By Jenah Wieczorek, Army Spouse
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 vast spaces, houses, CAV patches, as well as great traditions you will come to 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!
Where is Fort Hood?
First things first, Fort Hood is centrally located in Texas about an hour north of Austin and 3 hours south of Dallas. The base is enormous and spans 3 cities when including the training areas, but the central city that houses Fort Hood is Killeen. Harker Heights is to the east and Copperas Cove is to the west, rounding out the other parts of the post. 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.
Fort Hood Housing
Fort Hood housing is privatized and managed by Winn Companies. Homes range from townhomes to duplexes to single-family homes. West Fort Hood and a few other neighborhoods are considered “on base” but are located about 1-2 miles from the main base and can be easily accessed through multiple gates. Some of these neighborhoods are open to non-military families and not all have gate guards. To see updated photos and read reviews of the neighborhood your family would qualify for, click here. 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 communities being across the highway and not having gate guards. Check out photos of all the Ft Hood housing neighborhoods at PCSgrades.com.
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 a home. Many service members capitalize on the low mortgages and purchase to maximize their BAH. Another bonus…there are no state taxes for Texas! While it is not required to update your Home of Record, Texas has no state taxes, so making the switch will put some extra cash in your pocket! To read reviews from fellow military families on where to live off post, click here.
Fort Hood Weather
You will experience two seasons at Fort Hood: 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 Amenities
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 also. 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.
Culture and Customs
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?
Fort Hood Traditions
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!
Area Attractions Near Fort Hood
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!
Jenah is an Army spouse, mother of 2 boys, dog mom and professional volunteer. She currently resides in Fort Stewart, GA with her family.Jenah Wieczorek