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Your Fort Sam Houston Area Guide

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Fort Sam Houston is one of three primary locations that comprise Joint Base San Antonio. The Air Force is the lead agency for Joint Base San Antonio, which includes Lackland AFB, Randolph AFB, and Fort Sam Houston. Lackland is home to the Air Force Cyber Command and Air Force Basic Military Training while Randolph AFB is headquarters for Air Education and Training Command, Air Force Personnel Center, and Pilot Instructor Training ("Instructing the Instructors").

Fort Sam Houston is home to the command headquarters of the United States Army North, the United States Army South, the Army Medical Command headquarters, the Navy Regional Recruiting, and the world renowned San Antonio Military Medical Center known as SAMMC. It is commonly referred to as the "Home of Army Medicine."

WHERE IS FORT SAM HOUSTON

Located in South Central Texas, in Bexar (pronounced Bear) county, San Antonio sits just south of the Texas Hill Country, 80 miles from the Texas state capital city of Austin. The two are relatively connected by a series of small towns and it is expected they will eventually join as a Metroplex. Traveling to Houston or Dallas is more of a journey, trips logging 3 hours and 4 hours respectively. Coastal destinations range from 2 hours to family-friendly Corpus Christi to almost 5 hours to get to popular college spring break, destination, South Padre Island.

San Antonio is the seventh most populated city in the United States and the second in Texas. Additionally, it was the fastest growing of the top 10 largest cities in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010. It is also home to six Fortune 500 companies and the South Texas Medical Center, the only medical research and care provider in the South Texas region.


FORT SAM HOUSTON HOUSING

ON POST HOUSING

There are many options for housing around Joint Base San Antonio. Fort Sam Houston Housing on-post is privatized and managed by Lincoln Military Housing. There are 925 homes in 8 housing neighborhoods available. These duplexes, quadplexes, and detached houses feature central air, a refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher. Neighborhood amenities include community centers and outdoor recreation areas. There is an elementary, middle, and high school on post that are a part of the Fort Sam Houston ISD (Independent School District). Bus transportation is not provided across district lines, but is available to students who reside on post and live more than a mile from the nearest school available on post. Check out advice and reviews from fellow military families about housing on post.


OFF POST HOUSING

Fort Sam is in the center of town and can be reached easily from many different areas. Nearby towns to check out include Schertz, Cibolo, China Grove, La Vernia, New Braunfels, and Universal City. There are more vehicles than ever on the roads surrounding San Antonio but depending on what you are used to, it may not seem all that bad. The San Antonio urban area ranked 33rd in the nation for time wasted during peak commute times. The good news is when there are major delays; drivers have decent alternative routes compared with other cities.

You can read what other military families have to say about local San Antonio neighborhoods at PCSgrades.com.

BAH AND COST OF LIVING

The median home cost in the San Antonio area is $172, 400 making it a very attractive place to buy. Developing areas such as Alamo Ranch or Stone Oak are rising in popularity. However, older neighborhoods like Cibolo, Schertz, or Universal City have a lot to offer at a reasonable price. The cost of living in San Antonio is 14% lower than the national average with a family of 4 costing roughly $72,000 a year to support.

FORT SAM HOUSTON WEATHER

You can expect mild winters and scorching summers in this part of Texas. While tornadoes and wildfires are rare, the biggest threat of severe weather in Alamo City is flooding. When it rains hard in San Antonio, downtown and several other areas are known to flood, making commutes potentially treacherous. The coldest month is January with an overnight average temperature of 38°F. The highest temps occur in August with daily temperatures into the 100's.

CULTURE AND CUSTOMS

The locals in San Antonio love an excuse to celebrate and much of the local culture is based around events like basketball championships, traditional Mexican holidays, and the two large-scale, multi-week events below. If you are heading to San Antonio – Get ready to party!

LOCAL CUISINE

San Antonio is foodie heaven. Home to some of the best Mexican food and Tex-Mex in the United States, locals consider themselves experts on Mexican Faire, especially the taco. In San Antonio, there are three times eating tacos is not only acceptable but celebrated; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. San Antonio is the home of the breakfast taco and they are available all over town at different price points, for the best tacos head to the west side or the south side. Austin has claimed to have the best breakfast tacos but they are wrong.

Tired of Tacos? Is that a thing? If so San Antonio has plenty more to offer from unique Southtown Asian Fusion restaurants to Food Truck Faire. Instead, try local favorites like Kimura, Hot Joy, Southerleigh, or Green.

FIESTA SAN ANTONIO

Fiesta is a 10-day annual celebration in the spring. It started in 1891 as a one-parade event as a way to honor the memory of the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. It has evolved into one of this nation's premier festivals with an economic impact of more than $284 million for the Alamo City.

SAN ANTONIO STOCK SHOW & RODEO

The San Antonio Rodeo has events all year long. The Rodeo is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) and kicks off in February. In addition to the rodeo, there is Brickfest LIVE! – a LEGO Fan Experience built to inspire, educate, and entertain with LEGO bricks. The Ultimate BMX Stunt Show Experience is an exciting show featuring one of the Best BMX Stunt Show Teams in the Nation! Brad's World Reptiles includes some of the most beautiful and exotic animals in the world!

