Unaccompanied Orders - to Go or Stay?

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For Navy and Marine families, being stationed near the water may be par for the course, but ask anyone how they feel about being stationed in Pensacola and you'll see their eyes light up. The weather is great. The beaches are beautiful and seafood is fantastic. Ready to learn more about your new duty station? Dive in below! Ready to house hunt and see photos? Head to PCSgrades.com!

WHERE IS PENSACOLA?

Pensacola is the most western city in the Florida panhandle on the border of Florida and Alabama. This beautiful city lies on the Gulf of Mexico and is the oldest European settlement in mainland America. Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels and Naval Aviation. But you're going to find all branches here. (Even the Army!) Families come and go, and often they begin their career here in training and then come back several times before retirement.

HOUSING

Housing on Corry Station, NAS Pensacola, and Whiting Field are all operated by the same privatized housing company, Balfour Beatty. Service members assigned to this area can choose to live in any of the communities, though most people tend to live off the installation, out in town.

Stationed in Pensacola? Leave a review of your neighborhood and help fellow mil-fams!

BAH & COST OF LIVING

Escambia County in western Florida is home to more than 40,000 veterans and over 11,000 active duty families.

The overall cost of living for the Pensacola area is 8% lower than the national average with the median rent cost at $1,100 and the median home purchase price of $133,100. There is also no state income tax making this an attractive place to purchase.

Need to find a REALTOR® in the Pensacola area? Your fellow military and veteran community has reviewed them for you at PCSgrades.com.

WEATHER

Yes, Pensacola is in Florida, but the weather isn't always hot. In the winter, it can get quite cool, but you don't need to worry about snow storms here. Even into October, you'll be running your air conditioner and cherishing the slightly cooler mornings. The humidity, however, is something you'll have to get used to. It's hot, it's sticky, and the summer rain just makes it worse!

AMENITIES & INFO

SCHOOLS

Escambia County, Florida (where these installations are located) is the second-poorest county in the state. This makes education a concern for many parents and pushes them to live off of the installation and utilize school choice whenever possible. Most people live outside the back gate, heading towards Perdido, or up north towards Milton, Pace, and Cantonment.

THE COMMUTE

While traffic has its moments, overall it's not a bad commute, even if you are driving 20-30 miles away from the installation. Though, on summer weekends, the traffic to and from the beach areas can double that drive time.

CULTURE AND CUSTOMS

SPORTS TEAMS

Pensacola plays host to two minor league sports team, the Blue Wahoos (baseball) and the Ice Flyers (hockey). These games are a great place to mingle with the locals and appreciate live sports, at a fraction of the cost. Wanna bring the kids to the Wahoos stadium? Get "standing room only" tickets, bring a blanket, and head out to the grassy hill right field. Hockey kicks off in late October and there are several military appreciation nights with steep discounts, as well as a chance to nominate your hero to drop the puck in center ice for each home game. Show your new hometown pride and cheer on your local Pensacola team!

FOOD & SEAFOOD

The food in Pensacola is something else. Why not try seafood when you can see the beach from your table in the restaurant? There are some great bars, gastro pubs, burger places, and even fine dining. A popular chain restaurant called The Shrimp Basket is a favorite for weekday lunches. Several beachside restaurants have a contained sand area for kids to play while adults relax with a cocktail. Master's Champion Bubba Watson is a native of the area, which makes Bubba's Sweet Shoppe a great place to visit for fudge or ice cream.

AREA ATTRACTIONS

HISTORIC PENSACOLA VILLAGE

Downtown Pensacola has something for everyone, restaurants, galleries, ice cream shops, a park, and museums. The T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum is one of the history museums that is housed in a three-story building. Close by is the Pensacola Museum of Art and the Pensacola Children's Museum in the Seville Quarter. All tickets purchased, at any of the museums in the group, are valid for seven days, so you can easily view them all. Annual membership is also quite affordable for those who like to revisit

PENSACOLA LIGHTHOUSE & MUSEUM

For those wishing to climb the historic lighthouse, the views are spectacular. Coast Guard history, maritime history, a museum store and the restored 1869 keepers' quarters are included in the available exhibits. It's only 177 steps to the top, and frequently ghost hunts are available for those with an extra sense of adventure.

BEACHES

Pensacola has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. A favorite among military families is Johnson's Beach, located in Perdido. As a national park, it's free to military families, and the amenities make it a very desirable location. The beach on NAS Pensacola is often the first one families experience, as the Navy Lodge looks right out onto it. The waters are pretty calm and the sand is soft. Pensacola Beach plays hosts to many events throughout the year, which makes it busy but fun.

NATIONAL NAVAL AVIATION MUSEUM

Pensacola has so much aviation history, that it's impossible to see it all in one day. But those visiting the aviation museum have the best chance. Located on NAS Pensacola, this museum has over 150 restored aircraft that represent the history of Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation. It's huge, with inside exhibits filling the 350,000 square feet and outside exhibits across the 37 acre grounds. On certain weekdays, the Blue Angels practice right over the museum, so special seating is available to view that. And on extra special days, the pilots will come to that area and meet with fans.

PALAFOX MARKET

For fresh produce, homemade bread, and a great atmosphere, the Palafox Market on Saturdays is the place to be. Grab some coffee at Fosko's Coffee Barre and then stroll through the market. Be sure to stop and listen to the String Farm play and admire the handmade souvenirs that are sprinkled in among the vendors.

Pensacola truly has something for everyone, with just about the perfect population size. Not so many people that you'll be stuck in traffic, but just enough that you'll quickly find your tribe.

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.