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Your Fairbanks, Alaska Area Guide

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Up for a little midnight sun? It's been said the Fairbanks region of Alaska will awaken the spirit and nourish the soul.

Unique is one word that comes to mind. From the aurora borealis to sunlight in the middle of the night, being stationed here will be a tour to remember.

An assignment to Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base, or Fort Greely is considered an overseas tour. If your dependents want to accompany you to Alaska, your PCS orders must say "concurrent travel" and each family member's name must be listed on your orders.

WHERE IS FAIRBANKS, ALASKA?

Fairbanks is Alaska's second largest city and is centrally located within the 49th state about 365 miles north of Anchorage. Eielson Air Force Base is 26 miles southeast of Fairbanks, and Fort Greely is 100 miles southeast of the city. Fort Wainwright is located in the North Star Borough of the city.

HOUSING

Many try to live on the installation in Alaska given the high cost of utilities due to the long, harsh winters. On-base housing fills up fast, so it's recommended you get on the list as soon as possible.


EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE

Eielson AFB is home to the 354th Fighter Wing, the 354th Operations Group, the 354th Fighter Wing, the 354th Medical Group, the 354th Mission Support Group and the 354th Maintenance Group. Corvias owns the family housing and is responsible for maintaining, repairing, constructing and managing the community. There are a variety of floor plans available in single-family, duplex and multiplex homes.

FORT GREELY

The Winn Companies handles on-post housing at Ft. Greely. They have 2-4 bedroom apartments with varying amenities, such as dishwasher, washer/dryer hookups, and heated garages. Additionally, the community features a swimming pool, sauna, and playgrounds.

FORT WAINWRIGHT

The North Haven master-planned communities offer a variety of homes and neighborhood amenities designed to meet your family's needs.

Stationed in Alaska? Leave a review of your housing to help fellow mil-fams!

FAIRBANKS ALASKA WEATHER

It's Alaska! And yes, it's COLD! The average temperature in January is minus 3 degrees. And the thermometer can fall below minus 50 degrees on occasion! It's a long winter in the Fairbanks region lasting from October to April. From October through December, an average of 65 inches of snow falls.

There isn't much of a spring to speak of. The summer months of June through August feature temperatures in the 60-70 degree range.

BAH & COST OF LIVING

While Alaska is one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S., the Fairbanks region has one of the lowest cost-of-living rates in the state.

Overall, the cost of living in Fairbanks is 36 percent higher than the national average, partly due to the high cost of utilities. The cost of housing is also relatively high at 54 percent above the national average. The median home price in Fairbanks is $245,000.

ON-POST AMENITIES

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE

The Commissary is open six days a week, closing on Mondays and holidays. The Base Exchange offers a great selection of merchandise, including clothing, shoes, personal care items, housewares, hardware, sporting goods, cameras, electronics, computer software, and books. There is also a barber, hair salon, alterations, floral and optical shops all located within the shopping center mall area, along with a food court.

FORT GREELY

Ft. Greely is a small installation with a commissary, movie theatre, MWR, Family Medical Center, autocraft ahop and Child Development Center.

FORT WAINWRIGHT

There is a full serviced commissary on post, as well as a chapel, Armed Services YMCA, veterinary services, and the Bassett Army Community Hospital. The Fort Wainwright Community Spouses' Club is open to spouses of active-duty and retired military members in all branches of the armed services who are assigned, attached or living at Fort Wainwright, as well as active military members and Department of Defense civilians and their spouses.

CULTURE & CUSTOMS

If you crave sunlight, you won't see a lot of it during the winter months. The sun goes down to as little as 3-4 hours of sunlight a day, culminating in the shortest day of the year on December 21, the winter solstice. During the holiday season, everyone leaves their Christmas lights on around the clock making it truly a Winter Wonderland. 17 minutes of sunlight per day is gained until there is sunshine around the clock on June 21st, the summer solstice.

Outdoor life is front and center in this part of Alaska. On any given day you can enjoy the view of the Aurora lights and a friendly visit from the neighborhood moose! There is plenty of hunting, fishing, camping and winter sports available that you won't get anywhere else! Fort Wainwright is a great area for enjoying hockey games in the winter, camping and berry picking in the summer.

