Maybe you've been able to avoid the assignment for several years, or have been dying to move to the area, but now the orders are official! If you are depending on a typical duty station experience, you may be disappointed. Most agree the National Capital Region is unlike any duty station you've had in the past.
Get ready to enjoy this unique experience full of history, politics, inside the beltway traditions and patriotism like you've never seen before! After you read the rundown of the Nation's Capital below, head to PCSgrades.com for neighborhood reviews with photos and maps to help you pick the perfect part of town for you.
WHERE IS THE PENTAGON?
While you may hear people say they are PCSing to Washington D.C. for an assignment at the Pentagon, this unique building is actually located across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. You've seen large bases and posts but when you park at the Pentagon, it gets tricky remembering your parking space among the 67 acres of parking lots, which accommodate over 8,700 vehicles.
The Pentagon itself is indeed impressive. This concrete structure featuring seven floors, two below ground and five above, is the largest office building in the world, covering 34 acres. It is double the size of the Empire State Building. Nearly 30,000 military and civilian employees share 691 water fountains and 284 bathrooms. There are no elevators in the Pentagon. Ramps accommodate those moving from floor to floor. Pentagon tours are offered which are always a hit with out of town guests.
There are many options for housing in the National Capital Region. Although, depending on where you are coming from, there may be sticker shock as the DC suburbs feature seven of the country's 10 richest counties. There is no on-base housing at the Pentagon. However, there are several nearby military installations that offer housing options. These include:
Joint Base Anacostia–Bolling in Southeast Washington, D.C.
Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County Maryland
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia
Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia
Housing takes many forms in the National Capital Region. Single family homes, townhouses, condos and apartments can be found in both urban and rural settings a short distance from downtown.
NOVA (NORTHERN VIRGINIA)
- Arlington and the city of Alexandria, Virginia are inside the beltway.
- Fairfax County, Virginia (Falls Church, Reston, Tysons Corner, McLean, Great Falls, Fairfax, Fairfax Station, Lorton, Oakton, Springfield, Burke, Annandale, Chantilly, Centreville and Clifton) is the largest county in the Washington, D.C. area. It falls inside and outside the beltway and is home to George Mason University.
- Loudoun County, Virginia includes Sterling, Ashburn, Potomac Falls, Countryside, Middleburg, South Riding, Hamilton and Dulles International Airport.
- Prince William County, Virginia includes Woodbridge, Dumfries, Haymarket, Occoquan, Lake Ridge, Manassas and Manassas City.
- Montgomery County, Maryland includes Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring and Wheaton
- Prince George's County is home to the University of Maryland, government agencies like NASA and the Department of Agriculture, as well as the Washington Redskins Bowie, Brentwood, Capitol Heights and Cheverly College Park.
Prices vary widely depending on the state and county you choose to live in. If you work with a PCSgrades reviewed realtor,you'll find there is a rental or mortgage to fit every BAH.
WASHINGTON D.C. WEATHER
There are four distinct seasons in Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas. Winters are relatively mild with an average snow fall of 15.4 inches, three quarters of it falling in January and February. Springtime is preferred as tourists travel from around the world to see the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin. These delicate flowering trees only bloom for a couple weeks out of the year. Summers can be as steamy as the politics with temperatures rising above 100 on some days in July and August. The mild temps tend to stick around in September and October. But by Halloween the fall foliage is in its full splendor with the vivid colors of autumn.
BAH WASHINGTON DC
Your BAH may not stretch as far living in the DMV, (the District, Maryland or Virginia). Depending on where you are PCSing from, you might have sticker shock when house hunting in the D.C. area. You will generally pay more for a home in the District of Columbia than in the suburbs of Maryland or northern Virginia, but they have lower property taxes.
In Prince George's County, MD the median price for a single family home rose 9.6 percent over the last year to $312,345. The average sales price in Fairfax County is $560,919; this is up 2.17 % from January of 2017. The housing market in both states is currently hugely competitive, and it's common for sellers to receive multiple bids.
To read the latest on the NOVA Housing Market, click here.
The good news is NOVA receives high marks for "its above-state-average school scores and a very low crime rate compared to the national average."
CULTURE AND CUSTOMS
There is, perhaps, no more a diverse duty station than Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas, providing for many unique experiences. From mid-September until Thanksgiving, and again from about mid-January to June, Congress is in session which means the hotels are full of guests and the restaurants and bars are enjoying a booming business. From mid-March through June, families and school groups pack the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms and enjoy Washington's monuments. This is also high season for protest marches.
