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Your Fort Benning Area Guide

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Fort Benning is one of the most iconic Army installations as it's the home of the Maneuver Center of Excellence. In fact, the majority of the Army's soldiers have been to Fort Benning for either Basic Training or a military school at some point or another. So if you haven't been stationed here before, lighten up buttercup cause it was only a matter of time before youPCSed to this location!

WHERE IS FORT BENNING?

There are several things you should know about Fort Benning and the surrounding area prior to your PCS. The first of which being that life is better at Benning. The "Better at Benning" campaign kicked off in 2016 in an effort to dispel some myths about the installation. You've probably heard the rumors too: Fort Benning is miserable…don't live in Columbus…there's so much crime…there's nothing to do. Ladies and gentlemen, this is seriously bad intel. Anyone who has been stationed at Fort Benning in the last five years can confirm that Fort Benning and the surrounding area have come a looooong way since the 90's, which is undoubtedly how old these rumors are, if not older. Recent reviews from other mil-fams are a great place to start when researching Columbus neighborhoods and getting the real scoop.

Not only are the opportunities endless for the soldiers stationed here, but Fort Benning itself is in a great location. Columbus, which sits right outside Fort Benning, is the second largest city in Georgia. There's so much to do and see in Columbus that you don't need to travel far for anything you might need, like you might at other installations. So, now that we have your attention, let's establish a few things about the area:


FORT BENNING HOUSING

ON POST

Living on post is another great option. It can save you tons in gas money with the amount of traffic leaving the installation every day. As with most duty stations, living on post saves you lots of travel time. Most utilities are covered in the on-post housing options and there's no pet deposit or pet rent, woohoo! Here's a fun fact: the historic housing and Doughboy Stadium is highly recognizable from the movie We Were Soldiers, which was partially filmed on Fort Benning.

Learn more about the different on-post housing options and get the inside scoop about Fort Benning on-base housing from mil-fams who have lived it .

OFF POST

The vast majority of soldiers stationed at Fort Benning live off-post in Columbus. When you ask people where they live, they usually refer to which I-185 exit they live off of. Many families live off Exit 10 (about a 25-minute drive). Fort Benning sits at the southern end of I-185, and the end of the highway is actually the main gate to the installation.

Aside from Columbus, people typically live in Fort Mitchell, AL or Phenix City, AL. Depending on where you'll be working on post, you may want to look into one of these cities for either a shorter drive or quieter living. People often worry about the time zone, as Alabama is CST and Georgia is EST, but anyone who lives across the river just operates off EST. In fact, many businesses in the cities closest to Fort Benning on the Alabama side will operate off EST since the majority of their clientele comes from Georgia.

BAH & COST OF LIVING

The median home cost in Columbus, Georgia is around $140,000. That said there is housing available at many different price ranges, anywhere from right at $100,000 all the way up into the 3k and 4k range. Researching neighborhoods is a great place to get started if you are thinking of taking advantage of this lower than national average home cost. With the cost of living being lower in this region, you might consider grabbing a PCSgrades "A-graded" Realtor and start house hunting to stretch that BAH.

FORT BENNING WEATHER

Do you love snow and winter?! Hopefully you won't miss that season too much because it's virtually non-existent here. There is Summer, however. Summer runs from about March through October. Then Fall lasts until Christmas at which time there's a brief Spring until Summer shows up again. No joke, my tulips started sprouting in January. Ok, so I might be slightly exaggerating. About every other year there is an actual winter; mostly ice and freezing temperatures and occasionally snow. Regardless, when winter decides to show up, the installation shuts down.

The other unique climate feature of the area is tornado season, which runs from about March through May. Having just come from Kansas, I thought I'd seen the worst of it. Not trying to be an alarmist here, but Georgia tornadoes are no joke.

EVENTS & ACTIVITIES

There are several annual events you'll want to take advantage of while you're here that are both on and off post. The most popular Fort Benning events are Independence Day, Oktoberfest, Best Ranger Competition and the Tri-Community Field Day (a day of fun and sports for all kids enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program on post, along with special needs children from the counties surrounding post). Additionally, just outside the gate sits the National Infantry Museum, which was recently voted the #1 free museum in the United States. A PCS to Fort Benning would be incomplete without visiting the NIM at least once!

Off post, there's plenty to do and see every weekend. Whether it's a Food Truck Festival, Beer & Wine Festival or just attending the weekly Farmer's Market, you will never find yourself lacking something to do. Be sure to try your hand at whitewater rafting! The Columbus, GA section of the Chattahoochee is the world's longest urban whitewater rafting course in the world.

WILDLIFE

Fort Benning is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts, especially hunters and fisher-people. Bass fishing is very popular and there are several lakes in the area from which you can throw a few shaky heads (my First Sergeant always says this…no clue what it means). Additionally, there's a huge issue with the wild pig population on post, so you can hunt them without limit. The celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, even came to Fort Benning to hunt feral swine and turned it into some finger-lickin' BBQ for the soldiers. Speaking of BBQ…

LOCAL CUISINE

There's a lot to love about the food scene near Fort Benning, but you cannot throw a stone without hitting a BBQ joint around here. Welcome to the South, right?! This is truly a cuisine that I'm going to miss when I PCS. Aside from BBQ, there are plenty of different options in the neighboring military towns. Most people venture to Uptown Columbus to get their grub on. Uptown (not downtown!) is considered the heart of Columbus and has undergone some significant renovation in the last 10 years. There's always a new restaurant popping up!

