Having grown up an Air Force brat in Virginia, I’ve always known this state has its fair share of military installations. When I married my husband, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, I wasn’t too surprised to find out that we were going to be living in Virginia… Northern Virginia (NoVA) to be exact.
My parents moved to Fairfax, Virginia back in the late 1970s, when my dad retired from the Air Force. Two years later they decided to move again, mainly because of the traffic and crowding in the DC area. I remember not being too thrilled about moving out of NoVA, but back in the 70s, I didn’t know how to drive. The area has, of course, grown exponentially since my parents lived here and housing is very expensive. Even a small condominium can cost over a quarter of a million dollars. And yet, my husband and I had had our fill of living in apartments. Back in 2003, I persuaded my husband to put our names on the housing list at Fort Belvoir. We were told the waiting list was about two years long. Our wait turned out to be less than two months.
Each servicemember gets a monthly housing allowance (BAH) that can be used to pay for housing on the economy or it can be forfeited for housing on a military installation. Housing on Fort Belvoir or any other miltary installation is only open to eligible members of the military and their families. Over the years, government housing has gotten a bad reputation for being ugly and in poor repair. When we first arrived at Fort Belvoir, we did notice that a lot of the houses looked dilapidated. Nevertheless, we figured almost anything would be better than the apartment we had been living in in Fredericksburg, VA. Our decision to move on post turned out to be a good one.
In December 2003, just two months after we moved to Fort Belvoir, the housing on post was privatized and taken over by Clark-Pinnacle, a realty/construction company charged with tearing down and building new housing and renovating selected old housing. Over the past three years, new villages have sprung up on Fort Belvoir as old villages have been torn down. The new housing looks something like the buildings in downtown Alexandria, with lots of brick, vinyl siding, and colonial style. For the most part, I haven’t had too many complaints about Clark-Pinnacle, other than the fact that sometimes the management doesn’t seem to understand military culture very well. Maintenance requests are handled quickly and efficiently. Most of the workers have been very pleasant and professional.
Our old house in Jadwin
The Jadwin neighborhood is slated to be renovated/rebuilt starting in February of 2007. New housing will be built and some of the old houses will be renovated. Our old house in the Jadwin neighborhood is slated to be renovated because it’s historic. Supposedly, our little kit house and others like it was built in the 1920s and was taken to Europe during the World Wars. The houses were only supposed to be used temporarily, for maybe five years at the most! Nobody ever thought they’d still be in use 80 years later. Most of the old houses will be condemned, but we were told that ours wouldn’t be.
Although our old house looked a bit weary when we first moved into it, it was actually a cute little three bedroom single family house. Our house was a small rancher with about 1,800 square feet of space. It had 1.5 bathrooms, a sunroom, wood floors, a fireplace, a decent sized kitchen and a charming yard with lots of trees and wildlife. Our two beagles were welcome and we were surrounded by neighbors we could more or less trust. I kept a small vegetable garden in a plot where a huge oak tree once stood. We picked up our mail at our house and were on a first name basis with the mailman. Although at first we didn’t have DSL or decent cable services, we also didn’t have to pay for utilities and were more or less left alone by the housing management. Also, a landscaping crew took care of mowing our lawn and raking our leaves. The only really major downside of living in Jadwin was the fact that we had frequent power outages, especially whenever there was a storm.
Our new house in Cedar Grove
In October 2006, we were told that we had to move to Cedar Grove, a new neighborhood on Fort Belvoir. As of last week, my husband and I are living in a brand new house with energy efficient appliances, a fenced in back yard, a garage, and plenty of storage space. We no longer have a fireplace or wood floors, nor is our home on a single level. We are still fortunate enough to live in a detached house, but our neighbors on either side are now spaced about fifteen feet away in either direction. Curiously enough, even with the proximity of our neighbors, this new housing seems more isolated. The house can only be accessed by the front door, through the yard, or through the garage. If I wanted to, I could turn my house into a fortress. I can’t see when my neighbors come home from work; however, the windows are arranged in such a way that my neighbors across from me can see into my home.
The new house features state of the art internet and cable connections. My husband signed us up for Verizon’s FiOS services, which gives us access to plenty of good cable TV, very respectable internet speeds, and decent phone service. It’s much better than what we had at our old house. The kitchen is bigger and features a gas range and oven, a brand new dishwasher, and an energy efficient refrigerator. The monthly power outages we experienced at our old house are a thing of the past.
The new house is larger than the old one by about 300 square feet, but we have a much smaller yard. I won’t be able to plant a garden in the new yard, nor can I admire the many trees and wildlife that used to grace my environment. The new house looks a lot nicer on the outside, but I no longer get to chat with my mailman. Now, I go to a mail kiosk to pick up my mail. The walk is good for me, but I’ll definitely miss talking to Steve the mailman!
The advantages to living on Fort Belvoir
For my husband and me, moving to Fort Belvoir was a Godsend. Before we moved on post, we lived in a crime ridden apartment complex where we shared walls with pot smokers and partyers. We dealt with an apartment management office who treated their tenants like deadbeats. Granted, we made money off of BAH because the apartment was relatively cheap. But we hated our neighborhood and before we moved, my car was vandalized. By the time we got housing on Fort Belvoir, we were feeling very unsafe and unsettled in our apartment. To move to Fort Belvoir, we didn’t have to pay deposits or pet fees. For now, anyway, we also don’t pay for utilities. I’m told that will change with the new housing. Our neighbors are all military families and most of them are at a rank comparable to my husband’s. While that may sound snobbish, it makes sense in military culture, especially since there is a division between the enlisted and officer ranks. The highest ranking enlisted member is still outranked by the lowest ranking officer, even though no low ranking officer in his right mind would be disrespectful to a senior enlisted person.
Fort Belvoir is just twelve miles from Washington, DC, but once you pass through the gates, it seems like it’s a lot further away. The post itself is peaceful and beautiful, located right on the Potomac River. There are lots of activities, especially for families. And at least when we were living in our old house, we got to see all kinds of beautiful wild animals like deer, foxes, falcons, wild turkeys, skunks, squirrels, and more groundhogs than anywhere I’ve ever seen. People are generally nice here, too, especially Tieng, the Vietnamese bartender at the Officer’s Club.
My husband is on his way to Iraq in just over a week. When he gets back, we’ll be packing our bags to move to Germany for a few years. I’m thinking that as much as I look forward to escaping NoVA traffic, I will really miss Fort Belvoir.