AREA ATTRACTIONS

FAIRBANKS CHILDREN'S MUSEUM

The museum offers interactive exhibits designed for young people and activities such as role-playing, science, art and crafts, building, physical movement, and water play. These events are specifically designed to create a playful learning environment.

AURORA BOREALIS LODGE

View the northern lights in style and comfort! Located 21 miles north of Fairbanks, the Aurora Borealis Lodge is ideally situated for 360 degree viewing & photography. From late August through early April, they offer nightly aurora tours with round-trip transfers from Fairbanks.

RIVERBOAT DISCOVERY

Enjoy a relaxing, entertaining boat cruise of the Chena and Tanana Rivers, including a guided walking tour of the Chena Indian Village. See Susan Butcher's champion dogs, the wedding of the rivers, and Dixie Alexander's Athabascan art.

FAIRBANKS CURLING CLUB

They like to say "100 Years & Still Rockin'". This is the oldest club devoted to any sport in Alaska.

SLED DOG ADVENTURES IN FAIRBANKS

Exciting dogsled rides, mushing school & tours with Alaskan guides. Arctic gear supplied.

CHENA HOT SPRINGS RESORT

Experience the natural healing waters of the 105-degree outdoor hot springs rock lake with the northern lights dancing above your head. Families can enjoy the indoor swimming pool and hot tubs. No other place in Alaska offers both and they are open year-round.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Benjamin Haulenbeek
Stephanie Wade/U.S. Transportation Command

In military life, there is really nothing more stressful than a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Deployments are a close second, but a PCS takes the cake. Combine a PCS with a deployment and not only do you want to eat all of the proverbial cake, you want to guzzle copious amounts of wine, too. We see you. Cheers.

One company, PCSgrades, is trying to make the PCS process feel more like a three-letter acronym than a four-letter expletive. Founded by veteran Todd Ernst, PCSgrades is the epitome of the military community taking care of its own. "PCSing has an emotional connotation," said Ernst. "We use it as an adverb, adjective, a noun and even as a cuss word."

Ernst started PCSgrades in 2015 after seeing friends struggle with unethical real estate agents and being taken advantage of by moving companies who knew DoD would be a paying customer no matter how poorly the companies treated their clients - us.

Here are 4 resources PCSgrades provides that you need to make moving easier:

1. Housing reviews

Does it get any more stressful than finding out where you're going to be stationed, Googling base housing at that station and getting results from 15 years ago (if you find anything, at all)? Nope, no it doesn't.

PCSgrades is changing the game on that by having military families who live in an area provide honest, candid reviews of their housing so incoming families can benefit. With reviews of both on and off base locations, families can finally get the truth about housing, whether it has black mold or the best views in town.

2. Moving company reviews

Great, you've figured out where to live; that's half the battle. The other, larger, more complex half? Figuring out how your stuff is going to get there. Knowing someone else will be handling your personal property and driving away with it for the foreseeable future is stressful enough. But not knowing what that company's background is, well that's a whole different ball game.

PCSgrades has countless reviews of moving companies provided by military families who have used them. Let's be honest: You wouldn't try a new Chinese delivery place without looking at reviews … why should picking a moving company be any different?

3. Area guides

The giant Google machine can only get you so far in life when you're researching your new duty station. We know you're busy and you want one-stop shopping on the interwebs. What you really need is aggregate data of things like schools to attend, restaurants to try, day trips to take and neighborhoods to avoid.

Introducing Area Guides, which offer exactly that: a holistic view of where you're moving and what to do once you get there. The best part? These are written by military families who have done it, for military families who are doing it.

4. Network of realtors and resources

PCSgrades has a nationwide network of A-graded realtors who know and understand the military and veteran lifestyle. Many of the realtors are veterans or spouses themselves, which takes the empathy to a whole new level. Having a realtor who gets the pressures of PCSing and the challenges of a military move is key to finding the right home for your family.

"I have friends who are hundreds of thousands of dollars upside down after bad home choices," Ernst said. "Housing choices can be pretty limited. Our moves are way more expensive than the typical civilian move." This is why Ernst created a way to alleviate the pain points for military families through PCSgrades.

