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Your Southeast Arizona Area Guide

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You have orders to Southeast Arizona! Living out west may be going home for you or, like many military families, it might be a brand new adventure. Living in a desert climate can be quite a different experience if you have never done it before. Knowledge of Arizona geography is usually limited to the Grand Canyon, Phoenix and maybe Tucson. In fact, if you have orders to Fort Huachuca (Sierra Vista), you might have to really search the map. Southeast of Tucson you say? Is there really something southeast of Tucson in the US? Sure enough, and it's called "High Desert" which is something you may not even know exists! We have put together some information we hope will help you learn more about this desert area you are about to call home!

IMPORTANT INFO

Snowbirds – Arizona has a huge retirement community. From military retirees to golfers, there is a definite influx of an older generation when the snow starts hitting the northern states. It isn't a huge deal as rush hour traffic isn't that bad to start with in most areas, with the exception of the Phoenix area. The real challenge is that the base pharmacies are not staffed for these military retirees, so starting in October there are generally longer lines. Oh, and for those who are looking for off-season tee times, that happens in July in Arizona.


Weather – Yes, it's hot. Very hot in the summer. Average temperatures in Sierra Vista/Fort Huachuca in June hit 100. You can easily watch the temperature rise 10 to 15 degrees as you drive north towards Tucson. Sierra Vista is about 5,000 miles above sea level and it makes it much cooler than Phoenix. And it is, in fact, a dry heat. Some folks prefer the dry heat to humidity, but it can be a real adjustment for some people. Staying hydrated and taking care of your skin is a must when you live in any part of Arizona. And sunscreen? It is an absolute requirement year-round. You will burn fast in this part of the state as there is little shade and the sun is intense. Many playgrounds are covered for this reason… but please, lather on that sunscreen

Does it ever rain, is it ever cold? Actually, yes… in some parts of the state more than others. Monsoon season lasts from mid-June to mid-August. It rains almost every day, bringing in some cooler temps and greenery. You will experience more frequent rain in Sierra Vista and Tucson than in Phoenix, of course. In the high-desert area of Sierra Vista it snows in the winter, but usually not until after January. It's not uncommon to see snow on the beautiful mountains in the distance, and it might even snow in your yard a couple of times… as late as mid-March. Snow in Phoenix is not likely, and in Tucson it might happen briefly.

Wildlife – The farther south you go in Arizona, the more interesting wildlife you see. Bugs, spiders (and yes, tarantulas during monsoon season!), snakes and the most talked about animal: the javelina. These wild pig like creatures are particularly amusing to those of us non-locals. They are pretty ugly, smell bad, and are not scared of anything. They torment the dogs and are smart enough to know when trash day is. They work together to knock over the trash cans so they can root through and make a huge mess. They can even get bungee cords off of the cans. But when you're safe inside watching them walk down the street, it's a treat. They are pack animals and can be aggressive, so steer clear.The Javelina!

It is also not uncommon to hear about sightings of "urban wildlife" on the bases here. Wildcats, bears, deer… many of them come down off of the mountain at certain times of the year, especially if wildfires have impacted their habitat. It is why folks are encouraged to keep trash cans inside your garage in this area, and why it is important to keep an eye on family pets. Yes, small dogs have been known to disappear when a large bird swoops down and yanks them right out of their yard!

CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS

Food & Beverage – You're going to see a lot of wine in Southeastern Arizona. Yes! The desert is good for growing something! Vineyards stretch from Tucson east to Wilcox and south through Sonoita. Wine tours, wine tasting and festivals are popular throughout the late spring and into the fall months. Sierra Vista is also host to a fantastic wine tasting shop, owned and operated by a military spouse! Even if you're settling in Tucson, it's worth the trip down 90 to try out Hoppin' Grapes. Tell Kristine we sent you.Prickly Pear, sold in grocery stores for cooking!

You will also get to experience different food items while you are here. Arizona is home to some of the oldest documented food traditions in North America. Meats are often smoked with mesquite wood, giving it a unique flavor. You might find syrups and jellies made from the Prickly Pear Cactus, you won't want to miss eating a Sonoran Hot Dog (dog wrapped in bacon and topped with beans and other condiments), and of course Mexican cuisine is popular in the area. Yum!

Arizona Casual – The dress code down here in Arizona is pretty casual compared to the East Coast. Even in the business world, you'll rarely see a business suit. For starters, it's just too hot, and the atmosphere is much more casual. In fact, even casual is casual. Khaki shorts are very common in the summer and flip flops are a fashion staple. Office wear is generally closer to golf attire in the summer. Almost everything is more casual in Arizona.

