Newly-recruited Marines eat a meal at a mess hall table.

Six Things New Service Members Should Know About Their First Duty Station

You went through weeks learning basic military skills, then months learning your military job. Finally, it’s time to take your place in the military at your first duty station.

When you arrive at your new installation you’ll go through processing. The first place you go is the reception office with a copy of your orders. For example:

After presenting your orders, you may spend the first few weeks learning about the base, meeting key officers and enlisted personnel, discovering where your barracks and the mess hall are, and getting clothing and gear issued. You’ll also figure out the do’s and don’ts of installation life. You’ll be integrated into your unit and your job. As the newbie, ask questions to get to know your role and your coworkers better.

At your first duty station, you’ll have more responsibility and more freedom than you did during training. You’ll serve your country, but you’ll also have time for fun and exploring your new surroundings. Here are six tips for making the most of life at your first duty station.

1. Get to know your installation.

As one solider said, "Don’t live in your barracks." See what your installation and the surrounding community have to offer. Start with MilitaryINSTALLATIONS. With this tool, you can easily locate your installation and find maps and directions on and off your post. You can also get contact information for programs and services and peruse location overviews and community points of interest.

2. Make friends and have fun.

You’ll probably work and live with the people in your unit until a permanent change of station move or you leave the service. Some of them are likely to become friends, and there will be plenty of opportunities to socialize together.

Your installation’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation program gives you the chance to meet people and make the most of your free time. Some installations offer recreational facilities, all at low or no cost. For off-base fun, Information, Tickets and Travel gives you the scoop on sporting events, museums, theme parks, aquariums, zoos, historical sites and other attractions. And the America the Beautiful pass gives you free access to national parks and recreation areas where you can hike, climb, ski, surf, stargaze or just relax.

3. Pay attention to the "off-limits" list.

On your installation, you may see lists of places or services declared “off limits” by the base commander. These are usually known trouble spots in the neighborhood – think bad landlords, shady nightclubs or lemon car lots. The lists are posted and are also on your base website – like this one from Fort Bragg – so read them and avoid anything on them. Be aware of predatory lenders, payday loan outfits and others looking to scam you outside the installation.

4. Find military discounts on and off your installation.

The service provides for your basic needs, but one of the perks of military life is shopping at installation commissaries and exchanges. Commissaries are like grocery stores and exchanges are like department stores, and both give you tax-free shopping and discount goods and services. