Unaccompanied Orders - to Go or Stay?

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Your Fort Jackson Area Guide

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Fort Jackson is home to the United States Army Training Center, the Army's most active training station. This post trains 50 percent of all soldiers and 60 percent of the women who enter the Army each year. As the base motto says, "Victory Starts Here."

Fort Jackson is also home to 165th Infantry Brigade, 193rd Infantry Brigade, as well as, the Drill Sergeant Academy to name a few. If you've been stationed here, it's very likely you or your spouse will be spending a lot of time "on the trail," in other words as a Drill Instructor to the trainees.

WHERE IS FORT JACKSON?

Fort Jackson sits in the center of South Carolina, within the State Capital of Columbia. It's home to beautiful rivers and just couple hours' drive from the loveliest beaches the south has to offer. Folly Beach, Kiawah Island, and Isle of Palms seem to be the most recommended for vacationing.


FORT JACKSON HOUSING

Installation housing on Fort Jackson is divided into three major neighborhoods managed by Balfour Beatty, in both single family and duplex layouts. Pierce Terrace for enlisted active duty personnel, has 2 to 4 bedroom floor plans. Mabry Manor and Howie Village for officers has floor plans ranging from 3 to 4 bedrooms. While Fort Jackson housing has many amenities, there is also the option of living off post. Nearby Forest Acres, Blythewood, Elgin are the top neighborhood choices.

FORT JACKSON WEATHER

Fort Jackson weather and South Carolina in general really means there are only two seasons: summer and a very mild autumn. Meaning it doesn't typically get too cold, and very rarely snows. The heat can be intense, largely due to the humidity in the air. There is never a lack of sun or rain, of course coming from places like the Pacific Northwest, you gain a certain appreciation for it.

Hurricane season in the Atlantic begins in June and goes through November. Preparedness is key and it is important to have plans in place in the event of an emergency. Fort Jackson's Red Cross has plenty of information at your disposal and is always ready and willing to assist. You do get the occasional torrential storms, which can lead to flooding of the Congaree River, the Saluda River and the Broad River.

FORT JACKSON BAH & COST OF LIVING

Your Fort Jackson BAH should go pretty far at this southern duty station. According to Trulia.com, the median sales price for homes in Columbia is $154,900 based on 1,227 home sales in the last four months. The median rent per month for apartments is $1,195. Interested in finding a REALTOR® in the Fort Jackson area? Your fellow military and veteran community has reviewed them for you at PCSgrades.com.

FORT JACKSON WEATHER

Fort Jackson weather and South Carolina in general really means there are only two seasons: summer and a very mild autumn. Meaning it doesn't typically get too cold, and very rarely snows. The heat can be intense, largely due to the humidity in the air. There is never a lack of sun or rain, of course coming from places like the Pacific Northwest, you gain a certain appreciation for it.

Hurricane season in the Atlantic begins in June and goes through November. Preparedness is key and it is important to have plans in place in the event of an emergency. Fort Jackson's Red Cross has plenty of information at your disposal and is always ready and willing to assist. You do get the occasional torrential storms, which can lead to flooding of the Congaree River, the Saluda River and the Broad River.

ON-POST AMENITIES

Fort Jackson has some great amenities to include the Exchange, Fort Jackson Commissary, several pools, a small water park and theater among other things.

FORT JACKSON SCHOOLS

Understandably when relocating, finding a new school is a top priority and a family's biggest concern. Fort Jackson itself houses two elementary schools, middle and high school kids are zoned for off posts schools in the nearby Columbia, which has excellent public schools.

Lexington County District 1 and Richland 1 and 2 both are recognized as some of the best in the state. If you're looking for higher education Columbia has several colleges. Its most popular, the University of South Carolina is just a 15-20 minute commute from Fort Jackson. Benedict College, Allen University and Columbia College are other excellent options in the immediate Columbia area.

CULTURE & CUSTOMS

There are lots of local events like the ever-popular State Fair, Food Tours and Farmers Markets that highlight and celebrate the diversity of the south. Some local annual favorites are St. Pats in Five Points in March, the Columbia International Festival in April, and the Jubilee: Festival of Black History & Culture.

AREA ATTRACTIONS

The overall warm temperatures of the area make it easy to enjoy the beauty of the nearby beaches. Parks like the Harbison State Forest, Sesquicentennial State Park, and Saluda Shoals Park are also favorites.

While the slow pace of the south may certainly be an adjustment for most, it is one that is fairly simple to make. There is an abundance of family events both on and off post to fit your family's needs. Fort Jackson itself is a great duty station, and Columbia is quiet yet eventful.

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.