AREA ATTRACTIONS

If you're looking to get away or explore for a little bit, there's plenty within a short drive from Fort Benning!

CALLAWAY GARDENS (45 MIN AWAY):

There is so much to do here; zip-lining, water sports, golfing, hiking, etc. There's always a big event going on, but if you go to just one, I'd highly recommend Fantasy In Lights during the holidays. It's the Southeast's largest holiday lighting event.

ATLANTA (1.5 HOURS AWAY):

You could easily take a day trip to Atlanta, but make sure to avoid the rush hour if you're heading up on a Friday night or any week day. It may very well keep you stranded for an additional 1-2 hours. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport is at the base of Atlanta. You only have to drive an hour to access one of the country's largest airports.

DESTIN, FL (4 HOURS AWAY):

Beautiful white sand beaches await you here! Destin is very popular because there is a MWR recreation area with lodging that is a great deal for service members and their families. It fills up fast, so make a reservation months in advance if possible.

PANAMA CITY BEACH, FL (3.5 HOURS AWAY):

Just slightly closer than Destin to Fort Benning is good 'ol PCB. Again, the beaches and water are amazing and you could easily travel here for a regular weekend getaway. Hotels are cheaper here than in Destin. It is also a very popular Spring Break location. So unless you want to be around thousands of rowdy college kids, avoid the month of March entirely.

AUBURN (1 HOUR AWAY):

Home of the Auburn University Tigers, this eastern Alabama city is definitely one for the books. Attend a football game, tour the town for some great eats (and drinks), or visit Chewacla State Park for some hiking!

SAVANNAH (3.5 HOURS AWAY):

A true gem of the South, Savannah is one of those places you just have to visit. And unless you're stationed at Fort Stewart or Hunter Army Airfield, being at Fort Benning is about as close as it gets. There's so much history and beautiful scenery to enjoy, so I would definitely recommend a trip here over a long weekend.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

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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While retired military Space A travel is a privilege, there are some retirees that do not have this privilege. There are different categories of retirees, some are eligible for Space A and some are not. But there are efforts to change the eligibility requirements.

For a retiree to be eligible for Space A travel they must possess a 'Blue' DD Form 2 (Military ID card). This includes those that are medically retired. Their dependents are also allowed to travel with them and must bring along their ID cards. All dependents should be enrolled in DEERS.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR RETIRED MILITARY SPACE A TRAVEL?

There are plenty of rumors out there saying that ALL retirees are eligible. This is not true. If you are 100% disabled and you only possess a DD Form 1173, or the new DD Form 2765 ID cards, you are not entitled to travel on Space A. Also, if you possess the brown ID card with DAVPRM (Disabled Veteran Permanent) in the bottom right, then you too are not entitled to retired military space a travel Space A travel privileges.

Dependents of retirees are not allowed to travel without the retiree. If the retiree dies, then the dependents no longer have Space A privileges.

If you are a member of the Guard or Reserves with a 'Red" DD Form 2 you can travel through CONUS (Continental United States), to, from, and between Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico. Also, if you are active duty for more than 30 consecutive days, Guardsmen and Reservists may fly anywhere that Space A flies.

Dependents of the Guard and Reserves are not authorized to fly on Space A until the member reaches the age of 60. At that time, they will be in the same category as a regular retiree, Category 6. Retired Guardsmen and Reservists who have completed their 20 years but are not old enough to collect their retired pay are considered to be in a "gray area".

AN ACT OF CONGRESS

There have been attempts to change the eligibility of all of the above retirees and dependents.

The first Bill to be submitted to the House of Representatives was House Bill 4164 aka Space-Available Act of 2012. This bill sought to authorize the Secretary of Defense to establish a program to provide transportation on Department of Defense (DOD) aircraft on a space-available basis for (1) active duty and reserve members holding a valid Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card; (2) retired members who, but for not attaining age 60, would be eligible for military retired pay; (3) an un-remarried widow or widower of an active or reserve member; and (3) certain dependents of members described above. Allows the Secretary to establish an order of priority based on considerations of military needs and readiness.

This Bill was sent to the Subcommittee on Readiness in March of 2012 where it has sat with no action.

Earlier this year, a measure to establish a space-available transportation priority for veterans of the Armed Forces who have a service-connected, permanent disability rated as total was introduced in the house. That bill HR 936 was referred to the House Subcommittee on Readiness.

HAVE YOUR VOICE HEARD

How can you help? Write your Congressman. Make your voice known.

The Gray Area Retirees Facebook group was created to talk about these problems and to try to get the changes implemented.

Space-A eligibility is sometimes confusing and false information is passed around often. Check out the resources in this article for any updates.

PCSgrades.com is a review platform for military and veteran families. Leave a review of your prior duty station and read the reviews of where you are PCSing to. Home is where the military sends us and together we can make a difference!

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.