During the month of August, we are exploring the wide world of places military families are stationed. In this post, Army spouse Kari Elkins shares her initial thoughts about JBLM and her favorite places outside of Seattle, Washington. Enjoy! ~Rebecca
My husband joined the Army several years after we got married, but we spent the first part of our married life in Northern California, all the way up by Oregon border. So in 2010, when we found out we would be stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord, in Washington State, we were excited. Getting to go back to the Pacific Northwest felt a bit like coming home for us. We have been stationed here twice now, and we love it.
When we got here we were amazed at the beauty of the area. We had spent the last year or so at Fort Sill Oklahoma; where they seem to decorate with tornado shelters, tumbleweeds, and lots of tan. Tan buildings, tan grass, you get the idea.
JBLM, affectionately called Ja-Blam by some of the locals, was a different sight to behold. You are greeted first by the original stone gate that sits next to the current entrance to the base. It stands as a testament to the history of this installation that was founded in 1917 as camp Lewis, named after the famous explorer of this area, Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expeditions.
The main base consists of over 86,000 acres of land. It covers a vast amount of the landscape of the area that is otherwise surrounded by bustling urban and suburban life. When the Department of the Air Force was created in 1947 some of the land was subdivided to become McChord Air Force Base. These two installations operated separately from each other until 2010 when they were combined to create JBLM, otherwise known as “America’s Joint Base.”
According to Armytechnology.com “The base population of 209,486 includes 27,000 military, 52,486 family members, 10,000 civilians and 120,000 retirees.” It is one of the largest military installations in the world. With its majestic trees, beautiful scenery, and endless outdoor activities, it is no wonder that JBLM is the most popular base among Army soldiers.
Joint Base Lewis McChord
JBLM sits alongside American Lake, where service members can take advantage of the many activities to do there. Hike the shores of the lake, camp at one of the several campsites, or in the summer, swim in its waters. You can also rent kayaks, motorboats, pontoon boats, paddleboards, and the like from the local MWR (Military Welfare and Recreation) to better experience all this area has to offer.
The base is also home to two bowling alleys, two theaters, outdoor and indoor pools, a splash pad, a skate park, two libraries, two large commissaries, a PX and BX, museums, chapels, playgrounds, restaurants, and more. The base has an active community with events sponsored weekly all throughout the area.
In addition to fun things you can do on base, there is also a lot to do just outside of the gates. JBLM is famous also for its stunning views of Mount Rainier. This active volcano stands 14,410 feet above sea level and jets out of the landscape in an impressive manner. Covered in ice and snow throughout the year, it has the most glacial formations of any mountain in the mainland United States, and the melting snow and ice feed into many beautiful and powerful rivers in the area. It is just a short drive up to the visitor center where you can play in the snow and hike the glaciers pretty much year round.
When you’ve had your fill of the great outdoors there are adventures to be had in many of the nearby cities that border JBLM. Situated between the State Capitol of Olympia, and the city of Tacoma, the opportunities for restaurants, museums, shows, farmers markets, fairs, festivals and the like are countless. There is always something going on within 30 miles of the base, and much of the time these activities are free.
Since JBLM has hosted the military community for so many years, the area is very military friendly. There are several Blue Star Museums as well as free and reduced prices for military members. Make sure to ask about these discounts when planning your adventures.
In Olympia, you can visit the beautiful capitol building, watch the boats come and go from the bay, and spend hours playing with your kids in the excellent Hands on Children’s Museum there, among other things.
Or head North a bit to Tacoma, where you can see shows at the Tacoma Dome, visit the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, or check out the Museum of Glass, to name a few.
And if you run out of things to do locally, it’s just a short one and a half hour drive up the I-5 to Seattle, where things like the Seattle Space Needle, Pikes Market, ferry rides to Bainbridge Island, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Museum of Pop Culture are huge draws for tourists from around the world.
Sure, JBLM is not all sunshine and roses. Now that I mention it, that last part isn’t exactly true. There are a lot of roses, on account of the rain. But rain brings green grass, vast lakes, tall trees, beautiful flowers, and unsurpassed natural beauty. I for one will take a bit of rain. Just make sure that you invest in a good rain jacket, and when as the locals say, “The Mountain is out,” meaning you can see Mount Rainier through the fog and clouds, you better be out too. If you have the privilege to come to this beautiful base, whether rain or shine, make the most of all this area has to offer. You won’t regret it!
Kari Elkins is an Army wife and mother of three. She is a blogger and freelance writer, as well as an artist, singer, and avid gardener. She is dedicated to living a life filled with adventure, creativity, education, and compassion. She, in turn, tries to impart these characteristics to her children, as well as those around her. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.