Happy to have this guest post by Jennifer on being stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia. Please visit my Duty station guest post page for blog posts on other locations or more information about how you can write a guest post about where you have been stationed.
Hello from Fort Benning, GA self-dubbed the “Best Installation in the World.”
No really, the welcome sign has two exclamation points after that. But since this is Fort Benning’s centennial year, we can give it that little victory.
I’m Jennifer and I blog at jjheartblog (http://jjheartblog.com). I started it back when I was living at Fort Bragg, when Fort Benning was nothing more to me than “the place my husband went to Basic.” But life throttled forward as it always does in the Army and one day I found myself walking around Fort Benning, not as a newlywed visitor, but as a pregnant-with-my-second-baby resident. On my blog, you’ll find posts about my favorite hobby (love), my greatest career (motherhood), and my biggest adventure (the Army).
Fort Benning’s Unique Vibe
The minute you move to Fort Benning, you’ll realize it is unlike any other military installation you’ve been to. And not just because it’s the greatest one in the world. You’ll realize that the gates are more like a fancy NYC hotel revolving door than a gated community. Except it’s not fancy and it’s not New York. People are always leaving. People are always coming. It’s a revolving community.
The dynamic here is unlike any other post, because it is such an enormous hub of training spots. It’s true– there are a few units like the new SFAB or Ranger Battalion. But for the most part, Fort Benning is the home of every Army school under the sun. There’s the NCOA, Airborne School, Air Assault School, Pathfinder School, OCS, IBOLC, ABOLC, Ranger School, MCCC, SLC, and of course countless and countless classes of Basic Training OSUT.
Basically there are two situations here: either you see a new person every single time you go to the commissary because life here is just so transient. Or you see the same person every day for months on end because they are stuck in the TRADOC vortex and are never leaving. Literally.
This dynamic makes for an interesting neighborhood experience if you live on-post. You’ll have more new neighbors than usual. The “feel” of your street will constantly be changing. We take our yard sale game pretty seriously at Fort Benning. The “for sale” Facebook page at Fort Benning is more cultivated than craigslist after Christmas!
As most Army families have come to discover, transience can either make everyone around you really friendly and accepting, or it can make the entire situation very cold and uninvolved. Why waste time making friends or beautifying your yard when you’re leaving in a few months? Luckily for me, I have found the former to be the case at Fort Benning! Everyone is quick to make friends because they know they will only have you for a few months. It’s nice to be needed. 🙂
It’s also nice to not have to explain what your husband is doing. At most posts, you begin with their MOS/branch and then delve into the unit. Or vice versa. Here, you just say “he’s at school” and everyone nods. Which school? It doesn’t matter. They all take months and they all seem to have follow-on training.
Fort Benning’s Housing Situation
When people ask about someone’s experience at a post, they usually want to know two things. The first thing is—should I live on post? Unlike many bases (but like many), the surrounding town is not a great place to live. And I’m not just saying that because I’m bitter that my laptop was stolen in town. Which it was. And I’m bitter. But that’s not why I say that.
The Columbus area (the town outside post) is weirdly split into two parts. The “good” part is north and about a cool 25 minutes away from Fort Benning. The “bad” part is south and is a cool 30 seconds away from Fort Benning. So living close to post is not possible if you value your life. (I’m only kind of kidding.) And living far away from post is not possible if you value your sanity. (Unless you love driving and hate being home.) Normally, commuting isn’t the end of the world. But if your soldier is here for training, it kind of is.
Anyone who has lived in the TRADOC vortex of training schedules knows that they are numerous and unpredictable formations that are non-negotiable. You can’t “be late” for a day of training. You can’t miss the bus ride out to the field. Basically, you have to be “on call” for random, last minute formations. The people that live off post have to go in way earlier (since home is at least 25 minutes away) and then they are stranded for multiple hours a week while the training companies take hour-long breaks throughout the day. Those that live on post simply kill time by popping home for snack or a nap or both. Usually both.
Fort Benning’s Local Attractions
The other thing everyone wants to know, if they are PCSing to a new post, is “what is there to do?” If someone asked me if there are “things to do” here, after introducing them to mustard BBQ sauce and taking them on a tour of the National Infantry Museum, I would show them the picture of a zebra opening our truck’s door. There are things to do. It’s wild here.
Besides the animal safari where you can drive your POV through a 3-mile trail and hand-feed giraffes (see above), there’s a big river sandwiched between Alabama and Georgia called the Chattahoochee. Fort Benning’s nature trail runs all the way from it’s forests along the river to the brick-covered coffee shops of the quaint part of town. (The best coffee in town is at Iron Bank Coffee Co. or My Boulange). So much nature here, so little time.
If you’ve lived in Italy, you might cringe reading this: but Columbus is kind of artsy. Well, Columbus tries really hard to be artsy and I genuinely appreciate that. The random modern art sprinkled around town is a little disturbing. But the historic Springer Opera House (c. 1871) is about as artistic as you can get in the southern performing world. There’s also the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts for evening dates or Sunday matinees for the whole family.
But if watching a performance of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella doesn’t do it for you, head an hour and a half to Atlanta where you can catch Medieval Times and pretty much anything else you’d ever want to do in the city. The Atlanta Zoo is also a huge attraction, as is the Georgia Aquarium of course. (Oddly enough, I didn’t enjoy it too much. I must be a safari-kind-of-girl). Basically, you have Atlanta kind of at your fingertips (for a weekend trip anyways) so there is no way you’ll ever feel stranded here.
Well, I take that back. Maybe you’ll begin to feel stranded if your husband’s class date gets pushed back yet again. And you get your third installment of next-door-neighbors. Suddenly, what at first felt like it would be your “most transient” home soon becomes an extremely settled one. And then you realize that those big Benning “revolving” doors must have broke because you don’t seem to be leaving any time soon.
Welcome to the Vortex. It’s the best one in the world, apparently.
Jennifer married her secret-high-school-crush three weeks before he left for Basic Training. She now lives out her childhood dream of being a world-famous author by writing reviews on all her favorite amazon purchases and feverishly checking to see if they were rated helpful or unhelpful. When she isn’t reminiscing on her days as a cellist, she can be found in the backyard sandbox playing with her two little babies or drinking coffee or both. Visit her at jjheartblog (http://jjheartblog.com) and if you happen to see one of her Amazon reviews, give it a thumbs up!