May features a month-long celebration called Passport DC, which showcases more than 70 embassies and cultural organizations with tours and open houses. A summer highlight is the annual Fourth of July festivities. There is an Independence Day Parade along Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th Streets NW and a Capitol Fourth Concert featuring world renowned musicians and vocalists at the U.S. Capitol west lawn. And of course, fireworks over the monuments are always memorable!
Speaking of monuments, almost every out of town visitor that you host during your time in D.C. will want to see "the monuments," and with good reason. From seeing all the names on the Vietnam Memorial wall, to climbing the massive steps to the Lincoln Memorial, to visiting the National 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, it never gets old.
You think you have experienced traffic woes at other duty stations but the traffic in and around D.C. is near the worst in the nation according to most traffic studies. A typical NOVA commuter spends an additional 82 hours behind the wheel annually due to traffic delays, which is why many commuters use public transportation.
METRORAIL & METROBUS
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority operates the second largest rail transit system and the fifth largest bus network in the U. S. The system serves the District of Columbia, the Northern Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun and the suburban Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George's.
CARPOOLS & VANPOOLS
Carpooling and vanpooling are also great options, especially for those commuting longer distances. These commuting options offer excellent cost savings and can cut commuting time through the use of HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes.
ONLY IN DC!
A unique form of commuting referred to as 'slugging', is very popular for those heading downtown or to the Pentagon each day. Drivers needing additional passengers to meet the required three-person HOV minimum, stop to pick up passengers as they stand in a 'slug line'. The driver displays a sign featuring the destination or calls out the destination through an open window. No money is exchanged as all parties benefit from the arrangement. It's been referred to as the "safe way to hitchhike" and has its own set of etiquette rules.
With an international flavor and the fact that many people living in and around D.C. are originally from somewhere else, the cuisine is eclectic to say the least. In the mood for Salvadoran food? It's here! Want to try Ethiopian cuisine? We got it! How about Indonesian? Yep! Regional specialties include: blue crabs from Maryland and peanuts and country ham from Virginia. There is no need to dine at the same place twice with so much variety available in the D-M-V!
Despite being a major urban area, it is not a concrete jungle. There are many outdoor areas to enjoy, including:
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park
This park dates back to the 18th century. The canal and towpath trail extends from Georgetown, Washington D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland – a distance of 184.5 miles. You will find outdoor recreation, picnicking, bicycling, fishing, boating and hiking at this great location.
Georgetown Waterfront Park
This park sits along the Potomac River and visitors can enjoy picnicking, bicycling and skating.
Rock Creek Park
Extending 12 miles from the Potomac River to the border of Maryland, the National Zoo is also located within Rock Creek Park. There is lots to do including: picnicking, hiking, biking, rollerblading, tennis, fishing, and horseback riding.
Great Falls National Park
With 800 acres along the banks of the Potomac River in northern Fairfax County, this park offers whitewater kayaking and canoeing. There are also fifteen miles of scenic hiking trails, five of which are multi-use for horseback riding, hiking and biking. Additionally, you can experience rock climbing on the cliffs in Mather Gorge above the Potomac. The falls total 76 feet over a series of major cascades.
Mason Neck State Park
Located in southern Fairfax County, about 20 miles from Washington D.C., visitors to this park can enjoy hiking trails, a large picnic area, a playground, a car-top canoe launch, bicycle rentals and bird watching.
Just 32 miles away, it will take you about an hour to drive here where you can enjoy this gorgeous town with quaint restaurants and the Naval Academy!
Shenandoah National Park & Luray Caverns, Virginia
Another three hour drive at about 120 miles away, the park is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, west of Washington, D.C. Skyline Drive is the only public road running through the Shenandoah National Park. Nearby Luray Caverns is the largest series of caverns in the east. This eerie underground world of stalactites and stalagmites is worth a day trip from NOVA.
St. Michael's, Maryland
Only 79 miles away, you can make this trip in about 1.5 hours. Maryland's Eastern Shore features crabs and scenic water views like no other!
The 108 mile, two-hour drive to the Virginia State Capital is a nice day-trip if you are in the mood for a thriving restaurant scene and craft beer breweries
Lewes/Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
And finally, 121 miles and just 2.5 hours away by car, makes for a relaxing weekend. What can we say? It's the beach! Bring your sunscreen, flip flops and your bathing suit and enjoy!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.