By Jenah Wieczorek, Social Media Director
Welcome to The Great Place! You have orders to Fort Hood, Texas, one of the largest military installations in the country. Fort Hood lives up to the saying, “Everything is bigger in Texas”. You will see this with the large spaces, houses, CAV patches, as well as great traditions you will love.
What do you need to know before you purchase those cowboy boots and head to the Lone Star state? Below is a list of pertinent information, unique customs, and a list of local points of interest all within your reach!
It’s a Huge Base!
First of all, we are not kidding when we say Fort Hood is big! The training and cantonment area combined to cover a whopping 340 square miles, rivaling most of America’s larger cities. Fort Hood is also the largest single-site employer in the entire state of Texas with an estimated 45,414 assigned service members and 8,909 civilian employees. That means lots of people, lots of traffic, all converging in one area every day. Get used to the on-going construction as they are always expanding the highways to fit everyone into one space!
No State Taxes
While it is not required to update your Home of Record, Texas has no state taxes. Therefore, making the switch will put some extra cash in your pocket! To find out more information about why you don’t exactly HAVE to change your home of record, read up about the Spouse Residency Relief Act here.
The average cost per square foot in the Fort Hood area (Killeen, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove) is around $76, making it a very attractive place to buy. Many service members capitalize on the low mortgages and purchase to maximize their BAH.
Texas has lots of wildlife, but in the Fort Hood area specifically, fire ants and mini-scorpions reign supreme. One might hear ants and think no big deal, but like everything else in Texas, these ants are huge!
Unlike the larger fire ant, the scorpions are often small, no greater than the size of your pinky. Though they are small, they are a nuisance as you will find them all around your house. Make sure you spray! Go ahead and budget for pest control. Trust us…
You will experience two seasons in the state of Texas: hot and hotter. With mild winters and hot summers, it’s rare you will experience all four seasons. With numerous water parks, pools, and lakes in the area to keep you cool, most people don’t seem to mind the break from the cold weather. Stay hydrated and just get used to applying that sunscreen, even during Christmas break!
Fort Hood conducts training in the field year-round. What that means to you is that you will hear tanks firing, helicopters flying, and soldiers bounding across the training area. It’s very fun to see once you get used to the noises. The local Facebook pages will send out a “pardon our noise that’s the sound of freedom” posts when there are multiple units conducting gunnery, so you are aware of the training taking place. One would think the chandelier shaking in the dinning room would be aggravating, but you begin to find it soothing knowing that the soldiers are right across the street and training hard.
Customs and Traditions
Food and Beverage
One Texas landmark you will come to love is the grocery store H-E-B. Though it may be the only show in town, excluding Walmart and the Commissary, it will never disappoint. H-E-B sells every product you can imagine at low prices and houses a vast array of local Texas wines and beers. After experiencing it once, you will never want to shop anywhere else again.
As for local cuisine, Texas is home to some fantastic BBQ, all things TexMex to include breakfast burritos, and Texas kolaches. What is a Texas kolache you might ask? It’s a giant pastry stuffed with meat that you can get with cheese and jalapeños. If you are feeling thirsty after your local cuisine, head to one of the many drive-thru daiquiri bars. (Yep, you read that right… but as always, be responsible and don’t drink and drive!) Each city in the Fort Hood area boasts a least one! If you would like something a little more elegant than the local “Brew Thru” you can head to any of the local wineries in the surrounding area. Did I mention Fort Hood loves its local wine and beer?
Traditions at Fort Hood/Local Area
Fort Hood has so many traditions that you find yourself quickly falling in love with the pomp. First, you have the Cavalry charges! Picture this scenario: cannon shoots, bugle sounds, horses running, guns firing in the air and everyone screaming “CHARGE” as the donkey-drawn wagon brings up the rear. You will feel like you are in an old western. Also, every Friday is “Stetson Friday” on base. That means that from Private on up, you remove your service cap and put on a giant Stetson (aka cowboy) hat. Complimenting that Stetson is either a gold or silver set of spurs, but don’t go and buy them, those are earned either through a deployment or a Spur Ride. It’s all very John Wayne and romantic.
