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Aloha! It's a beautiful day in Hawaii.

If you have orders to Hawaii, you have been afforded one of the military's most beautiful duty stations. The land on which MCBH sits has a long and storied history through the World Wars as an Army Reservation, Naval Air Station, and now Marine Corps Air Station.

WHERE IS MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII?

MCBH lies on the northeastern shore of O'ahu situated between the towns Kailua and Kane'ohe. This side of the island is referred to locally as the "windward" side—the windy, rainy, green side of the island. The Ko'olau mountains separate it from the more densely-populated, urban south shore of the island where Honolulu and Waikiki are located.

MCBH HOUSING

Housing aboard MCBH spans all ranks and pay grades and is managed by 'Ohana/Hunt. A few neighborhoods managed by 'Ohana/Hunt for MCBH are also located across the mountain range. All of the homes and floor plans can be found on their website. Playgrounds and sidewalks are abundant because the weather is so lovely much of the year.


MCBH BAH AND COST OF LIVING

MCBH boasts generous BAH allowances. Housing is expensive both to rent and to purchase. Base housing tends to be the best financial decision for many families because you get more square footage for the money. Homes on base also have air conditioning and at a cheaper rate to run. This is a luxury that most homes in town do not have. Homes are also more affordable the farther you move away from base and town. It comes at the expense of increased commute times and traffic. Thinking about buying a home? Here is our 2018 Hawaii Housing Guide to help you know what to expect!

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COLA

All service members in Hawaii rate COLA to accommodate the high cost of living. Gas, groceries, cars, and also car insurance all cost more here. Car registration is offered for the military at only $25/year, and you get to keep the pretty Hawaii tag after you move away. Amazon Prime is an excellent option to mitigate shipping costs and usually takes 5-9 days to reach Hawaii. And from experience, order the Christmas presents you want delivered to the island by December 1 to accommodate seasonal shipping delays.

Read reviews of Hawaii base housing from your fellow mil-fams!

ON-BASE AMENITIES

MCBH offers much by way of recreation. You can rent kayaks, surfboards, paddleboards, boats, and fishing gear at the marina. The aquatics program offers swim lessons, scuba certification, and fantastic junior lifeguard camps. Surfing at Pyramid Rock and North Beach (sometimes called Officer's Beach but is open to all housing residents) is second to none since both beaches face north like the famous surf breaks on the North Shore. Cabin rentals and camping are also available waterfront on the bay side. MCBH has a small exchange and the MCBH commissary, but the Navy offers jumbo-sized versions of both on the other side of the island.

SCHOOLS

Mokapu Elementary (K-6th grade) is located centrally on MCBH. Students grades 7-12 attend public school off base in Kailua. Bus service to Kailua Intermediate and Kalaheo High School is available for a fee and often has a waitlist. CREDO Hawaii is no longer based at MCBH but does serve all military members and families stationed in Hawaii. CREDO offers hugely popular marriage, family, and personal growth retreats at resorts around the island at no cost to you. Be sure to follow their facebook page for upcoming events and call the office to be added to their waiting list.

CULTURE AND CUSTOMS

As much as Hawaii is known for its beautiful landscapes and tropical climate, many residents love the culture even more. Family ('ohana) is of utmost significance here. Family-friendly events and gatherings govern the weekends. Many local families are multigenerational, so respect for elders is welcomed and expected. The newest members of the family are traditionally honored with a luau on their 1st birthday. Leis are an appropriate gift for all occasions—birthdays, holidays, graduation, hails and farewells, and also for visitors. Lei stands at the airport offer the best prices on the island. The base exchanges, commissaries, and grocery stores across the island carry leis as well. Food is also essential to Hawaiian culture. School cafeterias serve local favorites like kalua pork, haupia (coconut) pudding, and poi (pureed taro root). Poke (raw, marinated tuna), shave ice (don't call it "shaved" ice), and Spam musubi (Spam and rice wrapped in seaweed) can be found in every corner store. Increase your following distance when driving. Drivers here are very courteous—they will brake at the expense of causing an accident to let someone cross the street or change lanes. And ALWAYS remove your shoes before entering someone's home.

AREA ATTRACTIONS

HIKING

Hawaii boasts AMAZING hiking. Trails range from the paved and stroller-friendly (but steep!) Makapu'u trail on the eastern end of the island, to lush and tropical trails in Manoa Valley, to the dormant Koko Head and Diamond Head volcano crater trails.

WATERSPORTS

Kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, spearfishing, and diving are just a few ways to enjoy the warm water and 271 days of sunshine per year.

BEACHES

Kailua's beaches are far less crowded than the more touristy Waikiki. Be aware, the deep ocean currents can be extremely strong even near shore. Many beaches also experience shore break. Search "Sandy's Beach" on youtube to get a glimpse of the power of the ocean here. Parents with little children may want to check out the lagoons at Ko'olina for gentler waters.

SURFING

Surfing is the signature sport of Hawaii. Duke Kahanamoku and Eddie Aikau are local legends and surf icons. Surf lessons are available around the island. If you want to get into surfing, there is no shame in purchasing a $100 eight-foot foam board from Costco. Pros on the North Shore, water patrol, and surf school students all surf them with joy. Surf competitions are community events for surfers of all ages and skill levels.

MACADAMIA NUT FARM TOUR

This tour near Kualoa Ranch is more befitting a crash course for "Survivor" contestants than farm tour. It is both educational and entertaining. Your host will highlight various film locations on the property as you ride on crew buses used in the original "Jurassic Park."

LUAUS

Grand luaus are available on the leeward side of the island, the Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore, and also Sea Life Park on the east end. The Hale Koa luau in Waikiki is a less costly, shorter luau option open to service members, retirees, and their guests.

TAKE A RIDE

The North Shore is the most rural part of the island. However, Ted's Bakery and Sandy's Sandwiches near Pipeline are worth the stop on your drive along the Seven Mile Miracle. Waves can reach 40 feet during the winter months. Helemano Farms in Wahaiwa grows sustainable Norfolk pines for cutting at Christmas.

INTER-ISLAND TRAVEL

Island hopping is not as cheap as one might think but the other islands are all unique. Volcanoes Park on the Big Island is a place to behold, and military members can rent cabins at the park. Also, don't forget to register for your free National Park military pass so your $25 vehicle admission will be waived.

Being stationed in Hawaii will be memorable and life-changing. There is no pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" here. Kids are given multiple recesses and learn the hula and also the ukulele at school. Enjoy your time at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Chances are you will never want to leave and will long to go back after you do.

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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