Making the Most of Those Undesirable Bases
Whether it’s a temporary duty or a permanent change of station you will mostly likely find yourself at an undesirable location at some point in yours or your spouse’s career. Here are my tips for making the most of those bases.
Let me preface this by saying that an undesirable base has a different definition for everyone. Preferences for a duty station differ from person to person, based on personal preferences and past experiences. Some might want to experience a completely different culture, while others have no desire to live in a different country away from friends and family. You might not want to be in an isolated location, or you might love the small town life. Either way, it’s what you make of it. I firmly believe that you can grow to love any base whether it’s the people you love or the community itself.
When my husband and I first got married he was scheduled to do the first half of pilot training in Pensacola, Florida. This was perfect, only a few hours from home, close to the beach, I get to keep my teaching certificates, etc. It was a great introduction to “military life.” We settled into our new life. We found a great home. We were making friends and I had a great job that I loved starting up a Boys and Girl’s Club in our area. Low and behold after two months of being there, they informed us that we were actually going to be moving to Enid, Oklahoma. This was my first lesson in expecting the unexpected.
Neither one of us had ever been to Oklahoma, we are both big city Florida kids so flat lands in the middle of the country had never sounded desirable. We moved in January, when Oklahoma is exceptionally brown and I might have shed a tear or two as we drove through the state making our way to Enid. Pilot training is 72 weeks, so I geared myself up for that. A year and half in a small town will not be so bad I told myself. Little did I know, after training, my husband’s first assignment would be to stay in Enid for another three years so he could become an instructor. Again, expect the unexpected.
We were shocked and didn’t see this coming at all. (Although looking back, it was clear as day.) My husband has this thing that he will only let himself be upset for 24 hours and then it’s time to suck it up and make the most of it. So that weekend we went house hunting and started to settle in. By the end of our time in Enid we ended up loving it and truly enjoyed our time there. It was actually kind of sad to pack up our things and say goodbye to everything and everyone we loved there. Enid will always have a special place in our hearts because it was not only our first base, but we purchased our first house there, had our first child, and it was the first place we felt part of the community, even if we didn’t expect it.
We are currently at Altus Air Force base. Anyone in the C-17 or KC-135 community is all too familiar with Altus. It’s much smaller than Enid, but a lot of the same stores and small town Oklahoma feel. Before coming here, a friend told me that it makes Enid look like a metropolis. I’ve had a lot of friends who didn’t come with their husbands here and decided to stay back in Enid while their husbands train. Since I am currently a stay at home mom and realize my husband will be gone a lot once we get to our next duty station, I packed up my daughter, put our things into storage and headed to Altus with him.
Making the most of it
-Do your research
The internet is one of the greatest resources when moving to a new location. Whether it’s other blogs, Facebook groups, or just google in general, you can find a ton of information on the town and base amenities. Doing this research will help show you what to expect and how you can spend your time.
Facebook groups are great for this. There’s a Facebook group to show you pictures of military housing at each location, groups for helping with PCSing, and most likely a spouses page for your new squadron. Most spouses are willing to answer any questions you might have. They can be your greatest resource as to finding out information, everything from things to do on the weekend to the best dentist in town.
-Remember the little things
What truly makes you happy? For me, it’s being with my family. We were very fortunate that being stationed in Enid meant my husband was home every night with no deployments. It was a great time for us to start a family and spend time together exploring the area. Many people have told me that it isn’t the location that makes a base great, but it’s the people and community. Meet people, make friends, and find the little things that make you happy, then do them. You’ll miss the small things you didn’t even think about once you leave. One thing I miss most about small towns, which I also took for granted, is the easy commute with no such thing as 5 o’clock traffic!
–Everyone’s experience is different
Do not take everyone’s word about a base. Go into it with an open mind, not some preconceived notion of how it’s going to be. Rumors fly around the military like none other. I can remember all the rumors that we have heard about pilot training and my husband being a First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP), most of which weren’t true. No matter who you talk to, everyone’s experience is going to be different and yours will be too. So do not fret when someone tells you it’s the worst location or makes a smart remark. You will create your own experiences.
-Find a house that works for you
Some people choose to live on base and some choose to live off. There are many reasons why you will want to do either, but I’ll save that for another post. We have done both and it’s really about what’s important for you. Your home is where you will spend most of your time while you are there so make sure to find what works for you and makes you the happiest.
Everyone wants something different when it comes to a house. Luckily in military towns there’s usually a lot to choose from. Some people buy a house before even visiting their new location. This is something I would never do just because I would want to feel out the area first and you can’t trust those realtor photos a lot of time. In Altus we rented without seeing the house first because we were on a time crunch and it was a 4 month assignment. In cases like these, google earth is your best friend. A house may look amazing on the inside but be in a terrible neighborhood.
-It’s only as bad as you make it
As I stated before, do not go into it with a negative presumption, but instead go into with an open mind. Your location is only temporary and take it for everything it is worth. Each place has its unique aspects that you can’t find anywhere else. Go find them and experience all that the area has to offer. Spend your days off exploring and creating memories. One of our favorite ways to spend the weekends was to go on trip adviser and look at the unique restaurants and activities to do around us and just start checking them off. You aren’t going to remember the bad days, but you will remember the experiences that you create there and how you felt during them.
Moving to a new location, military or not, can have it’s challenges and be lonely. My best advice for this is to get out there and meet people. It can be hard to be vulnerable and put yourself out there where you don’t know anyone but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Most squadrons and bases have spouse groups you can join. Of course you won’t click with everyone, but I’ve met some of my best friends at these groups. It’s not just base groups you can get involved in, but also look into what kind of groups in the town there are. I’ve seen friends who have joined young professional groups, church groups, or other hobby type clubs. Most likely if you are looking to meet new people, others are doing the same.
-Find your niche
Some spouses like to be super involved in their squadron and others like to stay at home. Find what works for you. Find what makes you happy and do it. For us it was volunteering and working with children. I’m a teacher by trade and when I stopped teaching to have my daughter, I wanted to stay involved so we volunteered teaching at church. My husband also enjoyed working with children and used his spare time to volunteer working with the base summer camp, coaching various sports, and spending time with my students.
I was able to spend other volunteer time with the base spouse group. I met a lot of great people through this group and fundraising with them. They are people who I would have never have gotten to know and learn from without this time. It’s important to find what you enjoy doing whether it’s volunteering, the arts, sports, or whatever and just try it. You will probably be surprised at the different activities every town has to offer.
We loved our time in Enid, it was not expected at all, but we would never trade it. We felt as though we were part of the community. Now there were times that I wished I could go to the store and not see someone I knew, but now I kind of miss that. I think I will always look back at our time there fondly. We met some of the greatest people and made memories to last a lifetime.
Do you have any tips for making the most of a base location? Tell me in the comments below.