For the better part of three years, we lived in the West Texas border town that is home to Fort Bliss.
I was born and raised in the Piney Woods and attended undergraduate school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but El Paso is a side of the Lone Star State I’d never seen before we moved there.
It’s sand, dry heat and prickly plants with mountains on the horizon.
Cloudless blue skies and sunshine, all year long – except for the monsoon and dusty seasons.
The Wild West definitely has its own kind of rustic charm and beauty, and we’re grateful for having had the opportunity to experience a place like it as a family when we might never have otherwise.
But I can’t tell you – not with a straight face, anyway – we would have ever chosen to live there.
Spending day after day in the Stateside Sandbox, especially when deployment was on the radar, often felt like we were stuck in the middle of nowhere – some place isolating, intimidating and depressing.
The truth is, though, any duty station can be any of these things, if that’s what we make it (believe me, I have plenty of times). However, over time, I’m learning there’s always support and community to be found, fun and adventure to be had, lessons to learn and friendships and memories to be made, wherever we are.
That’s something I want to try to remember, pass along to my children and take with us everywhere we go.
Choosing to see the circumstances we’re dealt in military life as adventures to be had rather than sentences to serve has been part of a significant shift of perspective for me.
If we’d never given ourselves a chance to get out there and really experience all that part of the country has to offer, we might never have watched hot air balloons lift off and fill a sunrise-sky with color. We might never have picked our own peppers and pumpkins, tasted wines from southwestern vineyards, camped out in the mountains, hiked through beautiful canyons (like the one in these photographs), visited White Sands National Monument, artsy Albuquerque and fallen in love with the cozy ski mountain town of Ruidoso.
We might never have allowed ourselves to become a part of a wonderful community and make the friends that we were sad to say ‘see you later’ to when my husband’s orders came through.
When it was time for us to go, we definitely left with more – on the inside, anyway – than we had when we arrived.
6 Ways to Make the Most of Any Duty Station
- Develop a strong social support system. Look for a church community or group (one that caters to your unique interests/life circumstances) to join.
- Find simple and inexpensive ways to boost your family’s morale. Research all of the fun activities (bonus points when they’re free) to do that are unique to your local area, and make a bucket list of things to check off together while you are stationed there.
- Find ways to get involved with and give back to the community. Volunteering is a great way to help those in need while also meeting new people and boosting your resume.
- Keep up with family and friends back home (stay connected on social media, write letters, Skype, etc.), but also allow yourself to be present and open to making new friendships in your area.
- Give yourself time to grieve what you have left behind. It’s completely normal to feel down and confused in the middle of a move, and it can take up to six months (sometimes longer) to get settled in and comfortable with your new lifestyle.
- Finally, do not be afraid to seek help when you need it. Reaching out is a sign of strength, not weakness. You are never alone.
When it comes to a duty station, another aspect of military life, or just life, in general, we’re learning: more often than not, it is what we make it and having an open heart and mind helps an awful lot along the way.
Military life is teaching me:
“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” – William Feather