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Your Fort Belvoir Area Guide

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The Fort Belvoir homepage states: "A list of the organizations who call Fort Belvoir home reads like a 'Who's Who' of the Department of Defense." Often in the shadow of the Pentagon, there is perhaps no other Army installation in the world that can compare to Fort Belvoir's diverse mix of commands, activities and agencies. This northern Virginia military installation provides logistical, intelligence, and administrative support to a wide range of United States military organizations.

Here is out list of all the things you need to know before relocating to northern Virginia.

WHERE IS FORT BELVOIR?

The main post is located off Interstate 95 (exit 166), 12 miles south of Washington, D.C., 9 miles south of Alexandria, 7 miles north of Woodbridge, and 5 miles west of Lorton.

Fort Belvoir is home to nearly twice as many workers as the Pentagon and is the largest employer in Fairfax County. The post is actually comprised of three geographically distinct properties: the main post, Davison Army Airfield, and the Ft. Belvoir North Area.

Agencies headquartered at Ft. Belvoir include: the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Acquisition University, the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Defense Technical Information Center, the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command, the United States Army Military Intelligence Readiness Command, the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, all agencies of the United States Department of Defense.


FORT BELVOIR HOUSING

On-post housing is privatized with two to five bedrooms available in new and historic housing in 15 different villages. Homes are available for military families from all branches of service assigned to local duty stations to include Fort Belvoir, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, and the Pentagon. Select homes are also available for geographical bachelors and single soldiers E6 and above. All homes offer dishwashers, refrigerators, high-speed Internet connection and electric washer/dryer connections.

If you have lived in on-post housing on Ft. Belvoir, we would love to hear from you. Leave a review of your housing experience here.

There are many options for housing off-post. But get ready for sticker shock as the D.C. suburbs feature 7 of the country's 10 richest counties. Single family homes, townhouses, condos, and apartments can be found in both urban and rural settings a short distance from post.


NOVA (NORTHERN VIRGINIA)

  • Fairfax County, Virginia is the largest county in the Washington, D.C. area. It falls inside and outside the beltway and is home to George Mason University.
  • Arlington and the city of Alexandria, Virginia are inside the beltway.
  • Prince William County, Virginia includes Woodbridge, Dumfries, Haymarket, Occoquan, Lake Ridge, Manassas, and Manassas City.
  • Loudoun County, Virginia includes Sterling, Ashburn, Potomac Falls, Countryside, Middleburg, South Riding, Hamilton and Dulles International Airport.

Prices vary widely depending on the county you choose to live in. If you work with a PCSgrades reviewed realtor, you'll find there is a rental or mortgage to fit every BAH.

FORT BELVOIR WEATHER

There are four distinct seasons here. Winters are relatively mild with an average snow fall of 15.4 inches with three quarters of it falling in January and February. In the spring, people come from around the world to see the Cherry Blossoms along the Tidal Basin in downtown D.C..

Summers are hot and humid with temps often rising above 100 in July and August. Mild temps tend to stick around in September and October, but by Halloween the fall foliage is in full view with the vivid colors of autumn.

Hurricanes and Nor'easters can affect the area. While not common, NOVA has had a few tornadoes. And snow, well, some years there are only a few inches and others see larger snowfalls of over a foot. It doesn't matter how much, snow usually cripples northern Virginia.


BAH & COST OF LIVING

Unless you are coming from San Diego or Hawaii, you most likely will have sticker shock when you arrive here. Just about everything will be more expensive. The current housing market is also highly competitive. MostPCSgrades' A-graded Realtors agree that it is an excellent time to buy. Additionally, while sales prices have continued to climb, mortgage interest rates remain at historic low levels.

Median sale prices completely vary throughout Northern Virginia, D.C. and even southern Maryland. The average sales price in Fairfax County (NOVA) is $560,919; this is up over last year. Click here to look at neighborhoods and realtors in the area around Fort Belvoir.

ON-POST AMENITIES

There is one school on post – Fort Belvoir Elementary School. Two off-post public schools include: Walt Whitman Middle School and Mount Vernon High School.

Fort Belvoir Community Hospital is northern Virginia's home for world-class military healthcare with satellite health centers in Fairfax and Dumfries. The post also features the Fort Belvoir Commissary, Post Exchange, Class Six store and two joint service spouses clubs: the Belvoir Officer Spouses Club (BOSC) and the Belvoir Enlisted Spouses Club (BESC).

There are also five state-of-the-art Community Centers on post that offer free Internet access, copying and faxing services, along with free meeting and party facilities. There is a free community pool located in Woodlawn Village along with picnic pavilions, fitness trails, basketball and volleyball courts, a dog park, and playgrounds. Other amenities of living on-post include: an 18-hole golf course, a marina, field house, bowling center, movie theatre, Officer's Club and pool, and skate park.

CULTURE & CUSTOMS

If you want to venture off-post, you won't be disappointed! From mid-September until Thanksgiving, and again from about mid-January to June, Congress is in session. This means the hotels are full of guests and the restaurants and bars are doing a booming business. From mid-March through June, families and school groups pack the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms and enjoy Washington's monuments. This is also high season for protest marches.

