Friday, November 4, 2016

25 Things to do on Fort Rucker

Fort Rucker is a special place.  It's not your typical Army Post.

My husband and I like to say that Fort Rucker is what you would get if a National Park and a University had a baby that grew up and joined the Army.

This place is surrounded by thousands of acres of trees.  When you enter through some of the gates onto post you have to drive for at least a couple miles before you come to any buildings.  When you do see the buildings they aren't the drab yellow buildings that are typical of most military installations.  Instead these buildings are covered in red brick and situated on tree lined streets. The main part of this Army post feels like a college campus.

Of course, this whole place is owned and operated by the Department of Defense so you definitely can tell that this is a military installation.  There are statues made from decommissioned aircraft scattered between the buildings, soldiers in uniform can be seen everywhere you look, and every building has official looking signs placed out front.

My family has lived here on Fort Rucker for the past 18 months.  These months have been full of challenges, but they've also been full of good things.  I've loved getting to know this area.

We are preparing to move away from Fort Rucker in the near future.  I'm ready for this change, but I'm also sad to leave a place that I've loved so much.  I wanted to write this post to tell you about all the great opportunities of things to do on Fort Rucker.  This is something of a parting gift to this place and the wonderful people who live here.

Before we get started with the list, I need to let you know that this list is current as of November 2016.  I'm sure many things will change as time goes by. A good place to get current information about things on Fort Rucker is to read the At Ease Magazine put out by the MWR (Moral Wellness and Recreation).  This magazine is published monthly, and will tell you about many of the events happening on post. The Army Flier is also full of good info.  This is a weekly newspaper put out by Fort Rucker.  There are kiosks with the magazines and newspapers located all over post.  The MWR also puts out an annual Welcome Guide that is a great resource.

Everything on this list is available to active military personnel and their families.  Some of the things on this list are available to DoD personnel.  And a few things are open to civilians. If you have a question about what it available to you please call the organization to get the details.

And here's one more caveat. I have yet to find a good map of Fort Rucker.  Even Google isn't always super helpful with directing you.  (As a rule of thumb every google location in the residential areas is on the wrong end of the street.) I've done my best to tell you where certain things are located.  But you'll probably still have questions.  The good news is that Fort Rucker is small enough that you can get to know it pretty easily.  After a few days of driving around you'll have a good idea of where most everything is located.

Okay without any further ado, here is a list of 25 things you can do on Fort Rucker.

1. See helicopters
This is the home to Army Aviation, and boy do they make it obvious.  First of all, you can't miss all the helicopters flying overhead all the time.  But beyond that there are other ways to see all the aircraft.

The best place to go is the Army Aviation Museum located near the Daleville Gate on Novosel Street.  The museum is open to the public and free of charge. This place is full of historical military aircraft starting with one of the first Wright Fliers designed for the military.  Most of the aircraft are displayed so that you can't touch them.  But there is a Chinook that you can climb inside and sit down in the cargo area.

In addition to the aircraft inside the museum there are also plenty of aircraft on display outside the building.  And beyond that there are aircraft randomly placed around Fort Rucker.  One of my favorite displays is in front of the Headquarters building on Novosel Street.  You can see the four helicopters currently in use by the Army.

And don't forget that you can drive around to see the training helicopters sitting on the flight line.  My favorite view is of Lowe Field from the hill north of the field.  It's so amazing to see all the Black Hawks sitting out in neat rows.

2. Pose for pictures with a giant polar bear
Sergeant Ted E. Bear is a giant fiberglass statue of a polar bear who is stationed near the Daleville Gate.  He's one of the symbols of Fort Rucker.  Every month he has a different outfit painted onto him to help celebrate events going on around post.  You can take pictures with him, but be aware that he is located on the corner of a busy intersection.  The best place to park is on Raider Street and then walk across the field to the statue.  You can also buy souvenirs featuring the polar bear at the Aviation Museum gift shop and the Arts and Crafts Center.

3. Make (many) new friends
If you are new to Army life, here's a little secret for you. Everyone feels uncomfortable at a new duty station.  The trick to feeling like you belong is to make friends.  And the way to make friends is to get involved with things.

