New military families can find the transition to military life a little challenging. The great news is that the Army has several programs that are ready and waiting to assist new families in a variety of ways. The downside is that they can be hard to “discover,” especially for those who are new to military life.
We thought it might be helpful to share a short list of the most basic programs that you’ll find on most Army installations. By no means is this an all-encompassing list, but it should be a great place to start!
- Army Community Service (ACS) – ACS is just what the name says it is – an organization focused on serving the Army community. Most ACS programs are housed in one building, but on larger installations, you may find them in a few different spots. ACS should be one of your first stops. You can find everything from the New Parent Support Program to financial counseling to employment or career help under the ACS umbrella. Many installation ACS offices also offer household items available for loan (especially helpful if you’re coming from an overseas assignment) or a formal dress lending closet to make sure you are ready for the next military ball. Programs offered by ACS can vary by installation, so stop by ACS when you get to a new installation just to check it out and see what’s offered.
ACS is also a great resource if you’re service member will be deploying or is currently deployed. Many times, they offer special support groups or playgroups during these events that help you connect with people going through similar situations.
- Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) or Family, Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (FMWR) – Regardless of the title, these organizations do virtually the same thing. They’re in charge of recreation for the installation and keeping you entertained. They do a great job! MWR is in charge of basic installation recreation, like the gyms and pools on post, but they also maintain recreation areas that you might not be aware of – some of these might be off the installation. They also manage the entertainment on post – like bowling alleys, movie theaters, etc. MWR often sponsors concerts and large community events around holidays or other special days. On post libraries also fall under the MWR umbrella and are a great resource for young Army families. For those with children, you’ll want to take advantage of MWR’s Child & Youth Services (CYS) or Child, Youth, and School Services (CYSS) programs, which offer sports and instructional classes (dance, piano, etc.) for children.
- Most installations will also have a Leisure Travel Office or ITT office. These offices are under the MWR umbrella and provide military families with discounted travel options on everything from local amusement parks to Disney park hopper passes. These offices can also help connect you with discounted hotel, flight, rental car, and cruise package rates. You can also ask about the Armed Forces Vacation Club, which offers resort rentals at a space available rate of around $349 per week.
- Commissary (DECA) – The commissary is the military’s version of a grocery store. You can find most of the same items at the commissary that you’d find in most grocery stores. There are a few unique nuances of commissaries that might be helpful to know before your first visit. First, the way you check out is a little different at every commissary. Just check out the people who are in line in front of you and just watch what they do. Make sure you have your ID card, as they’ll want to scan it before they begin checking you out. Also, a bagger will sack all of your groceries and take them out to your car with no questions asked, but remember that they work for tips ONLY. They do not get paid an hourly wage at all. You are not required to tip them, but it’s common to tip between $3-5 depending on how large your order is.
- The Exchange (also known as the PX on Army installations for its old name: Post Exchange) – The Exchange is everything from a department store to a convenience store. You can find jewelry, power tools, dishes, clothing, and everything in between at your installation’s Exchange. You’ll also find other services like the barbershop, spa, etc. in the Exchange building, which is usually set up like a mall. The Exchange also runs convenience stores on post where you can buy gas. These convenience stores are often combined with “Class 6” stores that sell alcohol.
The best thing to remember when you get to a new installation is that all of them are different. If you have the time, spend a day visiting these organizations so you know where they’re at and what they offer. Ask questions when you visit and ask them if there are other helpful organizations on the post that you might not be aware of. This is a great way to get to know the installation and meet new people!
Good luck…and if Fort Leonard Wood happens to be your first duty station, don’t forget to stop by the airport to say hi to us!