“El Paso” Photo credit JC Findley
For whatever reason, the myth that Fort Bliss is one of the worst installations the Army has to offer continues to be perpetuated. Every time I tell someone that Fort Bliss was my first duty station I get the cringy-faced response of “Oooh, I’m sorry.” Well, I don’t know why you’re sorry, but the only reason I can think of is that you’re sorry you weren’t stationed there as well. Fort Bliss is hands down my favorite installation and possibly the best kept secret, and here’s why…
When you think of the town surrounding most military installations (at least in the Army) you can’t help but picture something straight outta Devil’s Rejects. One straight, poorly maintained road lined with strip clubs and pawn shops. Fort Bliss sits in El Paso, TX; a city with over a half million people right on the border of Mexico. Far from that one-horse town you may be used to. Obviously people realize that being in a big city means there’s always something going on, which is my main point here…but for whatever reason, most people hear “Mexican border” and want to run for the hills. This brings me to my next point.
2. It’s SAFE
For a few years in a row, El Paso was rated America’s Safest City and continues to be in the top 5 every year. Yes, I just dropped a knowledge bomb on you. Not sure if there’s a great explanation for why it’s the safest city. I’ve heard it all…cartel leaders live in El Paso and work in Juarez and provide this weird shadow government that doesn’t allow crime where they live (not sure if I buy it, but it makes for a great bedtime story for the kids!)…government is very strict on controlling the border and nothing or nobody gets by them (also don’t know if I buy this)…law enforcement has a very good relationship with the citizens who feel comfortable reporting crime when it happens (probably the most likely). I consistently left my garage door open on accident, with the house unlocked and everything was where it should be when I got home. However you slice it, El Paso is very safe.
3. Training Footprint & Facilities
For members of the mounted force, Fort Bliss will truly be your sanctuary. Compared to other duty stations, Fort Bliss far exceeds expectations when it comes to training area size. I’m sure you’ll hear it over and over again once you get there, but Fort Bliss has the largest training footprint in the entire Army (and possibly in the military…remind me to look this up) and it is roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island. Doña Ana Range Complex (incorrectly pronounced “Donna” by most everyone) is the largest training area owned by Fort Bliss and is located in New Mexico.
As for the facilities, expect modern construction with working AC and heat (for those super FREEZING winters…joke). Unlike many installations, the majority of Fort Bliss’ infrastructure was built within the last 10-15 years and looks brand spankin new! This includes the barracks. No barracks ghettos like you might find at other installations.
Ok, so many of my native El Paso friends might disagree with me on this, but for those of us who did not grow up in a border state or near the border, you may think that you’re in another country. And that’s a good thing! If you plan on leaving the confines of your frumpy couch or barracks room and checking out the city, you will be immersed in some of the country’s best culture. Start brushing up on your Spanish.
5. Tons to do
This may be a reiteration of my previous points, but I can’t drive this home enough. There is TONS to do in El Paso. So many new, modern restaurants and bars popping up constantly. Hike the Franklin Mountains. Go wine tasting (there’s actually quite a few vineyards in the area). Beer festivals. Marathons. Concerts on post and off post. Great shopping. Farmers markets. University of Texas El Paso is there, so obviously the city is invested in making sure the college kids don’t get bored. You’re also close to White Sands, NM so you can finally participate in the Bataan Death March that you keep telling your friends you’re going to do. Check out our article on day trips in the area to get some more ideas!
6. Freedom Crossing
Listen, I’ve been to a few military installations, and none of them…I repeat…none of them have a shopping center like Fort Bliss. Freedom Crossing, located on historic main post, not only contains the PX and commissary, but it is also home to lots of different restaurants and stores. Just to name a few: The Sushi Place, Shamrocks Irish Pub, Smashburger, Denny’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, A’GACI, Under Armour, Old Fort Bliss Cigar. Check out their website for the full directory. Additionally, when I was there from 2011-2013, there was a shuttle that brought soldiers to Freedom Crossing from the barracks and back.
So, if you find yourself with orders in hand to Fort Bliss, consider it a blessing!