Stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) | 2 year update
Stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) | 2 year update
Yesterday marked two year since moving to Western Washington and calling the Pacific Northwest home. I talk a lot about the area and the travel opportunities I have living here, but I don’t touch very often on the only reason I get to call this place home: my husband being stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) outside of Tacoma, WA.
I will be completely honest when I say, I know very little about housing or amenities on post. I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve physically driven on the base. This is simply because the South Puget Sound area (where JBLM is located) is heavily populated and we live a decent drive from the base. My husband was willing to compromise and live in a more neutral location for both of our careers, and we have everything we need in the town we live. JBLM even has a off-post medical clinic closer to my home I can use instead of having to drive on post to the hospital. I just want to be fully transparent on how that shapes my perspective of living here.
We have chose to live off post at in both Alaska and Washington. I did loads of research before we moved to help us reach that decision. I talked to people I knew had lived here or been stationed here, poured over resources like Area Vibes and City Data, and used Google Maps to peruse streets of houses listed online to get a feel for neighborhoods.
This is my own subjective opinion, but the cities we chose to look for homes included University Place, North Tacoma, Puyallup, South Hill, and Bonney Lake. I found the closer you got to Ft. Lewis without living on post, the higher the crime rates and the more dangerous the neighborhoods. It was very important to me that we were:
1. somewhere we would feel safe walking out the front door for a walk or run
2. near the train line or a direct roadway to Seattle
I know there are fantastic neighborhoods/cities South of JBLM around the DuPont, Lacey, Olympia area. But I was concerned about lack of job opportunities so the above list was better for us.
Housing can be very expensive in any or all of the places I’ve mentioned above. For the BAH (basic allowance for housing, you non-military folk) provided at JBLM, you may be nearly maxing out your budget. It was 100% worth it for us to find a good location. We live in an older 3 bed, 2 bath home at the very top of our budget but the location is EVERYTHING. We LOVE where we live. For my own personal safety online, I won’t name which of the above cities we live in. But if you are a military family looking for advice – please feel free to comment below or email me and I can provide some insight!
Driving through Seattle and into Tacoma 2 years ago was the definition of culture shock after spending 2 years in Alaska and 40+ hours driving through Canada. The traffic was unlike anything I can recall ever seeing, and the sheer number of people every where was very overwhelmingly. I lived in Minneapolis for three years so I don’t say this as someone who has never been to or lived in a large city. I say this as someone who had never seen an area so densely populated as the Puget Sound region. From north of Seattle to Olympia it is constant people, traffic, crowds, and lines. We have an on going joke between my husband and roommate about whether anyone in this area has jobs because it’s literally not “rush hours”, it is just always rush. You’ll be completely stopped in traffic on the 167 or the I-5 curves near Tacoma on a Thursday at 10pm or a Tuesday at 1pm. The traffic here has no concept of time.
2 years later? I am used to the craziness. If I drive, I leave early and prepare for the worst. I moved here with the intention of getting all my groceries at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, but the time sitting in traffic wasn’t worth it. I get all my groceries (& quite a few other items) from the Fred Meyer a half mile from my home. Waking up early for hikes or skiing or going to Seattle is the only tactic to beat the traffic, so I also tend to be a much earlier riser. It can be annoying, but traffic is an OK trade off for what Western Washington can offer in views and activities.
Whether you live on-post, off-post, you’re looking for part time or full time work, you’re in the service industry or hospitality, college educated or not, etc. – the area around JBLM offers great job opportunities for military spouses. The most realistic search option and closest in location is Tacoma. With over 200,000 people, Tacoma is a mid-size city with tons of job potential. There is also the capitol city of Olympia just south of JBLM and numerous cities around and in-between those two. You even have the option – like I do! – to work in Seattle.
I am in Marketing/Advertising and unfortunately my industry doesn’t always jive well with military base locations. Here? It’s perfect. We live near a train line and I take a train directly into the city each day. I have seriously lucked out in my career field in both Fairbanks and here. I’ve found great marketing positions regardless of how I feel about my job currently. There are always job and career options when this close in proximity to a major city like Seattle. If you’re willing to drive or bus or train – you WILL have access to jobs.
It rains. It rains, a lot. I won’t sugar coat this. The two previous states I’ve lived in had -30 degree days, feet of snow, and air that hurt my face. I do not complain about the rain.
But if you tend to get seasonal depression or only function in warm weather, this may not be the place for you. Summer consists of around 2 months of 70’s and 80’s, and the other 10 months of the year it maintains somewhere around 40-60 with gloom and rain. Welcome to the PNW.
Whether you are a single soldier, a married couple, or a family – there are SO MANY activities around JBLM to fit your interests. If you’re outdoorsy, you have hit the jackpot being stationed here. From hiking, mountaineering, skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, boating, fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking, camping etc. This state has it all. And most of it, is within an hour or two drive.
If you hate the outdoors?
What is wrong with you? There are two giant cities I have mentioned a time or two in this post called Tacoma and Seattle and they have restaurants, bars, movie theaters, shopping, gaming and arcades, trampoline parks, indoor sky diving, concerts, gyms, etc etc etc.
As someone who learned to appreciate the outdoors with time (& living in Fairbanks where there’s literally nothing else to do but marvel in the beauty of nature), I would highly recommend taking advantage of the fact that you are within a short drive from so many National Parks. And fun fact: National Parks are FREE for military families. Grab your spouse, doggos, and/or kids and take advantage!
I thought when I moved here the highlight would be getting a Target again or having access to happy hours or shopping at H&M, and really? It’s been none of that. It’s been the amazing outdoor activities I have been able to take advantage of. It’s been the waterfall at the end of the hike and the beer on the most picturesque beach you can possibly imagine. It’s catching sight of Mt. Rainier on your drive home or the colors as the sun sets over the Puget Sound. And do not, I repeat do not let the rain stop you from enjoying this place. Not to be cliche but….
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
Just sub “Life” with “Being stationed at JBLM”…
Pros (I haven’t already mentioned):
Cons (I haven’t already mentioned):
After 2 years of calling Washington home, I can say without reservation I love living here. It will be a very bittersweet day when we have to say goodbye.
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.”
– Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar)