A common first topic of discussion amongst any newly-introduced Air Force family is, “Where all have you been stationed? And where has been your favorite?” This usually leads to many fascinating conversations about the military life experience, such as how one person’s dream location is another family’s worst nightmare. It cannot be avoided that some locations and bases are more highly sought after than others and some assignments are preceded with dread. However, as cliché as it sounds, every base and location is what each person chooses to make for himself or herself. Even with that in mind every AF family has its favorites and this series hopes to point out the perks of the seemingly less popular bases in order to demonstrate that each place can be advantageous with the right state of mind.
First up on our Best Bases in the Air Force series is now-Minot AFB spouse Melissa Lawyer. Melissa and her family were hesitant when they received orders to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson – commonly referred to as JBER – in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2017. Alaska, known for long, dark and frozen winters, is a concern for many new transplants to the area. Melissa – Arizona-born and then living in Las Vegas – was nervous about the extreme weather differences. She said, “I was excited about the idea, but I’m a desert girl so it was also a little intimidating. When we first moved to Alaska it was March, so there was snow still on the ground and it was a bit icy. I was worried it would just be ice and snow for most of the year, and I was worried about not making friends quickly because I assumed people didn’t leave their houses much in that weather. It didn’t take long to see that my assumptions were wrong.” When moving to Alaska, Melissa and her active duty husband, MSgt Jason Lawyer from 5 CES, had just welcomed their 3rd daughter and were nervous to make a go in a completely new environment. But it ended up being their favorite base and location. Here’s why:
Melissa’s TOP 5 reasons to Love Anchorage Alaska and JBER
- The Wilderness was on Base- There is miles of wilderness on base and it didn’t take much to be in the woods, or to find a lake, campsite, creek, playground or even a moose.
- Everything We Needed was Close By- We were close to stores and needs, but then you could drive 20 minutes in either direction and you can see so much Alaskan beauty.
- People are Willing to Lend a Hand– I was afraid of being able to make friends quickly. But because everyone living there is so far from their families and friends from the Lower 48, we found that people were incredibly welcoming and willing to help you out however you needed it.
- Endless Adventure- Alaska has an endless list of amazing things you can do. Our family (including our 3 girls), did things like kayaking the rivers, snow machines in the winter, hiking on glaciers, camping all over, visiting national parks, viewing wildlife everywhere, salmon fishing, catching the Northern Lights, skiing, picking wild berries on the mountainside, hiking up mountains to the top, and so much more.
- Wintertime– While it wasn’t my highlight season while I was there, compared to the Minot winter the Alaskan winter is my favorite. The snow fell so fluffy and peacefully and was really fun to watch. It was actually fun to play in and it was so much more enjoyable to get yourself outside. Our favorite winter activity was the Iditarod Race. We would go to the start of the race and everyone would line up so the mushers would mush through the crowd and we would get to give high fives to the mushers as they would ride by.
While Melissa admits that she misses Alaska and will likely always be her favorite assignment, she is doing her best to capture the Minot beauty and embrace their new life here. As a reminder to herself and other new Minot spouses who miss their old stations, she said, “To get the most out of the location you’re moving to, I found the best advice I was given was that you can’t control where the Air Force sends you, but you can control your attitude and your effort. Make the effort to get off base, or get out into the off base community, and find beauty where you’re at. Accept where you’re at and choose joy.”