AREA ATTRACTIONS

San Antonio is brimming with activities for families and couples and the downtown area is a great place to start soaking in some of the local flavors.

MISSIONS

Perhaps San Antonio's most famous attraction, the Alamo is the home of the famous 1836 battle and becomes a living history with special demonstrations and events all year long. This beautiful 300-year-old former Spanish mission turned fortress is open year-round and is free everyone to visit. Missions National Historical Park is a chain of four Spanish colonial missions—Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada-feature eight miles of paved cycling and walking path. Canoes and kayaks can be paddled along sections of the Mission Reach. The visitor center is located at Mission San José.

PARKS

Located on the northern side of downtown, San Pedro Springs is the second oldest municipal parks in the nation and is truly an urban oasis. There are 46 acres featuring walking/hiking paths and a pool for summer swimming.

Hemisphere park is a sprawling park in the middle of downtown housing the Tower of Americas and The Institute of Texan Cultures. Not only does this park have a big, impressive, playground, it also hosts some of the best festivals and celebrations San Antonio such as Fiesta and Luminaria ( a yearly art and light festival).

Brackenridge Park More than 340 acres of woodland, trails and a historic par-72 golf course are sure to please outdoor lovers! Your little ones will love riding a miniature train around the park. Here you will also find the San Antonio Zoo, and Japanese Tea Gardens.

DOG PARKS

In downtown San Antonio, the .65-acre Dog Park at Madison Square Park features a fenced off-leash area, mutt-mitts, a doggie drinking fountain, and benches.

McAllister Park has 1.5 acres set aside for dogs, which include a covered picnic area and walking trail.

Hardberger Park on Blanco Road has 1.8 acres for dogs, including separate areas for small and large dogs and a two-story doghouse.

The west side of Hardberger Park on NW Military Highway features an enclosed 1.5-acre area for dogs, divided into sections for large dogs and small dogs.

MUSEUMS

San Antonio is home to some fabulous art and history museums. The McNay Art Museum is housed in a 1920's mansion and offers American and European art from medieval to contemporary. It also has beautiful grounds and a huge event every second Thursday all summer long. The San Antonio Museum of art houses international collections, ancient art, and a contemporary gallery. For the kids, there is the Witte Museum, dedicated to Texas history, prehistoric to modern and featuring the H-E-B Science Treehouse. There is also the excellent new children's museum the Dosuem. The Dosuem can easily be an all-day adventure, teaching kids about art and science through interactive exhibits and activities.

THE PEARL

Just north of San Antonio lies the historic Pearl Brewery. This old can plant is now the hippest destination for San Antonio locals and tourists alike. Foodie heaven, the complex is home to the Culinary Institute of America as well as multiple other local fine food restaurants, Southerleigh, Cured, Supper, Nao, and more.

Each Saturday and Sunday The Pearl hosts an extensive farmers market offering locally sourced produce, cheeses, and more. Live music and the smell of the food trucks permeate the air, and the event is entirely family friendly. You can even bring your leashed dogs. Also frequently available on the weekend and even during the week are free yoga and fitness classes.

THE RIVER WALK

No San Antonio list would be complete without its primary tourist destination, The San Antonio River Walk. Construction of the River Walk began in the 1920s but really ramped up during the late '30s and early 40's when the Works Progress Administration (WPA), gave the funding needed to expand the network of walkways as a result of Roosevelt's New Deal.

If you are local, chances are you avoid the River Walk, for the most part, knowing that the best restaurants in downtown exist off the river, such as Schilo's, a 100-year German Deli, and Mi Tierra, a San Antonio tradition, located in Market Square. However, everyone should experience the River Walk at least once. You can take the family on a boat ride, to the River Center Mall for an IMAX show or head to Howl at the Moon Dueling Piano Bar for a night out.

DAY TRIPS

CHOKE CANYON STATE PARK

On the shores of a 26,000-acre reservoir about two hours south of San Antonio – boating, fishing, birding, hiking trails, camping, and breeding alligators!

AUSTIN

From sports to live music – Austin has it all! Visit the capitol building and the head out to a University of Texas game – remember to wear orange and yell "Hook 'Em." No OU allowed! Sports not your thing? Head downtown to catch one of the hundreds of musical performances occurring on a nightly basis. Austin is, after all, the "Live Music Capital of the World" and host of the famed South by Southwest Festival and Austin City Limits. When it comes to music, Austin rules. When it comes to tacos though – stick to San Antonio (There is a long time feud – San Antonio is winning).

FREDERICKSBURG

Enjoy some German food in this popular Hill Country destination, which is a little more than an hour away from San Antonio. In addition to the National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg has plenty of birding, fishing, bicycling and rock climbing opportunities. The Fredericksburg area also boasts the second most visited wine area in the US, second only to the Sonoma wine region in California. Visit some of the over 40 wineries in the Hill Country along the Highway 290, Wine Road outside of Fredericksburg.

ENCHANTED ROCK

The pink granite exfoliation dome called Enchanted Rock is about an hour and a half north of San Antonio. The dome rises 425 foot above ground and covers 640 acres. Bring a kite and get ready for some great camping, picnicking and seven miles of hiking trails.

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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