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Survival Tips for Living in the DC Area

It's PCS time and military families will be arriving to the area daily. Whether it is your first time here, or the fourth, a move to the National Capital Region for military families brings lots of unique challenges and opportunities. If you are a newcomer to the area, perhaps these tips, developed through personal experience can help you adapt a little more quickly to life here. If you are an old hand at DC military living, maybe you have a few survival tips of your own to add. (Photo Facebook.com)

1. Learn how to be a slug.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a slug as: “any of numerous chiefly terrestrial pulmonate gastropodsfoundwhere there is a reasonable supply of moisture and are closely related to the land snails but are long and wormlike”

But here in the MDW, the definition of slug becomes: “an individual who rides along, allowing drivers to take advantage of HOV lanes for drives to and from the Pentagon or other destinations.”

This symbiotic relationship has its own special rules and etiquette which can be found at www.slug-lines.com and www.slug-lines.com/PM_lines/Pentagon.asp. (Photo prx.org)

2. Become a Metro Maven.

Getting around the Greater DC area is much simpler when you learn how to use the Metro system. Whether for work or play, the Red, Yellow, Orange, Green and Blue lines can take you almost anywhere you want to go: from Alexandria’s King Street to the National Zoo, the National Mall or the Nationals’ ballpark. You avoid all the traffic and parking hassles that are the annoying factors of driving in DC. Have a smart phone? Download the Metro app so you’ll have train schedules at your fingertips. Treat all family members to a Smart Pass. We put Smart Passes in Christmas stockings our first year back (2009) and it has been a great time-saving investment. They are also convenient to have on hand for out of town visitors.

Don’t forget that service members and Department of Defense employees are able to take advantage of the DoD National Capital Region Mass Transportation Benefit Program (MTBP). The program provides a monthly stipend to DoD employees working in the NCR to help cover the costs of their daily commutes. More information can be found at http://www.whs.mil/MTBP/index.cfm. Sorry, sluggers and drivers, no stipend for you. (Photo nih.gov)

3. Driving in DC is about timing and alternate routes.

First the bad news – traffic in the DC area is as bad as you’ve heard and most likely you’ve already experienced. But there is some good news – learning the back roads to your destinations and practice timing your travels can ease those traffic woes. I mentioned in my blog about DC traffic - http://www.dcmilitaryfamlife.com/profiles/blogs/grit-and-bear-it - that a neighborhood map was the best welcome present we received when moving here the first time in 2003. That was well before Tom-Tom and Garmin started managing our driving but the map helped me find ways of avoiding the Beltways. I could get to the Fort Belvoir Commissary from my Annandale home in about 25 minutes using Little River Turnpike and Backlick Road. Find a good area map and take time to chart a path to where you are headed that avoids the most congested roads. Try not to venture out during the peak traffic periods of 7 to 9 am or 4 to 6 pm. But most of all, learn to “Grit and Bear It!” (see above link) (Photo from switchboard.nrdc.org)

4. Make Connections.

It’s easy to feel isolated when moving to the MDW area. While some housing is available at places like Ft. Belvoir or Ft. Meade, most military families find themselves living in the surrounding suburbs. We go from living in the bubble worlds of our former military communities to life, as they say in Germany, on the economy. It can be a culture shock. But there are ways you can reach out and get back in touch with your military roots.

Attend one of the newcomer welcome programs offered by local Army Community Services, Navy and Marine Family Programs or the Force Support Squadrons at Andrews or Bolling. For example, the JB Myer-Henderson Hall ACS is offering a class on June 28 from 9-11am on Job Searching for Newcomers to the National Capital Region. You can learn more at http://www.jbmhh.army.mil/web/jbmhh/Services/ACS.html. Did you know that you can become Facebook friends with your closest installation to make sure you get the latest news?

Join one of the spouse groups in the area. There’s the US Navy Civil Engineer Corps Officer Spouses Club, Andrews AFB Security Forces Spouses, Fort Meade Enlisted Spouses Club, Fort Belvoir Enlisted and Officer Spouses’ Clubs, Army Officers’ Wives’ Club of the Greater Washington Area, and so many more. The clubs may offer smaller special interest groups or get-togethers by zip codes so that it is easier to meet people. (Photo of AOWCGA zip code group outing at Voice of America)

5. Get Involved in Your Community.

I understand completely. It happened to me too. You move to a new, unfamiliar area. The military support systems you relied on within the confines of a fence aren't as easily accessible. You find yourself surrounded by – CIVILIANS! None or few of your neighbors wear a uniform. They've never heard of places like 29 Palms, Barstow, or Leesville. Mention Great Falls and they point you towards a park on the Potomac River. It tends to make you want to hunker down in your new house, apartment, townhome, etc.

But living in MDW provides you a unique opportunity to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. You don’t have to shop at a commissary; why not try one of the international food markets in the area? Fast food here can be taco trucks or kabob houses. Join the neighborhood pool, community homeowners’ organization or the PTA at your child’s school. The counties in the area have tremendous youth sports programs. I went from coaching girls’ softball at Fort Polk to working with young ladies in the Northern Virginia Girls Softball Association. Coaching and joining the PTA opened my eyes to the fact that individuals every where are volunteers, just trying to make a positive impact on their community. “Bloom where you are planted,” is a slogan you can apply where ever you live.

6. Experience History.

Don’t be intimidated by stories of crowds and Metro slogs, or adopt a ‘We’ll go next time,” attitude. DC hosts once-in-a-lifetime events throughout the year that you should make a point to attend. With strategic planning (something service members are great at), patience and lots of water bottles or warm clothes, your family can be a part of all that is happening in our Nation’s Capital. During our time here we've seen the 4th of July Fireworks on the Mall; watched the caisson pass carrying former President Ronald Reagan; cheered Marine Corps marathoners; aahed as the National Christmas tree lit up; spent Memorial Day at Arlington and waved to President and Mrs. Obama as they walked down Pennsylvania Avenue. We may have been cold or hot, squished on sidewalks, Metro platforms or cars, but we got to be a part of our national story. You are here now – make your family a part of the story too! (Photo of Reagan procession wikimedia.org, National Christmas Tree)

Enjoy your tour of duty in Military District of Washington. And remember, you can always visit the www.dcmilitaryfamlife.com website for helpful information, to vent or to start a discussion. Let us hear from you.

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Tags: DC, DC traffic, Military District of Washington, Northern Capital Region, PCS, military families, moving, slug line

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