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Your Fort Riley Area Guide

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You officially have orders for Fort Riley – now what?

Research your new duty station of course! Read below about all that Fort Riley has to offer you and your family and then hop over to PCSgrades.com to read reviews on base housing, neighborhoods, and more or let the PCSgrades team connect you with a REALTOR that is A-graded by fellow Mil-Fams.

Now let's get started!

WHERE IS FORT RILEY

Nestled in Kansas' Flint Hills region, just east of center, Fort Riley is home to the 1st Infantry Division. Also known as the "Fighting First" and more notably the "Big Red One," this well-known and prestigious unit has seen the earliest stages of battle in almost every major conflict since WWI. Naturally, being selected as first in the fight doesn't come without hard work. When you're stationed at Fort Riley, you can expect a lot of training, but you can also expect to enjoy the perks of the area. Though many think that Fort Riley is in the middle of nowhere, there's actually tons to do, great places to eat, and the Mid-West lifestyle will quickly grow on you.


FT. RILEY HOUSING

ON POST

There are, of course, the same awesome perks to living on post at Fort Riley as with every duty station. Fort Riley has five housing communities that are managed by Corvias Military Living. Housing perks vary from community to community, so be aware that some may not have the amenities you were expecting (i.e. garage or basement).
The other great thing about on-post housing at Fort Riley is that your yard work is free! Basic yard maintenance and snow shoveling are included. Lastly, on-post housing is significantly more pet-friendly than what you'll find off post. Though there are some breed restrictions for dogs, you pay a much lower pet deposit, and you can also rent a fence from Corvias that will be set up in your backyard.Check out additional housing options!

OFF POST HOUSING

There are three cities right outside of Fort Riley that most people live in; Junction City, Ogden, and Manhattan. JC and Ogden are located immediately outside the gates. The commute is typically less than 5 minutes to get to the gate. And no, despite the rumors, these are not dangerous cities. Every city has its bad parts, but there's plenty of great communities in both JC and Ogden. Manhattan, though a little further out, is home to Kansas State University and includes many of the activities and restaurants in the area. The commute from Manhattan typically takes about 10-15 minutes from doorstep to gate, with an additional 10-15 minutes of driving once on post to get to work. It might seem like a long commute, and you will most likely be unable to go home after PT or for lunch, but it makes for a great escape from military life.

Due to the higher restrictions and fees for pets, many people are unable to find houses for rent off post and choose to buy a home instead. Apartment living is also common, but be advised that the closer you get to Manhattan's center, the more outdated the apartments become. Though this is not the case for all apartment complexes, it is important to keep in mind that the demographics of Manhattan include a large population of college students who cannot afford higher-end apartments and landlords, therefore, don't feel the need to renovate.

BAH & COST OF LIVING

The cost of living is low in Kansas and the median home cost is around $140,000 which is much lower than the national average making buying an attractive possibility, however most families at Fort Riley buy in Manhattan which is more pricey with a median home cost at around 200,000. Just a little lower than the national average. Need some help deciding whether to rent or buy? Let us help you weigh your options.

FORT RILEY WEATHER

Let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room: TORNADOES! Yes, Kansas is tornado country. Weather will go from beautifully sunny one minute to darkness and ominous silence the next minute. It's eerie but beautiful to witness. Do your research ahead of time to figure out where the nearest tornado shelters are near your home.

Winters can be pretty miserable due to the wind chill, and they typically alternate from year to year with heavy to light snowfall. Summers can be hot and humid, but to be honest, if you're from or have ever been stationed in the South, the humidity won't seem like much.

CULTURE AND CUSTOMS

EVENTS & ACTIVITIES

You simply cannot be stationed at Fort Riley without knowing about Aggieville. You'll hear this term a lot, as it refers to the six square blocks of college bars and restaurants outside of KSU in Manhattan. Whether it's The Nothing Festival (a festival for no gosh-darn reason), or Fake Patty's Day (St. Patrick's Day on a day that ain't St. Patrick's Day), there's always something going on in Aggieville. By far the most exciting events are the football games! Don't leave Fort Riley without attending at least one KSU game!

Other notable events include Kickin' Country Stampede, a major country music festival held annually at Tuttle Creek that draws big names and big crowds, and the Independence Day celebration in Wamego; arguably the best fireworks show in Kansas.

LOCAL CUISINE

Do you like potatoes? Well, if you're in Kansas, you can find some form of potato on just about every dish. It's like the pimento cheese of the Mid-West. Aside from this regional favorite, there are actually tons of great dining options near Fort Riley. Take a trip to Aggieville or downtown Manhattan. You'll find yourself dizzy with options, and that's not even taking chain restaurants into consideration

AREA ATTRACTIONS

Consider taking a trip to one of the following locations if you're feeling the need to skip town for a little bit:

KONZA PRAIRIE (20 MINUTES)

This gorgeous nature preserve may only be a few minutes away, but its beauty and serenity make you feel far from civilization. With several different trails, you can spend an hour or two enjoying a nice hike and potentially spot some bison along the trail.

LAWRENCE, KS (1 HOUR, 15 MINUTES)

Truly a hidden gem in Kansas, this small town is home to KSU's rival; the University of Kansas. There's lots of great antiquing and window shopping, and don't forget to bring your pup! Lawrence is incredibly pet-friendly. Grab lunch at Ramen Bowls for your umami fixing!

ABILENE, KS (30 MINUTES)

There's so much to do in this wonderful, historic town! Home to President Eisenhower, you can take a tour of his childhood home while visiting the famous Eisenhower Museum and Presidential Library. Of course, a visit to Abilene would be incomplete without testing out the fried chicken at the Brookeville Hotel!

KANSAS CITY, MO (2 HOURS)

You can't be stationed at Fort Riley without at least one visit to KC! Though you can enjoy a day or even an afternoon here, I'd highly recommend making a whole weekend of it. Visit the National WWI Museum, catch a Kansas City Royals game, go shopping and try some of the region's best BBQ! Psst…my favorite is Joe's. Their original location is at a gas station, but trust me, the long line is totally worth it.

TOPEKA (1 HOUR)

Spend the day walking around the state's capital! Art and history buffs will love Topeka as there are several museums. The State Capitol building is gorgeous and is well worth a quick tour. If nothing else, at least visit Row House for a fancy and luxurious dinner; perfect for an anniversary or special occasion.

WAMEGO (45 MINUTES)

As mentioned previously, Wamego has an awesome Independence Day celebration! I was able to see the fireworks from a hilltop near my house in Manhattan. I can't imagine how incredible the experience would be up close. Additionally, this town is home to the Wizard of Oz Museum and Oz Winery. When in Kansas, right?

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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