So, you have orders to Fort Drum? Climb to Glory! While you may be concerned about the weather, Fort Drum has incredible sights, unique experiences, and even another country nearby (Canada is a day trip!), making it a unique duty station! If you give Fort Drum a chance, it has so much to offer! Let's dive into your new duty station and then you can neighborhood hunt on PCSgrades.com.
WHERE IS FORT DRUM?
Fort Drum is located in Watertown, New York which borders Canada and Lake Ontario and is a 3-hour drive from the capital of Albany. This part of northern New York is by the Adirondack mountains and is home to the 10th Mountain Division.
FORT DRUM HOUSING
Fort Drum housing is privatized and owned by Winn Companies. Home styles vary between apartments, duplexes, and single family homes. Active duty families, Guard and Reserve, retirees, DoD Civilians, and civilians are welcome to live on post. However, there are no schools on post and military children attend public or private schools nearby unless they are home-schooled.
For those eligible to live off-post, most families elect to live in Watertown, Calcium, Evans Mills, and other surrounding towns. Due to the winter weather conditions in Fort Drum, finding housing close to post can be a big safety factor and time saver during winter months. Those that want to live where there is a quaint town, Sackets Harbor and Alexandria Bay are also options with a further drive. Check out neighborhood reviews on PCSgrades.com for more information about the local area.
BAH & COST OF LIVING
Jefferson County in Northern New York is home to more than 15,906 veterans and a little over 15,000 active duty families.
The state of New York, in general, has a high cost of living, but the Fort Drum-Watertown region has reasonable housing prices. Watch out for those utilities in the winter months though! The median home purchase in Watertown is $126,200 and the median rent being $1050.
Need to find a REALTOR® in the Watertown area? Your fellow military and veteran community has reviewed them for you at PCSgrades.com.
Fort Drum has the 10th Mountain Division Museum, sharing the history of one of the most deployed divisions of the Army, as well as a bowling alley and Remington Park Campground. Warrior Adventure Quest is an excellent resource for Soldiers within six months of deployment and returning from a deployment, which offers programs for ATV tours, rock climbing, snowboarding, paintball and more. You will also find 1 Commissary, 1 PX, 2 gyms, 1 library, and 4 Child Development Centers.
FORT DRUM WEATHER
December and January are usually the coldest months, with a low of single and teen digits on average. January highs, on average, are just under 30 degrees. July is usually the hottest month, with averages around 80. It is not common to get a lot of 90-degree days in the summer in the area, but it does happen. Fort Drum has a summer that can be enjoyed outside without terrible heat.
It tends to rain the most in the fall, but it is fairly consistent year-round. The snowy part of the year lasts from late October to late April, about six months of the year on average.
CULTURE & CUSTOMS
4TH OF JULY
Alexandria Bay is a big tradition in the Fort Drum region on the 4th of July. A-Bay (as the locals call it) puts on a spectacular fireworks show right over Bolt Castle and excited viewers spend the evening enjoying the town's shops and restaurants before and after the show. The event is so popular that it can take about an hour to get out of the city afterward, so you might as well hang around after!
THE NEW YORK STATE FAIR
This fair comes to Syracuse every year at the end of summer. The event is huge, bringing in over 1.1 million visitors. The fair features daily free concerts from national recording artists, paid concerts with some of the most popular acts in the music industry, a huge amusement park section, livestock shows, vendors, a Native American village, and incredible food. Fun tidbit, there is a special day each year for free admission to military members.
During the summer, Fort Drum hosts Mountainfest, a one-day festival that concludes with a Salute to the Troops tribute concert and fireworks. It is also open to the public.
The Northeast is known for maple syrup and Fort Drum has embraced this tradition. You can buy your own Climb to Glory maple syrup at the Off the Beatin Path gift shop on Drum. They even take kids on field trips to see how it is made, so embrace your inner Buddy the Elf when PCSing to this location.
- Salmon Run Mall is a small shopping complex located in Watertown. The mall features many popular stores and a movie theater.
- Dry Hill Ski Area is a local skiing spot in Watertown. The location has skiing and tubing hills, as well as offers military discounts.
- The New York State Zoo at Thompson Park is a small zoo with a variety of New York State native animals – their specialty. The zoo is fairly inexpensive and offers those visiting a look at the unique animals of the area.
- Black River cuts through the Watertown region and offers a variety of hiking, fishing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting opportunities for families.
Approximately 45 minutes to an hour away from Fort Drum is a location often used for military balls and celebrations. The little town is on the St. Lawrence River and part of the Thousand Islands. The small town is lined with shops, restaurants, bars, live music, festivals, a beach, and more. Alexandria Bay is home to Bolt Castle, which is located on Heart Island within view from the town. You can take a boat tour across the lake and spend the day on the island visiting the castle and learning the history of the area.
An hour away from Fort Drum and features a battlefield site and military cemetery. It is lined with stores, restaurants, parks, and a winery. Don't forget to stop by the Tin Pan Galley restaurant which is a local favorite, but only open April-October.
This small town is approximately 45 minutes from Fort Drum. It features a park, shops, restaurants on the water, and a small-town feel. It is the perfect Saturday trip for a great lunch and hometown shopping.
About an hour away is one of the bigger cities located near the installation and a must-see on the weekends. Syracuse is filled with summer festivals, a zoo, children's museums, Destiny USA (the largest mall in the state), and Syracuse University's Carrier Dome for college basketball and football games.
Our neighbors to the north are less than two hours from Fort Drum. Kingston, Ontario is approximately an hour and a half from Fort Drum and features Fort Henry, a military historical site from the 19th. Gananoque is a little over an hour from Fort Drum and has a small casino.
Drive 3 hours east and absolutely stunning in the fall. Make it your yearly goal to get to the Adirondacks for a weekend during peak season and go camping, rent a cabin, or go hiking in on one of the incredible mountain trails. In the summer, the Adirondacks region is perfect for Enchanted Forest Water Safari, an outdoor water park, and mini-amusement park. The park features a variety of fairy tale set-ups for kids to enjoy and is under two hours from Fort Drum. The water park is in the town of Old Forge, a great Adirondack town to visit.
There are so many amazing parts of New York that you will love and being so close to Canada, spectacular mountains, incredible water sports, and four seasons of the year. Fort Drum a duty station you won't forget between the people, sights, and snow.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.