We’ve all been there. That dreaded phone call.
“Orders came in. Are you sitting down?”
“Yes…” A prickly anticipation fills the air, like your foot falling asleep. You teeter between giddy excitement and a foreboding sense of dread, all wrapped up in a breathless moment, waiting to be unwrapped.
“I can’t believe it,” he says.
This tone is not promising. Your skin begins tingling more. Sharper. Uncomfortable.
“Ugh,” he tries again. His clear exasperation gives it away.
Nope, that tone was definitely not promising. Just like our future. Mayday! Mayday!
“We’re going to (insert terrible location).”
Pick your poison, folks. Whatever your military branch, there’s always that dreaded duty station.
But with the cut of orders, that bad duty station becomes your reality. That one. The one everyone just knows to stay away from. It’s dirty, desolate, and the work hours are abysmal. The schools are terrible, and the housing is even worse. Nobody sets foot there willingly—nobody you’ve ever met, at least.
It’s a disconcerting situation to find yourself in, if you let it. But after five duty stations—most of which were pretty low on the totem pole of popular opinion (and come on Army friends, you picked the wrong branch for vacation destinations anyway), I can honestly say I came to love each and every place.
They all hold a piece of my heart, especially that one. You know, the terrible, no-good, don’t-say-it-out-loud-or-you’ll-be-stationed-there,way-at-the-bottom-of-everyone’s-list place. Yeah, that one.
After two and a half years, our time is up and the hellscape I had been prepared for has become my own desert paradise. There are so many things I will miss about our “bad” duty station, and when we leave, I will resolve to always speak of it fondly.
Because it’s my bad duty station now and, as it turns out, bad can actually be pretty darn fantastic.
Here’s the thing about bad duty stations. Having the bar set so low means the only way to go is up!
After months of being made to feel like life as I knew it would burn up in the scorching heat of the unforgiving Mojave desert, my expectations were—to say the least—infinitesimally low. When I didn’t immediately burst into flames or suffer a heat stroke while checking the mail, it seemed as though I might actually survive this place.
Little by little, the bar began to inch upward and, amazingly, this no-good, totally-terrible, completely-cringeworthy duty station kept rising to the challenge. Soon, everything I had been told to hate came to possess its own magic, like a mischievous secret between old friends.
The isolation has became something of a refuge. No crazy traffic. No concrete jungles in which to lose both money and perspective. Life is cozy and slow-paced, with the kind of genuine small-town feel I’ve always craved.
The barren landscape I had been warned about reveals its beauty to me time and again, illuminating the most brilliant sunrises and sunsets I have ever seen. The cracked earth gives way to unexpected wildflowers, and the mountainous terrain captures the sun in a marbled effect that can take your breath away. It’s a healing place, unworthy of the derision it receives.
The soldiers’ hectic work hours have caused a bit of consternation, I’ll admit. They are unpredictable and long, with no open weekends except for once a month. But that ‘once a month’ is four glorious days during which we can take advantage of the several major metropolitan areas within driving distance.
All of this is to say nothing of the incredibly supportive community, the adorable and abundant wildlife (wild burros roam the neighborhoods freely), and a school system that has given my children a strong educational foundation and myself new life as a working professional.
Turns out, most of the ominous warnings I had received rang hollow. Nearly everything had been exaggerated and even the truly difficult aspects, over time, became part of the normal routine.
So where do I live? Where is this diamond-in-the-rough? Well, I’m a bit protective of this place so my lips are sealed. But if you’re in the Army and a friend’s eyes bulge out in horror when you reveal your next duty station, chances are you’re headed to my little slice of heaven.
Here’s a little secret worth remembering, though: The only thing that can make a duty station truly terrible is your attitude.
And while I clearly haven’t experienced every “bad” duty station in the military, I think it’s safe to say that a little bit of optimism will always go a long way. Nothing lasts forever in this fast-paced military life. The passing of a handful of seasons will likely bring yet another duty station; so when a “bad” one is next in line, keep perspective. Maintaining a negative mindset only robs you of your happiness, so what’s the point?
Seek out the good wherever you go. Make your life an adventure instead of a pity party. And when life sticks you in the middle of the desert, so isolated that the nearest Target is over an hour away, hop onto Amazon Prime and give thanks for 2-day shipping. Then take a deep breath, enjoy a gorgeous sunset, and raise a glass to your bad duty station.