The cities that make up the greater Fort Hood area are also very military friendly. The Independent School Districts (ISD), are sponsored by units on base and soldiers volunteer their time at those schools. Soldiers typically have late calls and can take their kids to school on the first day. Have a parent deploying or coming home on a school day? No problem! Schools treat this as an excused absence. You are not truly a local until you have a family bluebonnet photo. Bluebonnets are the cherished state flower of Texas and bloom for a few weeks each year. You will see photographers and families pulling off the side of the highway when they spot a “bluebonnet field” all to get that perfect shot.
Texas casual is an actual dress code that will come on event invitations. What does it mean? Jeans and cowboy boots are not only acceptable but encouraged. When in Rome, right? In addition to the boots, you will also see lots of large belt buckles, spurs, and Texas ties.
Homecoming Mums. You are in for a treat if you have never seen or heard of this practice that seems only to take place in Texas. Students will wear giant “mums” attached to their clothes during homecoming week and the contraption consists of anything and everything. They vary from small to large and have ribbons hanging off of them (typically one ribbon per year in school) and can even be blinged out with lights. The sky is the limit with how you decorate your mum. Guys give them to their homecoming dates; girls give them to guys in garter form to wear on their arm, and parents can make a killing if they design and sell these!
Points of Interest
Since Fort Hood is located in Central Texas, you have access to some amazing surrounding cities all within a few hour’s drive.
Georgetown (45-minute trip)
Georgetown is a quaint town you will pass on your way to Austin. It has a beautiful city square with local shops, antiques, and excellent restaurants. Not in the mood to shop? Head to the local winery and relax with a wine tasting.
Austin (1-hour trip)
Austin is not only the Capitol of Texas but known as the music capital of the world. There is so much to do in Austin that you will need to make more than one trip. You can attend a music festival, watch the bats fly off the Congress Avenue Bridge, visit the Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library, swim in Barton Springs Pool, pose in front of the famous “I love you so much” wall, or catch a University of Texas football game. The options are endless in Austin.
Dallas (2.5-hour trip)
Dallas is a large city that deserves more than one trip to accomplish the checklist of events that the town has to offer. The most notable attractions include the JFK History Tour that ends in Dealey Plaza, the George W. Bush Presidential Library, the Dallas World Aquarium, Cowboys football games, Rangers baseball games, the Dallas Zoo and many more parks and museums.
San Antonio (2.5-hour trip)
What a fun place to visit! Military families love to take a weekend trip to San Antonio and visit the local attractions. The Riverwalk, lined with colorful umbrellas, restaurants, boat tours, and much more. Or head to Sea World and check out the aquatic life (they even have a great military discount program!). Probably the most visited site in San Antonio would be the Alamo. Just don’t ask to see the basement.
Houston (3-hour trip)
Houston is also home to the (NASA) Space Center Houston, Houston Zoo, Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Astros baseball team, the Downtown Aquarium, and the Children’s Museum… just to name a few. Or take a boat tour and participate in one of the many crawfish boils the city hosts.
Galveston (4-hour trip)
Galveston is also where many families like to escape and enjoy a nice beach vacation. You can simply enjoy Island Time in a beach chair or shop around, tour the Moody Gardens, or head to the Lone Star Flight Museum and check out the historical air crafts and artifacts. Galveston is also a major port of call to hop on a cruise ship and take an extended vacation!
Fort Hood Information
Fort Hood is located in Killeen and Copperas Cove, TX. On base housing is available for all ranks. However, not all neighborhoods fall within the main cantonment area with some neighborhoods being across the highway and not having gate guards. Check out photos of all the Ft Hood housing neighborhoods at PCSgrades.com. There are two large Commissaries and Exchanges located on each side of the main post, and the brand new Carl R. Darnell Army Medical Center opened in March 2016. Seven Elementary schools and two Middle Schools are located on post. High Schools students living on post are zoned for Killeen High School or Shoemaker High School. Fort Hood also has many medical facilities, pharmacies, restaurants, parks, and pools on the post.
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Author Bio: Jenah Wieczorek, PCSgrades Social Media Director, is an Army spouse, mother of 2 boys, dental hygienist, and volunteer. Jenah is a two-time recipient of the First Cavalry Division Commander’s Award for Volunteer Excellence, the Department of the Army Award for Patriotic Civilian Service, and is a member of the U.S. Cavalry and Armor Association’s Order of St. Joan D’Arc. Jenah enjoys coffee from 9-5, wine from 5-9, leggings as pants, reading and spending time with her boys. She currently resides in Fort Leavenworth, KS with her family.