The Fort Rucker Community Spouses Club (FRCSC) is an awesome way to get to know people, and to really feel part of the Fort Rucker Community.  They have luncheons once a month.  They also have many volunteer and service opportunities.

Protestant Women of the Chapel is another great organization for meeting new friends.  They meet every Tuesday at Wings Chapel.  If you aren't interested in a Bible Study atmosphere you can come to their P31 Activity on the third Thursday of every month.  They do an easy craft and provide the supplies for a small suggested donation.  Childcare is provided for free for both PWOC and P31.

4. Attend church and/or send your kids to Vacation Bible School
While we are on the subject of churchy things lets talk about the chapel programs supported through Chaplain and Religious Support Services. I belong to a congregation that meets in Enterprise, but that hasn't stopped me from also participating in many of the programs offered on post.

There are a variety of religious services held at Fort Rucker.  You can find a complete list of meeting times  and locations here. In addition to worship services there are plenty of programs available that anyone can participate in - even if you aren't very religious.

This year the chapel program started Wednesday Nights Alive.  Dinner is provided, and then everyone splits off to different classes.  The main class is the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University that is available for free.  The class is offered in the spring and the fall. There are also bible studies, marriage classes, and choir practice. And there are programs for your children and teenagers. Childcare is offered for free.

During the summer the chapel program hosts a week long Vacation Bible School.  VBS is a staple of southern culture.  Even if you aren't very religious you might want to have your children attend this as a way to experience the  local culture.  The Fort Rucker VBS pulls out all the stops to help your children learn.  They aren't just coloring work sheets.  Instead they are interacting with bible themed activities.  It's a week your children will never forget.

5. Sign your children up for Child Youth and School Services Programs
Let's not forget about the other programs available to military children.  The Child Youth and School Services Program is pretty awesome.  Sure you have to do an insane amount of paperwork to get your children enrolled, but after that they have access to fun classes like gymnastics, karate, soccer, basketball, etc.  Also if your children are enrolled in CYS they can go to hourly care or the school age center if you need to work or just need a break. All these programs cost money, but the cost depends on your income, and is very affordable.

6. Visit the library
Another great option for entertaining your children is to take them to the library.  The Center Library is located on Ruf Avenue. The library has story time for young children every Friday morning at 10:15.  They also do a monthly craft.

There are also plenty of things for adults as well. They have book clubs, classes, and lets not forget the free wifi.  Plus it's just a quiet space.  Most the posts on this blog were written at the library when I needed a break from my children.

And you can always check out books and DVD's from the library. All you need is your military ID to act as your library card.

7. Learn a new skill
There are so many places to learn new things here at Fort Rucker. The Arts and Crafts Center on Ruf Avenue is one of the best places to learn a new hobby.  The skilled professionals at the center will help you learn skills such as drawing, framing, painting, pottery, sewing, stained glass, woodshop, and many more things depending on the skills of the current staff and volunteers. After you've taken a basic safety class you can use the equipment at the center to work on your own projects.  You can also have the staff do several things for you such as framing, color sublimation (putting pictures on stuff), screen printing, and custom engraving.

Another place to learn new skills is the Automotive Skills Center.  This is located on Headhunter Street and 2nd Avenue.  The building has 26 work bays.  After you take a basic safety class you can bring your own car to the center and work on it yourself.   The center provides classes on the basics of taking care of your car such as changing oil and using a diagnostic scan tool.

If you live on post you can sign up for a garden plot at the Fort Rucker Community Garden.  Alabama has two growing seasons which makes this a gardener's paradise.

8. Get into shape
There are so many ways to improve your health here at Fort Rucker.  The most obvious place is to go to the gym.  There are two gyms here, the Fort Rucker Physical Fitness Center (the big gym) is located on Andrews Avenue. There is a basketball/volley ball court, a swimming pool, free weights, three racket ball courts, treadmills and other machines, and a quarter mile track at this location.  The Fortenberry-Colton Physical Fitness Center (the little gym) is locate on Skychief Street. This building has a basketball/volleyball court, weight lifting equipment, spin bikes, and a climbing wall.  Both fitness centers provide a variety of classes.

