By Carla Olivo, Marine Spouse
You are headed to the Pentagon! A place where you can get all the exercise you need just walking in from the parking lot!
This is not your typical duty station experience. Here are many of the things you need to know before relocating to the Nation’s Capitol and the largest office building in the world. Get ready to enjoy this unique experience full of history, politics, inside the beltway traditions and patriotism like you’ve never seen before!
Where is the Pentagon?
While you may hear people say they are PCSing to Washington D.C. for an assignment at the Pentagon, this unique building is actually located across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. You’ve seen large bases and posts but when you park at the Pentagon, it gets tricky remembering your parking space among the 67 acres of parking lots, which accommodate over 8,700 vehicles.
Pentagon, Arlington Virginia
The Pentagon itself is indeed impressive. A concrete structure featuring seven floors, two below ground and five above, it is the largest office building in the world, covering 34 acres. This is double the size of the Empire State Building. Nearly 30,000 military and civilian employees share 691 water fountains and 284 bathrooms. There are few elevators in the Pentagon. Ramps accommodate most of those moving from floor to floor.
Moving to DC – where to live
You may be asking yourself, “Should I move to DC?” There are many options for housing in the National Capital Region. Although, depending on where you are coming from, there may be sticker shock as the DC suburbs feature seven of the country’s 10 richest counties.
There is no on base or on post housing at the Pentagon. But there are several nearby military installations that offer housing options. These include:
Southeast Washington, D.C. – Joint Base Anacostia Bolling
Prince George’s County, Maryland – Joint Base Andrews
Arlington, Virginia – Joint Base Myers-Henderson Hall
Fairfax County, Virginia – Fort Belvoir
For those planning on moving to DC, where to live becomes the question. A big consideration is commute times and the cost of housing. Housing takes many forms in the National Capital Region. Single-family homes, townhouses, condos, and apartments can be found in both urban and rural settings a short distance from downtown.
NOVA (Northern Virginia)
Arlington and the city of Alexandria, Virginia are inside the beltway.
Fairfax County, Virginia is the largest county in the Washington, D.C. area. It falls inside and outside the beltway and is home to George Mason University.
Loudoun County, Virginia includes Sterling, Ashburn, Potomac Falls, Countryside, Middleburg, South Riding, Hamilton and Dulles International Airport.
Prince William County, Virginia includes Woodbridge, Dumfries, Haymarket, Occoquan, Lake Ridge, Manassas and Manassas City.
Montgomery County, Maryland includes Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring and Wheaton
Prince George’s County is home to the University of Maryland, government agencies like NASA and the Department of Agriculture, as well as the Washington Redskins Bowie, Brentwood, Capitol Heights and Cheverly College Park.
Prices vary widely depending on the state and county you choose to live in. If you work with a PCSgrades Realtor, you’ll find there is a rental or mortgage to fit every BAH.
There are four distinct seasons in Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas. Winters are relatively mild with an average snow fall for the region of 15.4 inches, three quarters of it falling in January and February. Springtime is the star as tourists travel from around the world to see the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin. These delicate flowering trees only bloom for a couple weeks out of the year. Summers can be as steamy as the politics with temperatures rising above 100 on some days in July and August. The mild temps tend to stick around in September and October, and by Halloween the fall foliage is in its full splendor with the vivid colors of autumn.
Pentagon BAH & COST OF LIVING
Your Pentagon BAH may not stretch as far living in the DMV, (the District, Maryland or Virginia). Depending on where you are PCSing from, you might have sticker shock when house hunting in NOVA. The average sales price in Fairfax County is $560,919; this is up 2.17 % from January of 2017. The housing market in Northern Virginia is currently hugely competitive, and it’s common for sellers to receive multiple bids.
To read the latest on the NOVA Housing Market, click here.
The good news is NOVA receives high marks for “its above-state-average school scores and a very low crime rate compared to the national average.”
Commissaries, Exchanges, and gyms can be found on post at Fort Belvoir, Fort Myers, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and Andrews AFB. Check each installation’s website for more details on how to access amenities such as MWR, pools, and golf courses.
The northern Virginia (NOVA) area has pretty much any retailer or restaurant you are looking to visit.
