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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.

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.