Hurray! You’re PCSing to Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM), Washington. You get to come to one of the most requested duty locations in the Army. It is nested just west of the Cascade Mountain range, 45 minutes from Seattle, 2 hours from Portland, and right next to Tacoma. The base’s popularity is mainly due to the fact that it is close to major cities, but still right next to some of the best outdoor activities in the country. Contrary to popular belief about the Seattle area, it doesn’t always rain, and the weather is great overall. As with any post and Army unit, you will stay busy at work, however, in your off time there is SOOOO MUCH to do. So without further ado, let’s establish some simple things about the area…
1. It’s Not Cold
Trust me, it never really gets cold here. During the summer months it can get into the 90s, and in the winter months, it rarely gets to freezing temperatures. Overall, the weather stays temperate. Be prepared to sweat….oh yea, and most houses don’t have AC, but you’ll get used to it. If you absolutely need an ice cold home in the summer, portable air conditioners work great, and you can get a good one for a few hundred bucks.
2. Off Post Housing
You have a vast selection of off post living establishments. The Tacoma area offers everything from country and rural living to city living. You could live next to the ocean, or close to the mountains, completely your preference. If you are single, I recommend living in downtown Tacoma. You will be close to the city action, and able to meet new people easily. For those married and/or with families, the schools in the Olympia/Lacey region are top notch. The area isn’t terribly pet-friendly for renters, but retail and restaurants in the surrounding area love to see your pooch with you.
Seattle International Airport is the closest and most used airport. It is also a huge airport that sends flight all over the world. You can Uber, drive, or take a daily shuttle to and from the airport. It is anywhere from 35-50 minute drive, depending on where you live in the area.
To put it simply, traffic sucks. Interstate Highway 5 (or “The 5” as some call it) gets busy, but you can avoid it if you time your drive correctly. Overall, be prepared to sit in some traffic during peak hours (0630-0730, 1200-1300, 1630-1730).
Right and Up Tip: There are at least 10 gates onto JBLM, so you can avoid traffic by trying out a different gate. Also, all visitors to post over the age of 16 must go through the Main Gate to get a visitor’s pass.
5. Mount Rainier
You can see Mount Rainier from almost everywhere. And trust me it doesn’t get old. It’s beautiful and astounding all at the same time. I love looking at it on long drives. It’s only about an hour and a half drive away, so if you want to hike it, that’s close too.
6. Produce Markets
If you like produce and farmer’s markets, then you’ve found the right place. It seems like there’s a different market on every corner selling local, organic, and delicious meat and produce. The people here are absolutely wonderful too, because they are small local business owners. It feels nice to know you are supporting a “regular guy.” It will make you never want to go to one of those big supermarket grocery stores again.
7. There’s Hipsters O’Plenty
The culture of the Pacific Northwest is…interesting….if you’re not use to it. Hipsters are everywhere, but don’t take it like it’s a bad thing. There are a plethora of different types of restaurants and quirky bars to attend. Once you get to know the Hipsters, they are just like you and me. Be prepared to experience a little resistance to your military career from some, but I promise most love you and support your service.
8. The Environment is “Alive”
People refer to the Pac Northwest as being “alive” because of all the huge, green trees. Seriously, big pine and oak trees are all over the place. It is not uncommon for houses to have big ol’ pine tree in the front yards. Because of this, hiking is great. You can hike through forests with trees that have been around for millions of years! The culture is alive too. There are plenty of young people either stationed at JBLM, going to one of the four colleges in the area, or working professionals. The night life is great, no matter what you’re into.
Photo cred: Flickr