Welcome to The Great Place! You have orders to Fort Hood, Texas, one of the largest military installations in the country. Fort Hood lives up to the saying, "Everything is bigger in Texas." You will see this with the vast spaces, houses, CAV patches, as well as great traditions you will come to love.
What do you need to know before you purchase those cowboy boots and head to the Lone Star state? See below for a list of pertinent information, unique customs, and a list of local points of interest all within your reach, then head over to PCSgrades.com to start your housing research or get connected with an A-graded REALTOR!
WHERE IS FORT HOOD?
First things first, Fort Hood is centrally located in Texas about an hour north of Austin and 3 hours south of Dallas. The base is enormous and spans 3 cities when including the training areas, but the central city that houses Fort Hood is Killeen. Harker Heights is to the east and Copperas Cove is to the west, rounding out the other parts of the post. The training and cantonment area combined to cover a whopping 340 square miles, rivaling most of America's larger cities. Fort Hood is also the largest single-site employer in the entire state of Texas with an estimated 45,414 assigned service members and 8,909 civilian employees. That means lots of people, lots of traffic, all converging in one area every day.
FORT HOOD HOUSING
Fort Hood housing is privatized and managed by Winn Companies. Homes range from townhomes to duplexes to single-family homes. West Fort Hood and a few other neighborhoods are considered "on base" but are located about 1-2 miles from the main base and can be easily accessed through multiple gates. Some of these neighborhoods are open to non-military families and not all have gate guards. To see updated photos and read reviews of the neighborhood your family would qualify for, click here. Fort Hood is located in Killeen and Copperas Cove, TX. On base housing is available for all ranks. However, not all neighborhoods fall within the main cantonment area with some communities being across the highway and not having gate guards. Check out photos of all the Ft Hood housing neighborhoods at PCSgrades.com.
The average cost per square foot in the Fort Hood area (Killeen, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove) is around $76, making it a very attractive place to buy a home. Many service members capitalize on the low mortgages and purchase to maximize their BAH. Another bonus…there are no state taxes for Texas! While it is not required to update your Home of Record, Texas has no state taxes, so making the switch will put some extra cash in your pocket! To read reviews from fellow military families on where to live off post, click here.
FORT HOOD WEATHER
You will experience two seasons at Fort Hood: hot and hotter. With mild winters and hot summers, it's rare you will experience all four seasons. With numerous water parks, pools, and lakes in the area to keep you cool, most people don't seem to mind the break from the cold weather. Stay hydrated and just get used to applying that sunscreen, even during Christmas break!
FORT HOOD AMENITIES
There are two large Commissaries and Exchanges located on each side of the main post, and the brand new Carl R. Darnell Army Medical Center opened in March 2016. Seven Elementary schools and two Middle Schools are located on post also. High Schools students living on post are zoned for Killeen High School or Shoemaker High School. Fort Hood also has many medical facilities, pharmacies, restaurants, parks, and pools on the post.
CULTURE AND CUSTOMS
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
One Texas landmark you will come to love is the grocery store H-E-B. Though it may be the only show in town, excluding Walmart and the Commissary, it will never disappoint. H-E-B sells every product you can imagine at low prices and houses a vast array of local Texas wines and beers. After experiencing it once, you will never want to shop anywhere else again.
As for local cuisine, Texas is home to some fantastic BBQ, all things Tex-Mex to include breakfast burritos, and Texas kolaches. What is a Texas kolache you might ask? It's a giant pastry stuffed with meat that you can get with cheese and jalapeños. If you are feeling thirsty after your local cuisine, head to one of the many drive-thru daiquiri bars. (Yep, you read that right… but as always, be responsible and don't drink and drive!) Each city in the Fort Hood area boasts a least one! If you would like something a little more elegant than the local "Brew Thru" you can head to any of the local wineries in the surrounding area. Did I mention Fort Hood loves its local wine and beer?
