I think that by this point, it’s no secret that I had no desire to be stationed at JBLM. When we got our orders from Fort Drum to JBLM, my initial reaction was not a happy one, but I’ve learned to turn things around. It is possible to appreciate a duty station, even if you don’t love it there. Ryan and I will both say that, while JBLM isn’t our favorite station, we’ve learned a lot about our family, ourselves as individuals, and what we prioritize as our family. Today, we’re waxing nostalgic about what we’ve learned being stationed at JBLM – from a MilSpo’s perspective.
What We’ve Learned Being Stationed at JBLM
We went from the tippy top of the Northeastern US to the far West side of the US. After three years of winter at Fort Drum, we were craving summer and sunshine, but we got orders to JBLM instead. I knew that the PNW was known for its excessive rainfall, but I also knew that the cities are bar none, and there’s no shortage of cuisine or adventure. Our fear, however, was how we’d be able to carve out our niche. We learned to address being stationed at JBLM in parts, and I’m sharing those below.
About the JBLM Base
1 // JBLM is massive – When I say it’s massive, I mean it. JBLM is split into parts. You have JBLM Main, which is the Army’s main post and where you’ll find the MWR, the PX, the Commissary, and more. Then, you have McChord Airfield. This is the Air Force’s main side, where you’ll find the BX, the McChord Commissary, and the Space-A Passenger Terminal. Finally, you have North Fort, also known as Lewis North. There is additional housing on North Fort, as well as several shoppettes, barracks, and offices. We actually live on this side, and we love it!
2 // Housing is almost always full – We panicked about this when we moved here and made a terrible error in immediately signing a lease with a house off post. It turned out to be a terrible experience for us, and while Ryan was deployed in 2019, I moved on post with the kids at 35 weeks pregnant. It’s true. Housing is always full, but the waitlist can move extremely quickly once you go active on the list. We went active on the waitlist mid-February when I terminated our lease (with no house lined up), and I was offered a house 2.5 weeks later. I called every day, and I think that helped, to be honest.
3 // JBLM is a city unto itself – Just 30 mins south of Tacoma and 50 minutes from Seattle, JBLM is a city in its own right. It’s self contained with gas stations, parks, playgrounds, pools, restaurants, a mall (the new PX is cray), and more. For many people who hope to avoid i5, living on JBLM is the ideal solution.
About the Areas Surrounding JBLM
1 // i5 is the Direct Corridor – and It’s a Beast – I’d heard the rumors about i5, but I didn’t really get them until we moved here. In all honesty, i5 rivals DC traffic more often than not. Our first introduction to the traffic was the day we arrived when it took us over an hour from Federal Way to get to DuPont – a trip that should take about 30 minutes. If you can avoid i5, trust me when I say it’s ideal!
2 // There Are a Lot of Popular Neighborhoods for Renters – There is no shortage of towns surrounding JBLM in which to rent if you prefer to live off post. DuPont was our first choice and where we originally rented, but it’s both competitive and very pricey, in large part because it’s closest to JBLM Main. Just south of that is Lacey, which offers a little more space, a lot more amenities (think: Costco), and lower rental rates. Yelm and Roy are a little farther out, but both offer more bang for your buck, although a bit longer of a commute, as well. The tradeoff is there’s much more land. Other options for rent are Steilacoom, Spanaway, Tacoma proper (traffic can be hellacious), Puyallup, Lakewood, Parkland, and more. I’ll be honest and say that, living on North Fort, the areas we frequent the most are still Lakewood or Lacey – solely for the amenities.
3 // JBLM offers easy access to SeaTac – Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is massive, and it’s easy to drive the 45-50 mins to hop a flight around the world. In non-COVID times, it’s easy to grab a shuttle directly from post, as well, or you can even grab an Uber or a Lyft. Honestly, that’s been one of the biggest blessings even though travel is pretty light right now.
Seasonal Highlights Around JBLM
1 // The Produce & Farmers Markets Are Legit – If you like fresh produce and farmer’s markets, you will love living here. Almost every town has a market in the spring and summer, and many markets even run year around. They support local businesses and give you access to some of the finest home grown (or homemade) produce in the area. If you’ve seen my blog for a while, you know the Steilacoom Farmer’s Market is our jam.
2 // Winter Isn’t Cold…Unless You Want it to Be – Cold is relative, I know, but the winters are really not that cold overall. You’ll likely see most winter days in the low to mid-40s around JBLM. That being said, if you want winter, you’re just a drive away! We love visiting Snoqualmie Pass to play in the snow, and snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier is a real treat. Bear in mind that you’ll need chains to travel to most wintry places nearby.
3 // The Summer Hiking is the Best…But Get There Early – The PNW offers some of the most incredible hiking, backpacking, and backcountry areas in the country. We’ve been blessed to hike a lot in our three years here, but we’ve only scratched the surface. Our summer hikes are by far our favorite, but most areas around Mt. Rainier National Park fill up super fast in the summer months. Remember our first failed trip to Emmons Moraine? It’s because we got there at 10 AM. Be prepared to get up and get there early!
My Biggest Takeaways From Being Stationed at JBLM
1 // Adventure is Just a Drive Away – Whether for the beach or the mountains, adventure is just an hour or so away. Yes, there are closer places to visit like Nisqually Wildlife Refuge and Tumwater Falls, but most require a little effort. Any time we go hiking or adventuring, we make a day of it, allowing 2-3 hours average for most. Oh, and the camping? Legit.
2 // Everything is Expensive (But Free is Fun, Too) – If you don’t want to spend a ton of money on the many museums and restaurants around JBLM, you can enjoy a lot of fun and beauty for free. We hike a lot. We enjoy the food trucks nearby, and we make the most of the free fun. My pro-tip? By the recreation passes (Discover Pass and Northwest Forest Pass – then get the America the Beautiful free for military). They’re your ticket to free fun.
3 // Optempo is Crazy – This was honestly our biggest issue here at JBLM. Ryan was immediately TDY when we arrived in 2018. Then, he deployed for 9 months in 2019. He had seven TDYs in 2020. Honestly, the deployments at Fort Drum were a cakewalk for us compared to this.
I had absolutely no desire to ever live here, and being stationed at JBLM was never something I wanted, but I’m grateful for this challenge and this chance to explore something new. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, and JBLM – for better or worse – has helped us prioritize what is most important to us as a family. We’re beyond excited to move to South Korea, but JBLM was a duty station of immeasurable growth.