3,661 families live on post, or 65 percent, compared to 1,952 off post.

The Army has tried to bring more families on post through new housing programs, said Kathleen B. Moakler, a lobbyist for the National Military Family Association who has visited many installations around the country, including Fort Drum.

Usually, she said, installations have waiting lists for on-post housing.

“The advent of privatized housing has made the housing more inviting to these families, who can usually get a lot more bang for their buck, including having, for the most part, utilities included in the cost of the housing,” Ms. Moakler said in an email.

A few years ago at Fort Leonard Wood, an NMFA focus group revealed that many families prefer to live off post despite the availability of new housing on post, Ms. Moakler said.

To her surprise, she said, many in the focus group said they prefer the feeling of leaving work at the end of the day and did not like the closeness to neighbors that typically goes with military housing.

The tendency toward more off-post living runs through the military and is reflected in school statistics.

In fiscal 2011, a total of 109,897 military-dependent students resided on base and 262,400 resided off base, reported the National Association of Federal Impacted Students.

In the past, Fort Drum has stood out for its off-post living arrangements. When the post was expanded in the mid 1980s, a shortage of housing led to the construction of 13 off-post developments known as Section 801 housing, which the Army leased for 20 years. After leases expired, the developments became open to the general public.

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