FORT HOOD TRADITIONS
Fort Hood has so many traditions that you find yourself quickly falling in love with the pomp. First, you have the Cavalry charges! Picture this scenario: cannon shoots, bugle sounds, horses running, guns firing in the air and everyone screaming "CHARGE" as the donkey-drawn wagon brings up the rear. You will feel like you are in an old western. Also, every Friday is "Stetson Friday" on base. That means that from Private on up, you remove your service cap and put on a giant Stetson (aka cowboy) hat. Complimenting that Stetson is either a gold or silver set of spurs, but don't go and buy them, those are earned either through a deployment or a Spur Ride. It's all very John Wayne and romantic.
The cities that make up the greater Fort Hood area are also very military friendly. The Independent School Districts (ISD), are sponsored by units on base and soldiers volunteer their time at those schools. Soldiers typically have late calls and can take their kids to school on the first day. Have a parent deploying or coming home on a school day? No problem! Schools treat this as an excused absence. You are not truly a local until you have a family bluebonnet photo. Bluebonnets are the cherished state flower of Texas and bloom for a few weeks each year. You will see photographers and families pulling off the side of the highway when they spot a "bluebonnet field" all to get that perfect shot.
Texas casual is an actual dress code that will come on event invitations. What does it mean? Jeans and cowboy boots are not only acceptable but encouraged. When in Rome, right? In addition to the boots, you will also see lots of large belt buckles, spurs, and Texas ties.
Homecoming Mums. You are in for a treat if you have never seen or heard of this practice that seems only to take place in Texas. Students will wear giant "mums" attached to their clothes during homecoming week and the contraption consists of anything and everything. They vary from small to large and have ribbons hanging off of them (typically one ribbon per year in school) and can even be blinged out with lights. The sky is the limit with how you decorate your mum. Guys give them to their homecoming dates; girls give them to guys in garter form to wear on their arm, and parents can make a killing if they design and sell these!Stationed at Fort Hood? Pay it forward with a neighborhood review!
AREA ATTRACTIONS NEAR FORT HOOD
Since Fort Hood is located in Central Texas, you have access to some amazing surrounding cities all within a few hours drive.
GEORGETOWN (45-MINUTE TRIP)
Georgetown is a quaint town you will pass on your way to Austin. It has a beautiful city square with local shops, antiques, and excellent restaurants. Not in the mood to shop? Head to the local winery and relax with a wine tasting.
AUSTIN (1-HOUR TRIP)
Austin is not only the Capitol of Texas but known as the music capital of the world. There is so much to do in Austin that you will need to make more than one trip. You can attend a music festival, watch the bats fly off the Congress Avenue Bridge, visit the Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library, swim in Barton Springs Pool, pose in front of the famous "I love you so much" wall, or catch a University of Texas football game. The options are endless in Austin.
DALLAS (2.5-HOUR TRIP)
Dallas is a large city that deserves more than one trip to accomplish the checklist of events that the town has to offer. The most notable attractions include the JFK History Tour that ends in Dealey Plaza, the George W. Bush Presidential Library, the Dallas World Aquarium, Cowboys football games, Rangers baseball games, the Dallas Zoo and many more parks and museums.
SAN ANTONIO (2.5-HOUR TRIP)
What a fun place to visit! Military families love to take a weekend trip to San Antonio and visit the local attractions. The Riverwalk, lined with colorful umbrellas, restaurants, boat tours, and much more. Or head to Sea World and check out the aquatic life (they even have a great military discount program!). Probably the most visited site in San Antonio would be the Alamo. Just don't ask to see the basement.
HOUSTON (3-HOUR TRIP)
Houston is also home to the (NASA) Space Center Houston, Houston Zoo, Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Astros baseball team, the Downtown Aquarium, and the Children's Museum… just to name a few. Or take a boat tour and participate in one of the many crawfish boils the city hosts.
GALVESTON (4-HOUR TRIP)
Galveston is also where many families like to escape and enjoy a nice beach vacation. You can simply enjoy Island Time in a beach chair or shop around, tour the Moody Gardens, or head to the Lone Star Flight Museum and check out the historical air crafts and artifacts. Galveston is also a major port of call to hop on a cruise ship and take an extended vacation!
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.