If you want to assess your fitness level, and learn ways to improve it, you should schedule an appointment with the Wellness Center.  The Wellness Center is located across the street from the big gym.  It has equipment that will measure your metabolism, body fat composition, and maximal oxygen uptake.  These services could cost you over $2000, but they are available for free at the Wellness Center.  In addition to measuring your current fitness level the Wellness Center staff will offer you techniques for improving your fitness.

There are also several of healthy lifestyle classes offered at the Lyster Army Health Clinic. They offer free zumba and yoga classes as well as healthy cooking demos on a regular basis. There's even a class to help you improve your sleeping habits.

9. Update your resume
Okay, I know this one doesn't seem very fun.  But trust me, this may be one of the most important things you do while you are here.  The Army Community Service program offers an Employment Readiness Course at least once a month. There is a two hour class teaching you things you can do to maximize your job hunt.  After taking the class you can schedule a one on one meeting with a certified resume coach who will go over your resume with you.  He will help you turn it into a master piece.  This program is offered for free, and is definitely worth your time.

10. Attend a Festival
It seems like there is a festival or event happening on Fort Rucker just about every month.  Here's a list of the biggest ones.

Children's Festival
This festival is held in the spring in conjunction with the Month of the Military Child (April).  They pull out all the stops for military children.  Everything is free.  Everything.  There are bounce houses, petting zoos, crafts, a train ride, and an Easter Egg Hunt.  This is held at the Festival Fields across from the commissary.

Lake Fest
This festival is held at Lake Tholocco on the Saturday before Memorial Day.  It's a great way to kick off your summer. It's also a great way to see everything that Lake Tholocco has to offer.  Admission to the swimming beach and use of the recreational equipment is free of charge on this day.  There are also bounce houses and water slides.  The only thing that does cost money is food from the vendors.

Freedom Fest
Freedom Fest is held in conjunction with Independence Day in July, but it's usually held a few days before the Fourth of July.  This festival is held on the Festival Fields and  is open to the public.  There are small rides and large bounce houses for the kids - but be aware they cost money.  There are food vendors as well.  Static displays of helicopters are set up, and it's always fun to see kids climbing into them and pretending to be pilots.  The Army Band plays live music for the crowd for over two hours.  They are a surprisingly good cover band.  The highlight of the night is listening to the band play "Sweet Home Alabama" while the audience sings along.  That is followed by a 20 minute firework show set to patriotic music.  You don't want to miss this event.

October Fest
This is always held at the end of September to celebrate German Culture.  There is German food, German music, and of course German beer.  There are activities for all ages.

Camping Under the Stars
This event is held in November at Lake Tholocco. Everyone is invited to set up a tent on the side of a gentle hill, and then watch a movie  from their tent on a big screen set up at the bottom of the hill.  They usually play a children's movie first followed by one for older viewers. Hot chocolate and popcorn are available for everyone.  After the movies are over you can either go home or stay the night.

11. Find a bargain at a yard sale
I love yard sales!  And Fort Rucker makes it so easy to find good deals.  The housing communities allow yard sales on the first Saturday of every month. They post a list of participating addresses on the marquee signs near each community center.  All you have to do is drive to each address and check out the stuff.  And since this is a military community you'll find lots of deals on things that people want to get rid of before they move.

But wait, it gets even easier.  Twice a year the MWR hosts a yard sale on the Festival Fields across from the commissary. Anyone, civilian or military, can rent a booth to sell their stuff.  It's like seeing 50 different yard sales all in one place.  These sales happen in April and October.  The one in October is my version of Black Friday shopping.  I can usually find a lot of good Christmas presents there.

If you've missed the yard sales, but still want save money, you can visit the Fort Rucker Thrift Shop.  This store is full of great deals. And with so many people moving in and out of Fort Rucker there is always something new to find at the store.  The shop even offers a consignment program if you want to sell some of your own stuff.  If you just want to get rid of things you can always drop off donations in the shed behind the building.

