Finding Home: Military Relocation and Retirement on the First Coast

US NAVY, Finding Home: Military Relocation and Retirement on the First Coast
All photos provided by US NAVY

It’s moving season.

Each summer, approximately 200,000 military families relocate from their current duty station to their next set of orders. May 15-August 31 is peak PCS (Permanent Change of Station) season, with 65% of military moves occurring during this timeframe.

The local impact is huge. Northeast Florida’s military presence is the third largest in the country, with area military installations like Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Naval Station Mayport, Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Naval Aviation Depot Jacksonville, Marine Corps Support Facility Blount Island, and Camp Blanding Joint Training Center. Each year, thousands of military families relocate to our area.

Finding Home: Military Relocation and Retirement on the First Coast

With an average of 221 sunny days annually, Jacksonville is a great place to call home. Not only is the cost of living affordable, but there’s also easy access to beautiful beaches, world-class restaurants and entertainment, recreational activities for the entire family, and plenty of employment opportunities for spouses or second-careers for retirees. Not to mention it’s only a few hours north of Orlando’s theme parks and a day-trip from Southern destinations like Savannah, Atlanta, and Charleston.

Many decide to stay in the area after retiring from the military. According to the City of Jacksonville, approximately 3,000 military personnel decide to stay in NE Florida after leaving or retiring from the service each year. The positive impact on the local economy is huge. These are people with often high levels of training and a strong work ethic.

Erin Sutherland’s husband, Jeremy, retired from his career as a Navy helicopter pilot in 2015 and they chose to remain local rather than return ‘home’ to the Pacific Northwest. “We decided to stay here because the cost of living is reasonably low compared to the West Coast,” she said, “We also had a church and friends here, we knew the area well, and there are accessible amenities for retired military, such as recreation and health care. It made sense to settle in an area that put us in a better financial position and is very military friendly.”

Florida is among the most veteran-friendly states in the nation. There’s no income tax and the state’s numerous military installations provide easy access to medical care, commissary shopping, golf courses, fitness centers, and more. Florida encourages businesses to hire veterans and military retirees by reimbursing businesses for up to half of their training cost for every veteran hired. The state also promotes the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program to help veterans start their own business.

US NAVY, Finding Home: Military Relocation and Retirement on the First Coast, Family-USS-New-York-departs-Mayport_web

“Jacksonville wants the military here in Jax, retirees here in Jax. It’s a community-wide initiative and partnership,” says Bob Ross, Operations Director of the Greater Jacksonville Area USO. “It starts from the top down. Mayor Lenny Curry is a big proponent of the military. A number of organizations are coming together to hire military veterans. And why shouldn’t they? Everyone should hire veterans. They show up on time. They’re responsible. They don’t have to be told what to do all the time.”

Ross, a retired Navy Master Chief who grew up in Cape Cod, considers Jacksonville the number one place to live in terms of quality of life. He truly enjoyed being stationed here. “Local military installations offer veterans the opportunity to utilize benefits,” he says. “When I drive on base, I feel like I’m home. We lived on base. This is where my kids were raised. There’s a sense of belonging.” Jacksonville’s support for the military is one thing that brings service members back to Jacksonville even after they’ve transferred elsewhere. “Take me, for example,” Ross says, “I’ve scooped my last shovel of snow.”

Jacksonville residents Nancy and Roger Thomas agree. “Roger could have retired in other places because when he did retire, he continued his flying career by working for a regional airline. We didn’t come here instantly,” Nancy says.

“They had a lot of regional hubs and we considered them. But to start off from scratch in a place where there’s almost zero knowledge and understanding of the military and zero facilities and places that don’t accept Tricare Insurance?” The couple decided to move back to Jacksonville, where Roger had spent part of his career as a P3 pilot. They enjoy being able to easily use their military benefits at the Naval Hospital and commissary and like the area’s the weather, historical sites, and outdoor activities. “Apart from taking short vacations, there is no place we would rather be” Roger says.

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Southern hospitality is alive and well and new residents feel welcomed. Katie Tatro-Anderson’s husband is a Navy Master Chief and the native Californians are looking forward to retiring in NE Florida. “We love Jacksonville because it’s almost perfect,” Katie says, “Great beaches, a big city with a small town feel, all the sports teams to enjoy, camping, hiking, weather that isn’t too bad for Florida, and great places to travel that aren’t too far.”

Army wife Laura Leisner-Lenander agrees that Jacksonville is the place to be, even if her family has to plan long-term to make that happen. “We aren’t there yet,” she says, “but my husband retired from the Army and has a job with Customs and Border Protection now as a pilot. Jacksonville could not be the first assignment—so we took Puerto Rico to guarantee Jacksonville in a few years. We went and checked out Jacksonville to see if it is worth the time on Puerto Rico and we fell in love with Orange Park.”

Affordable, friendly, and filled with opportunity, Jacksonville is a great place to raise a family or enjoy the retirement years. This moving season, be sure to give your new neighbors a welcome as warm as our weather. For just a few years or for a lifetime, it’s no wonder people choose to call Northeast Florida home.

About Jennifer Melville

Jennifer Melville is a contributing writer for EU Jacksonville, South Magazine, Folio Magazine, Green Prints, Focus on the Family, and various other print and online publications. She’s a military wife, mother of four, and a leader in the NE Florida homeschooling community. You can check out more of her work on her website, Azalea Publications or follow her on Twitter.