May features a month-long celebration called Passport DC, which showcases more than 70 embassies and cultural organizations with tours and open houses. A summer highlight is the annual Fourth of July festivities. There is an Independence Day Parade along Constitution Avenue, A Capitol Fourth Concert featuring world renowned musicians and singers on the U.S. Capitol west lawn. And of course, fireworks over the monuments! Ft. Belvoir hosts a Fourth of July concert on-post as well as fireworks after dark.

THE MONUMENTS

From seeing all the names on the Vietnam Memorial wall to climbing the massive steps to the Lincoln Memorial to visiting the National 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, Washington's monuments never get old! If you are lucky enough to have the chance to volunteer either at the airport or at the World War II Memorial during an Honor Flight, do it! Bring the kids! It is a special experience. You will never forget seeing these brave men and women visiting their memorial for the very first and for many the last time.

One of Ft. Belvoir's largest events of the year is the annual Oktoberfest, a four-day festival highlighting authentic German food, beverages, music, and dancing. Fun events geared towards the whole family include: a carnival, Volksmarch 10K Walk, and a Craft Show.

THE COMMUTE

Traffic in and around Washington D.C. is the worst or near the worst in the nation according to most traffic studies. A typical NOVA commuter spends an additional 82 hours behind the wheel annually due to traffic delays which is why many commuters use public transportation. Families choosing to live off-post often select housing in Fairfax Station, Lorton, Woodbridge, Alexandria, Springfield and Burke to avoid daily traffic snarls.

Flying in and out of the area is relatively easy. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is approximately 15 miles from Ft. Belvoir. Dulles International Airport is 33 miles from post and Baltimore/Washington International Airport is 55 miles away.

LOCAL CUISINE

Variety is the key word when it comes to cuisine in the northern Virginia/Washington D.C. area. With an international flavor and the fact that many of those living in and around D.C. are originally from somewhere else, the cuisine is eclectic to say the least. In the mood for Salvadoran food…it's here! Want to try Ethiopian cuisine? We have it! How about Indonesian? Yep! Regional specialties include: blue crabs from Maryland, peanuts, and country ham from Virginia.

AREA ATTRACTIONS

Despite being close to a major urban area, there are many outdoor areas to enjoy including:

FT BELVOIR MARINA

The beautiful Potomac River takes boaters past Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington, and north to the nation's capital, offering a view of the city's monuments and parks.

MASON NECK STATE PARK

The park in southern Fairfax County offers hiking trails, a large picnic area, a playground, a car-top canoe launch, bicycle rentals and bird watching.

GREAT FALLS NATIONAL PARK

800 acres along the banks of the Potomac River in northern Fairfax County, this park offers whitewater kayaking and canoeing, fifteen miles of scenic hiking trails, (five of which are multi-use for horseback riding, hiking, and biking), and rock climbing on the cliffs in Mather Gorge. The falls total 76 feet (20 m) over a series of major cascades.

CHESAPEAKE & OHIO CANAL NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK

This park dates back to the 18th century. The canal and towpath trail extends from Georgetown, Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5 miles. There is outdoor recreation, picnicking, bicycling, fishing, boating and hiking available.

GEORGETOWN WATERFRONT PARK

Located along the Potomac River, this park offers picnicking, bicycling and skating.

ROCK CREEK PARK

Rock Creek Park extends 12 miles from the Potomac River to the border of Maryland. The National Zoo is also located within Rock Creek Park. There is a lot to do including: picnicking, hiking, biking, rollerblading, tennis, fishing, and horseback riding. Additionally, there are concerts, planetarium shows, animal talks, exploratory hikes, crafts, and junior ranger programs.

FUN DAY TRIPS

Annapolis, Maryland – 32 miles; 1-hour drive – Gorgeous town, quaint restaurants and the Naval Academy! St. Michael's, Maryland – 79 miles; 1.5-hour drive – Maryland's Eastern Shore features crabs and scenic water views like no other!

Gettysburg (84 miles), Hershey (130 miles), Lancaster (120 Miles) Pennsylvania – Three unique Pennsylvania cities within 3 hours of the metro area – Relive the civil war in Gettysburg Learn the unique story of Milton Hersey and immerse yourself in the life of the Amish in Lancaster, PA.

Shenandoah National Park & Luray Caverns, Virginia – 3 hour drive; 120 miles – Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, west of Washington, D.C. Skyline Drive is the only public road running through the Shenandoah National Park. Nearby Luray Caverns is the largest series of caverns in the east. This eerie underground world of stalactites and stalagmites is worth a day trip from NOVA.

Richmond, Virginia – 108 miles; 2-hour drive – Virginia State Capital with a thriving restaurant scene and craft beer breweries. Lewes/Rehoboth Beach, Delaware – 121 miles; 2.5-hour drive – What can we say? It's the beach! Bring your lotion and your bathing suit and enjoy! Chincoteague Island, Virginia – 170 miles; 3.5 hour-drive – Do not miss watching the ponies at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the quieter side of the Eastern Shore.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

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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