5 Ways to Uncover the Secrets of Your Next Duty Station

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An issue of Stars and Stripes magazine “Welcome to Germany” sits on a newcomer’s desk.
An issue of Stars and Stripes magazine “Welcome to Germany” sits on a newcomer’s desk. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Austin Baker)

Making a permanent change of station move, or PCS, to a new duty station can be scary, intimidating and overwhelming all at the same time. It's a new place, new home, new schools, new work environment ... well, everything is new but the people moving with you.

When the military gives your family orders, there is not much choice but to move. When you don't have a network there, it can feel like you can't plug into the next location -- but there are ways to make the most of your new base.

1. Embrace your base. There is always going to be a place you absolutely dread going to (I'm not going to name that base so I don't jinx you), but that's not going to stop the military from sending you there. So instead of going into your next PCS with terror, try looking at the bright side!

Before you judge the base, give it a chance. Start looking into the on- and off-base activities. What's going on in the local area? Are there major cities or attractions nearby that would be fun to check out? Learning about and planning mini-trips and putting local events on your calendar for after you arrive can help you feel more plugged in, and get everyone in the family excited.

While you're at it, familiarize yourself with the base. Start looking at the duty station's website (I know they aren't always the easiest to navigate, but they often have a wealth of information). Find out what amenities are available on base and start estimating how much time you plan to spend there. If the installation can provide for your lifestyle better than the surrounding communities, then you're one step closer to making a housing decision.

Related: Get VA home loan quotes now

2. Go social. When you find out where you're headed next, get on Google and search "PCSing to ____." Look past the first few results to some of the lower results on the first page, and even consider going to the second page (eek!). You'll often find forums or chats related to your duty station where people have already asked questions that you have right now. Bonus: These are real people with real experience at the base.

Next, check out the blogosphere to learn from fellow military spouses, local photographers, foodies and real estate agents about what the area is like. Many of these people write posts on their personal experiences of the area, and they aren't limited on what they can say! Just be sure to look out for sponsored posts and keep their affiliate status in mind when weighing their input.

Getting connected with installation-specific Facebook groups is a popular recourse, as well. Ask members of the public groups whether there are any secret groups available for you to join. Make it clear you have specific questions to ask that you'd feel more comfortable asking in a more secure group (sometimes, unit-specific groups are secret and you'll need an admin to invite you). Oftentimes, fellow group members will add you, or at least vouch for your entry.

3. Work your network. Military spouses have networks that put Kevin Bacon's fame to shame. As soon as you receive orders (or a hint that you're moving in the future), reach out to your network and ask whether anyone has lived at the duty station you're headed to. Some of your friends may even connect you to people they know who are already living in the area. Then, you can pick their brains on the area and ask for their experience.

4. Nail down the brass tacks. There are two critical things you need to figure out about your new duty station right away: the housing market and the schools.

For the housing market, using Zillow can provide a good baseline for what home prices are like in the area. Start looking for homes in areas around the base that you find attractive. Then, take it one step further and click on the link for "county data" or "see more resources." That will offer you specific neighborhood names that you can then reach out to your networks and ask about. This research will give you a more realistic idea of what the neighborhood is like. For a more in-depth, customized approach, working with a Realtor, or even a MILLIE Scout, is going to be your best bet. Reach out to the housing office on the base, and they may be able to provide you with recommendations off base too.

While this can be a lot of work, in the end, it's worth it. However, if research really isn't your thing and you're worried about finding a good neighborhood, that's what I'm here for!

For school research, start with GreatSchools.org. The site gathers tons of information from schools every year and compiles it all into one score that you can use to compare schools in the area. But be aware that those scores are just numbers at the end of the day.

Connect with your base's school liaison officer. They're going to have the best info on the schools in your area and will be able to guide you to one that's appropriate for your kids. You can also check out my School Scope toolkit for a comprehensive overview of what to look for in a new school and where your child will thrive!

5. Map it out. As soon as you find out where you're moving next, hop on Google Maps to get a visual of the area. Start by finding out where the base is located and then work outward from there.

The cool thing about Google Maps is you can customize them and create labels, notes and other designations that are relevant to you. You can outline general areas you're considering buying a home in; you can drop a pin at your favorite grocery store or restaurant; and you can note where other vital amenities are and how far a commute they are from the base or your potential home.

The possibilities are endless.

Don't forget to use Google Street View to see what the area actually looks like, from an on-the-ground perspective. Acquaint yourself with the area, and save yourself the headache of repeatedly getting lost when you first arrive.

Get ahead on research to help orient to your new location and help you start identifying where you think you're interested in living!

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This article originally appeared on the Millie Journal.

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