Culture and Customs
There is, perhaps, no more a diverse duty station than the Pentagon, providing for many unique experiences. From mid-September until Thanksgiving, and again from about mid-January to June, Congress is in session which means the hotels are full of guests and the restaurants and bars are enjoying a booming business. From mid-March through June, families and school groups pack the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms and enjoy Washington’s monuments. This is also high season for protest marches.
May features a month-long celebration called Passport DC, which showcases more than 70 embassies and cultural organizations with tours and open houses. A summer highlight is the annual Fourth of July festivities. There is an Independence Day Parade along Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th Streets NW and a Capitol Fourth Concert featuring world renowned musicians and vocalists at the U.S. Capitol west lawn. And of course, fireworks over the monuments are always memorable!
The Pentagon 9/11 memorial is not to be missed. It is usually one of the first stops for military families when they arrive on orders.
Speaking of monuments, almost every out of town visitor that you host during your time in D.C. will want to see “the monuments,” and with good reason. From seeing all the names on the Vietnam Memorial wall, to climbing the massive steps to the Lincoln Memorial, it never gets old.
If you are lucky enough to have the chance to volunteer either at the airport or at the World War II Memorial during an Honor Flight, do it! And bring the kids! It is a special moment you will never forget; seeing these brave men and women visiting their memorial for the very first, and for many, the last time.
The Infamous DC Traffic
Complain about the traffic at the duty station you’ve just come from, and you may get laughed at. Traffic in and around D.C. is one of the worst in the nation according to most traffic studies. A typical NOVA commuter spends an additional 82 hours behind the wheel annually due to traffic delays, which is why many commuters use public transportation.
Metrorail & Metrobus
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority operates the second largest rail transit system and the fifth largest bus network in the U. S. The system serves the District of Columbia, the Northern Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun and the suburban Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George’s.
Carpools & Vanpools
Carpooling and vanpooling are great options especially for those commuting longer distances. These commuting options offer excellent cost savings and can cut commuting time through the use of HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes.
A unique form of commuting, referred to as “slugging”, is very popular for those heading downtown or to the Pentagon each day. Drivers needing additional passengers to meet the required three-person HOV minimum, stop to pick up passengers as they stand in a “slug line”. The driver displays a sign featuring the destination or calls out the destination through an open window. No money is exchanged as all parties benefit from the arrangement. It’s been referred to as the “safe way to hitchhike” and has its own set of etiquette rules.
Within an hour or two of the politics and the history, you can have your toes in the sand of the Delaware coast or immerse yourself in the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania! The excitement of New York City is a 3 hour train ride from historic Union Station.
Virginia may be for lovers, but it’s also for WINE lovers! With over 250 wineries, you might be hard pressed to visit each of them in one 3 year tour! But it’s worth a try!
Shenandoah National Park & Luray Caverns, Virginia – 3 hour drive; 120 miles – Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, west of Washington, D.C. Skyline Drive is the only public road running through the Shenandoah National Park. Nearby Luray Caverns is the largest series of caverns in the east. This eerie underground world of stalactites and stalagmites is worth a day trip from NOVA.
Annapolis, Maryland – 32 miles; 1-hour drive – Gorgeous town, quaint restaurants and the Naval Academy!
St. Michael’s, Maryland – 79 miles; 1.5-hour drive – Maryland’s Eastern Shore features crabs and scenic water views like no other!
Gettysburg (84 miles), Hershey (130 miles), Lancaster (120 Miles) Pennsylvania – Three unique Pennsylvania cities within 3 hours of the metro area – Relive the civil war in Gettysburg Learn the unique story of Milton Hersey and immerse yourself in the life of the Amish in Lancaster, PA.
Richmond, Virginia – 108 miles; 2-hour drive – Virginia State Capital with a thriving restaurant scene and craft beer breweries.
Lewes/Rehoboth Beach, Delaware – 121 miles; 2.5-hour drive – What can we say? It’s the beach! Bring your lotion and your bathing suit and enjoy!
Chincoteague Island, Virginia – 170 miles; 3.5 hour-drive – Do not miss watching the ponies at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the quieter side of the Eastern Shore!
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Carla Olivo, PCSgrades Director of Strategic Communications, has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting, and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel and their two children.