POINTS OF INTEREST

Tombstone – Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Johnny Ringo liked Tombstone, and that should be reason enough to check it out. Staged gunfights fill the dusty streets, whisky flows from the saloons, and western legend look-alikes wander the streets in the most authentic western town left in the US. Visitors like to have old-time photos taken, visit Big Nose Kate's, and try out one of the many tours. This is absolutely worth the drive!

Sedona – One of the most naturally beautiful places in the country is a half-day drive from the Tucson area. Red Rock National Park, the famous Bell Rock, and Slide Rock "water slide" is open and ready for visitors. Pink Jeep tours are a highly recommended way to see the sites and one of the most popular restaurants is Elote, which is famous for its fire-roasted corn dip. Definitely add this place to your list and get there early, no reservations accepted.

Bisbee – Tucked into the Mule Mountains about 90 minutes from Tucson and 30 from Fort Huachuca, Bisbee is a unique world. Established due to the copper and precious metal mines, Bisbee is a blast from the past these days. It's well preserved as a twentieth century town and offers a cooler climate and creative spirit. Check out the Bisbee Breakfast Club to start your day off with a wonderful meal and stroll the streets for antiques, fun wares and wine-tasting. In October Bisbee hosts the "Bisbee 1000," which is a foot race spanning about 4 miles and 10 staircases throughout town… 1000 stairs total! It's a full-town event that you won't want to miss!

Phoenix – There is so much to do in Phoenix, it's impossible to pick just one thing to visit. The Zoo is wonderful, and can easily take a day to wander through. The Arizona Trail is a favorite here, which features the wildlife that are commonly seen throughout the state. There are also many options for hiking, sports, and museums, including the Hall of Flame Fire Museum and the Arizona Science Center. It may seem silly to drive a few hours for a weekend, but it opens up opportunities for lots of exploring time. In both Phoenix and Arizona you will find many hotel chains that are like mini-water parks! Multiple pools, splash pads, slides, lazy river rapids… all a chance to spend sometime in a "beach" environment despite the lack of water in the state!

Tucson – Reid Park Zoo is a favorite in the area, and can be seen in full in about 3 hours time. Military members can get a year-long pass that pays for itself in just a couple of visits. The Gas Light Theatre is a great place for a family dinner theatre experience, and there are many national parks, museums and canyons to explore.

Aircraft Boneyard – Beginning after World War II as a storage area for aircraft, this has turned into the largest aircraft boneyard in the world. Featuring over 4,400 various aircraft, this is a great place to wander around and see some old classics. Tours are available through the Pima Air & Space Museum (Tucson) and last about an hour and a half. Frequently throughout the year, there are special events held there, including a foot race in the spring.

A little bit further down the road – While you are stationed in this part of the country, there are a few vacation destinations you will not want to miss. The Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and the Hoover Dam are must-sees while you are here. Additionally, it may only take you 8 hours or so to reach the California coast where there are tons of places to visit!

MILITARY BASES

Arizona is home to three active duty military bases and two of them are located in the Southeast corner of the state. Both are historic in their own way and both have large retirement populations, as jobs are specialized here and the weather (as we've mentioned) is appealing to many.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base – Located on the eastern side of Tucson, Davis-Monthan, or DM as it's often referred to, plays host to A-10s. Housing is open to all ranks and the amenities include sports facilities, a roller hockey rink, and a splash park. A lot of active duty and retiree families make the trip to DM to use the large BX and commissary. There are two elementary schools on the installations, both of which are part of the Tucson Unified School District. Child care on the installation typically has a nine-month wait, and recreation facilities are plentiful.

Fort Huachuca – About 40 miles east out of Tucson, you'll see a sign for Fort Huachuca. (Don't worry, it takes a while to learn the pronunciation: Wah-Chew-Ca) 30 miles south from I-10 is where you'll find it. Fort Huachuca, or Fort We-gotcha as it is affectionally called, is a training installation primarily training the next generation of intelligence officers and soldiers. Base housing is privatized and available to all ranks. Historic homes and new housing bring together a community that is close-knit despite the seemingly constant turnover. The school district on post is separate from the city schools, and has an elementary school for K-2, one for 3-5, and a new, technologically advanced middle school. Two off-post options for high schools are available, with transportation from the installation.

This post sponsored by PCSguides.

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.