12. Get outdoors
Remember that part about Fort Rucker being like a National Park?  That means there are tons of opportunities to experience the great outdoors.  Lake Tholocco is in the northern section of the post. It's the perfect place to go for fun in the sun. You can bring your own boat, canoe, or kayak to the lake, or you can rent one from the Outdoor Recreation Service Center for a nominal fee.  The lake is nice even if you don't want to get in the water.  There are several play grounds, picnic tables, and barbecue grills.

You can also go for a hike on one of the many trails around post.  The one near Beaver Lake is very pretty and paved the whole way.  If you want a more rustic trail you can go on the one near Parcours Lake.  The Fitness Center offers a list of running/walking trails.  I should add that you shouldn't go off on any unmarked trails.  This is a military installation after all and you don't want to wander into a training area or somewhere with unexplored ordnance.

13. Go fishing
There are six lakes of various sizes on Fort Rucker. A valid fishing permit is required to fish at five of the lakes. A complete list can be found on the MWR website, but let me just tell you about a couple of my favorites.

Parcours Youth Lake located on Farrel Ave is a great place to go if you want to teach your children to fish. This lake is specifically for use by children.  Children 15 years old and younger can fish at this lake without a licence.  Adults over 16 can help younger children fish, but they can't do any fishing on their own.

Buckhorn Lake is off of Hatch Road. This lake is tucked away in the trees and virtually unknown.  It's a beautiful place to go fishing or to just enjoy the outdoors.  Be aware though, this lake is used as a training location from time to time so it isn't always open.  A gate will be across the access road when the lake is closed to the public.

14. Go mountain biking
I was surprised to find out that there are mountain biking trails on post.  They are called the Warrior Adventure Quest Trails.  They have 3.5 miles of trails that run between Farrel Road, post headquarters, and the PX. The trail is designated by white arrows on trees.  The Physical Fitness Center has a bike issue program if you need a bike.

15. Go horse back riding
If you have a horse you can board it at the Fort Rucker Riding Stables. The stables have many amenities to help you take care of your horse properly. There are miles of equestrian trails near the stables. Recently the stables have started offering riding lessons.  They also allow you to schedule Pony Parties for birthday parties.

16. Run a 5K
MWR hosts a different 5K race just about every month.  Favorites include the the Color Run in August, and the Turkey Trot in November, but every race is great.  They are very accommodating and no matter how fast or slow you are you'll have a good time.  You can register for the 5K races by visiting the Fitness Centers.

17. Go swimming
Going swimming is about the only way people survive the summers here.  It's just too hot and muggy for anything else during the day.  Fortunately there are plenty of places to choose from.

If you live on post you can go swimming at the pools at any of the three community centers.  These pools are usually open from Memorial Day to the end of September.  They have beach entries and little splash pad areas in the shallow part of the pool

SPLASH! is a waterpark located on Fort Rucker. It's not very big, but it does have several water slides and a splash pad. It's behind the Landing on Novosel Street.  This water park does cost money.  The price depends on whether you are military or a civilian.  Season passes are available.

If you want a more natural experience you can go swimming at Lake Tholocco. West Beach is open for swimming during the summer.  It costs $1.50 for children ages 3-9, $2.25 for ages 10-17, and $3 for adults. This beach has a waterside and a trampoline that floats on the water.  There are life guards on duty.

During the off season you can still go swimming inside the Physical Fitness Center. This pool is free. Swimming lessons for all ages are offered at this pool all year long.

18. Go rock climbing
The Fortenberry-Colton Physical Fitness Center has a 28 foot rock climbing wall.  There are four auto belay systems and four manual belay systems. The center is open from 5:00 to 9:00 on weekdays, 8:00 to 6:00 on Saturdays, and 10:00 to 6:00 on Sundays.

19. Go skeet shooting or do archery
This category was just going to be titled "shoot something," but since this is a military installation I thought I better be more specific.

The Skeet Shooting range is located down Minute Man road.  Unfortunately, I don't know much about the range, but the contact number is (334) 598-4204.

The Archery Range is located near the east beach of Lake Tholocco. The number to call for more info about the Southeast Alabama Archers Club is (334) 347-4990.