In addition to a network of realtors, PCSgrades partners with "HomeScout," which allows you to search up-to-date home listings nationwide. Simply create an account with PCSgrades and the realty world is your oyster.

Whether you're looking for a new neighborhood, trying to find a vetted realtor, need a PCS checklist (let's be honest, is it on your radar to look at the expiration date of your military ID card two months before you PCS? Yeah, we know the truth; download the checklists here), or you're just wanting to know more about where you're heading, PCSgrades is making moving easier for every military family. Pay it forward by leaving reviews and be sure to take advantage of their excellent resources, today.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

7 airplane travel hacks with kids

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Yeah! You got orders to (insert foreign country overseas)! You can already picture your kids in the international school, speaking with cute little accents and wearing local garments. Adorbs. You've got your housing picked out, adventures planned and passport photos taken. You're ready for your epic move ... except for that 13 hour plane ride. Have you wrapped your head around that yet? Before you grab for a paper bag and start hyperventilating, use our travel hacks to help make the emotional turbulence you're experiencing a little lighter.

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We've all said it: "We'll drive. It won't be that bad." We picture the adventure, the memories, the nostalgia of car trips when we were younger.

But if we're really being honest with ourselves, think back to those car trips. Someone was crying. Someone was puking. Someone was whining. That person very well may have been your poor mother. True story, my mom once got out and walked along the highway when all six of us kids wouldn't stop fighting. A long car trip can be daunting, but with our tips and tricks they don't need to be.

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Nordwood theme, Unsplash

WE ALL HAVE OUR SHARE OF HORROR STORIES WHEN IT COMES TO MILITARY MOVING!

Name the most disgusting item erroneously packed by your movers… for me it was used coffee grounds and of course, trash. For others, I've heard everything from wet towels to dirty diapers. I've caught movers raiding my fridge, lounging on my mattress in my front yard, and throwing out items that they've broken. Raise your hand (or have a drink) if you ever had packers show up late (or not at all). Ever had packers get into a shouting match among themselves as they were packing your china? Or have you caught your movers throwing boxes down the stairs to the basement? That would be me!

LESSONS LEARNED

With each military move, there are "lessons learned". For instance, I won't go into great detail but let's just say after watching one packer go directly from using the restroom back to packing my kitchen without washing his hands, we now use gigantic ziplock bags to "pre-pack" all my kitchen utensils. A packers' bare flesh has never again touched one of my kitchen utensils.

My family's last military move was by far the shortest, only 1½ miles up the road. We were moving from a rental to a home we purchased. It was by far the worst in terms of damage and overall angst. I think because we were only "moving up the road" the pack job left a lot to be desired. I found one box of dishes which had not one piece of wrapping paper! Instead two throw pillows from my family room were used as a buffer! Amazingly, nothing was broken! Go figure!

When I heard glass shatter in the moving truck, I asked one of the guys what shattered.

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There are any number of reasons why in a given situation renting might be better than buying or vice versa. For military families, it might make more sense to buy at one duty station and then rent at the next. Up for consideration with each PCS is whether to buy or rent, to stay on-base or off. In making these decisions, there are numerous pros and cons to consider.

PROS TO BUYING

  • Purchasing the right home can be a great financial investment that can grow in value over time.
  • Tax deductions such as mortgage interest and property taxes can greatly reduce your overall income tax burden if you itemize.
  • Being a homeowner can give you pride of ownership and a sense of stability, rare in the military life which can seem nomadic at times.
  • A mortgage payment that is lower than your BAH can result in a boost to your savings.
  • You can decorate however you want! Goodbye white walls! Hello, Color!
  • Anyone can stay with you at any time. So it is not a problem when your Mom or sister comes for an extended stay during a deployment or following a PCS.
  • You can do (almost) whatever you want….host a late night party, plant a garden, knock a wall down!
  • There are no security or pet deposits when you buy a home.
  • You have the opportunity to become a landlord when military orders arrive and you have to move. Your home can become an investment property, providing a source of income which can partially or totally offset your mortgage, taxes, and insurance payments.
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