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Readers' picks: From paradises to morale killers

Jul. 21, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Air Force Times opened the floor to its readers to get their thoughts on the best and worst bases in the Air Force. More than 100 readers sent us their thoughts on our Flightlines blog, Facebook page, and via email.

See a map of all the bases

Getting votes for best bases:

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Multiple readers named Hickam as their favorite assignment, which one called “paradise.” It’s easy to see why. Located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, near Honolulu, temperatures range from an average January low of 65.4 degrees to an average July high of 84 degrees. The legendary beauty of the island’s beaches has been immortalized in films like “From Here To Eternity,” the Pacific Ocean is warm, the food is outstanding, and there are countless activities.

Why didn’t Hickam end up higher on our list? You’ve got to pay for paradise. The median home cost around Pearl Harbor is $308,000, and hits $537,300 in nearby Honolulu — well over the $170,100 nationwide average — and the cost of living is through the roof. Essentially all food and supplies not produced on Hawaii have to be shipped in 2,500 miles. And some schools are lacking, bringing the overall school rating down.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.Several readers sung the praises of McChord. “Good mission focus, beautiful surroundings, great weather, happy people!” reader Peter Brown said. “What more could one ask?”

Another reader, Kenny Tussey, said McChord has high morale and a great exchange, as well as plenty of things to see and do in the area. But another reader felt things have gone downhill since the Army took over McChord Air Force Base in 2010 and it became a joint base.

When we crunched our numbers, McChord ended up in the middle of the list, primarily due to lackluster schools, high sales taxes and a somewhat higher cost of living.

■ Hurlburt Field, Florida. One reader, who signed his name Timothy, called Hurlburt “one of the best-kept secrets in the Air Force.”

“Sugar beaches, great communities, great housing (on and off), major cities not too far away,” Timothy said.

Another, named Terry, also loved Hurlburt.

“Absolutely loved the five years I was stationed there,” Terry said. “Made so many friends, and even [met] my wife there.”

But the high cost of living, a small clinic on base, and high sales taxes kept Hurlburt from climbing higher on our list.

Getting votes for worst bases:

■ Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. The frigid winters have for years helped make this base a dreaded assignment — the average January low hits 4.3 degrees below zero — and inspired the joke, “Why not Minot? Freezin’s the reason!” And several Air Force Times readers agreed.

“There are few (if any) worse places to be stationed than Minot,” said a commenter named Don, who was in the Air Force during the 1970s.

“Worst: Minot AFB. No explanation required,” said another commenter, who signed his name lcs.

Minot — home of the 91st Missile Wing and its 150 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles — also is not immune from the nuke force’s deep morale troubles, which came to light last year after a cheating and drug scandal emerged. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James visited Minot and other nuclear missile bases in January, and said she had “picked up on morale issues” among airmen and officers working on that mission.

So why didn’t Minot end up at the bottom of our list? Living in the middle of nowhere does have its advantages. Housing prices are among the lowest in the nation, and average commute times are a breeze. The natural gas fracking boom of recent years has brought the energy industry to North Dakota, which now has one of the fastest-growing economies in the country. The unemployment rate in the town of Minot is an impressively low 2.7 percent. That means, if your civilian spouse wants to find work, he or she will most likely be able to.

■ Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Moody is “where senior enlisted careers come to die,” a reader named Jack said.

Another reader, who signed his comment R Malone, said he is “still suffering at Moody.”

“I thought the rumors couldn’t be true about Moody,” he said. “The rumors were censored truths about this place.”

Malone said Moody suffers from a lack of morale, sense of family and esprit de corps, and said he saw an alarming number of airmen leave the service or get kicked out during his first year at the base.

“I’ve volunteered for [a transfer to] Cannon [Air Force Base], early out, cross-training, base stabilization, you name it, and I’m still stuck here,” Malone said. “With some bases, they have to make it sound worse with changes to their names. Like No Hope Pope [Field in North Carolina], Why Not Minot, Moldyhole [a nickname for Royal Air Force Mildenhall in England], but all you need to say is Moody and people understand.”

Not every commenter left Moody with a bad taste, however. Reader Rebecca Cuevas Novak wrote on our Facebook page that “Moody has the best location, close to everything, yet still far enough away not to get smothered.”

■ Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. Malone may want to talk to a few other Air Force Times readers before trying to transfer from Moody to Cannon.

“I only had one bad assignment, and that was Cannon,” said one reader, named Rog. “I feel sorry for the troops that moved from Hurlburt (paradise) to this dump.”

Reader Casey Leavings minced no words on our Facebook page.

“They should close Cannon and turn it into a bombing range,” Leavings said. “Greedy realtors charging max BAH for substandard housing, an hour and a half to the closest shopping other than Wal-Mart, constant sand [and] tumbleweed storms, and some of the worst ‘leadership’ I’ve ever been subjected to.”

Another reader, who used the alias AC-130, also spoke about the high rent prices and lack of good, newer housing around Cannon. The local community isn’t very supportive of the military, he said, and most businesses there are closed on Sunday. The base, which houses the Air Force’s 27th Special Operations Wing, means airmen there are always working under an intense operating schedule, he said. There are few job opportunities for civilian spouses to bring more income into their homes, he said.

Even the air smells of manure around there, AC-130 said.

“PCSing here kills families’ and individual morale,” AC-130 said. “I literally could go on forever, and I am a pretty optimistic person.”

Low average commute times, relatively low crime rates around the base and a large commissary helped land Cannon higher up on our list.

See a map of all the bases

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