20. Go hunting
The MWR runs several hunting programs. Animals you can hunt include, deer, turkeys, and hogs. Right now the wild hog population is out of control in the area so there are all sorts of incentives to hunt hogs. You will need to have the proper permits of course.  The MWR has an Outdoor Mentorship Program where experienced hunters can pass on their knowledge.

21. Go bowling
Rucker Lanes Bowling Center is located on Ruf Avenue, and was recently renovated.  The center has 20 bowling lanes, ball and shoe rental, and a snack bar. They have bumpers to help children learn how to bowl.  They offer a variety of specials, but the best one is Monday Funday on Monday evenings when games are only 50 cents per game and shoe rental is only 50 cents as well.

22. Play bingo
Bingo is available at the Landing on Novosel Avenue.  Regular bingo games are held on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.  Electronic Bingo is available at the The Landing and Rucker Lanes.

23. Play golf
The Silver Wings Golf Course is located off of Andrews Avenue on Combat Road. The course has 27 holes and is open year round. In addition to the course there is also a lighted practice range.  The facility is also home to a catering and event center, a pro shop, and Divots Restaurant and Grille.

24. Grab a bite to eat
There are a few options for places to eat on post.  You can find a few chain restaurants at the food court inside the PX.  Burger King is located across the street from the PX on Ruf Avenue.

There are also some places unique to Fort Rucker.  One is The Landing Zone located adjacent to The Landing on Novosel Ave. They serve lunch and dinner.  They have different specials for every day of the week.  They are closed on Saturday.

Divots Restaurant and Grille is associated with the Silver Wings Golf Course.  They are open every day from 10:00 to 2:00.  Their bar area seats up to 76 people.

Another place to eat is Mother Ruckers (yes it's really called that)  This is a Sports Bar. You have to be over 18 to enter the building.  They are open from 4:00 to 11:00 every day.

If you are interested in having an event catered you can contact either 5 Star Catering at The Landing or the Silverwings Golf Course.

25. Stay overnight
Let's say you are just here for a graduation.  Or maybe you have family in town.  You don't have to go off post at the end of the day.  There are several options to choose from on post.

There are several hotels on post.  There is a Holiday Inn Express located on 6th Avenue near the Lyster Health Clinic. There are also a few other IHG Hotels scattered around post.  Depending on the type of room you request you can have a full kitchen and on site laundry facilities.

Up at Lake Tholocco there are several gorgeous cabins.  These cabins have a living room, a kitchen - with pots and pans, a bathroom, two bed rooms, and a screened porch.  The beds come with linens.  The only thing you need to provide is toiletries.  These cabins are a great deal at only $85 a night.

There is also a campground located at Lake Tholocco.  This campground has spaces for RVs as well as tents.

Bonus: Plan a trip
Even though Fort Rucker has a lot to offer, there will be times when you'll want to get away.  If you want to know what things are in the area you should check out my post 100 Things to do within 100 miles of Fort Rucker.

You should also visit Leisure and Travel Services on the first floor of the 5700 Building on Novosel Street.  The MWR office functions as a travel agency.  They can provide you with visitor guides, maps, and info about things to do in the area.  Also they can help you book tickets and hotel reservations at special military rates.

The MWR also plans many day trips to fun things in the area.  These include deep sea fishing, white water rafting, wine tours, zip lining, etc.  The cost of these tips is very competitive and includes transportation.

* * *
I hope this list helps you fill your time while you are at Fort Rucker. This place may be small, it may be in the middle of no where, and you may be here for just a little while; However, this place can have a big impact on your life if you let it. 

One of my favorite memories from my time here at Fort Rucker was last summer at Freedom Fest. The band played Home by Phillip Phillps.  Along with the song they played a video of footage of Fort Rucker and the surrounding areas. They dedicated the video it to everyone who has ever called the Wiregrass Home.  I'd never really cared about that song before, but hearing the song paired with the video made me cry.  I realized that this place really felt like home.  


Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm gonna make this place your home

Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm gonna make this place your home

Here's the video from the Facebook Page for the  98th Army Band. (Now the Maneuver Center for Excellence - Fort Rucker Detatchment.)

I've loved my time here at this Home.  I hope this list can help you as Fort Rucker becomes your home.  This place truly is "Above the Best."


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