As any military spouse or service member can attest, we actually have very little say in where the military chooses to send us. Every year when the beginning of PCS season starts to roll around, we get the questions. Where are you going? Where do you want to go? What are your top choices? In the past, it was pretty simple. Soldiers put in their top five choices, the Army took a peek at them, looked to see where the need was for that MOS and rank, and you were assigned to a duty station. Sometimes, it worked out perfectly and soldiers would get one of their top choices. However, duty stations and positions are competitive and, over time, the Army recognized a need for a new way of handling its soldiers’ careers. The job marketplace is designed to advertise jobs, soldiers can attract hiring units by highlighting life/career experiences, activities, etc. Essentially, it’s a more holistic approach to hiring that mimics the civilian world.
The marketplace has been open for the past four assignment cycles, and this coming year is the first time Ryan will actually enter the marketplace. When we PCSed from Fort Drum to JBLM, we still put in our preferences the old way and, fun fact, JBLM was very low on the list. In fact, it was on the list because Ryan thought would be a good filler for fifth place (a fact I won’t soon let him forget). Regardless of where you are sent by the military though, there are definitive pros and cons to each duty station. Some are your cup of tea. Some aren’t. Some may take some getting used to. Some may feel like an old hat. I’ll admit, JBLM isn’t my cup of tea as a whole, but I do recognize that this is our life right now. So, today, I wanted to share 5 ways to make the most of any duty station, regardless of whether you think you may like it or not.
5 Ways to Make the Most of Any Duty Station
1 // Make a Bucket List
If you’ve followed me for some time, you know that I’m a list-maker. I love lists. I think bucket lists are a great way to inspire you to see and do more, as well, and they keep you moving. Ryan and I have always believed that idle hands lead to failure, and I think the same applies to one’s perception of a duty station. Like I said, I don’t love JBLM. Compared to Fort Drum, it feels large, cold, and unapproachable. That feeling of camaraderie that you feel at Drum (Climb to Glory!) isn’t echoed here, and that’s hard, but it might be because it’s situated in a much more urban landscape. Regardless of the reasoning, the fact remains that JBLM is 3+ years of our life, so we stay busy. I make seasonal bucket lists. I recommend exploring your area’s top attractions. Seek out restaurants. Find the hidden gems. Go off the beaten path – both literally and figuratively. At the end of the day, your duty station becomes what you make of it.
2// Find Your People
I won’t lie. Finding your proverbial “tribe” isn’t easy as an adult. I’m not a group fitness person, so joining a fitness club is somewhat out of the question for me and, with it, those connections I might have otherwise had. I also work from home, which eliminates workplace friendships – at least in person. It’s so important to find your people though. We’ve made wonderful connections and built friendships with some of our great neighbors, and that’s not always easy to do. You kind of have to put it all on the line, but it is worth it. We’ve learned over time that a few great friends are better than a lot of surface-level friendships, and we’re grateful that we’ve been able to find our people at each duty station.
3 // Find the Best Living Situation for YOU
There’s no hard and fast rule regarding on vs. off post housing. We’ve played both sides of the coin. We lived on post at Fort Huachuca, we bought a house off post at Fort Drum, and we originally rented in DuPont off post here at JBLM. We felt very displaced in this (sub)urban landscape off post at JBLM though, and after a bad experience renting, we moved on post while Ryan was deployed. Mentally and physically, it was the best decision we could have made. We found friends in our neighbors, feel safer, and there’s a sense of home in a state that otherwise feels cold and uninviting to us. Regardless, you need to find which housing situation is for you because it’s imperative to make a home wherever you may go.
4 // Forget Your Past Wishlist & Focus on the Present
This was a hard one for me, and it really was a bitter pill to swallow for a while. I had my heart set on sunshine and warmth, whether that was in Hawaii or Tennessee. Washington wasn’t anywhere on my wishlist. Because of this, it made it really hard to focus on the good for a while. Regardless of my past wishlist, JBLM is our present, and it will be for about another year. I choose to look at it as an opportunity. I would never have chosen to live in the PNW, but I’ve been given an incomparable opportunity. So, for now, I choose to find the good in it. We hike. We explore. We taste the PNW life and see the sights as best we can. By focusing on the present, we’re able to give our kids a true living experience on the West Coast, and that’s a gift.
5 // Take Pictures and Make Memories
Well, this one’s easy for me. I love taking pictures, as evidenced by my instagram. The fact of the matter is that, for better or worse, your duty station is your home for a finite amount of time. Eventually, you will move on, and I can almost guarantee there will be at least one thing you will miss about that duty station you didn’t love. Having found a love for hiking out here in the PNW, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure the hiking and outdoor adventures can get much better than they are here. That said, I know that our next duty station will bring its own unique experiences, memories, and sights to see. I make a point of taking the pictures, exploring our surroundings, and immersing us in it as much as possible.
I’m positive that there are more than 5 ways to make the most of any duty station, and I’m also positive that everyone is capable of doing so. If you ask me on any given day whether I like Washington State, my answer will likely be “no.” However, I’ll also readily admit that there are incomparable experiences we’ve had that have carved their own little place in this otherwise stone-cold heart of mine. It’s entirely possible to make the best of it, but attitude is up to you.
Tell me – what sort of tips would you have for making the most of a duty station or place you don’t love?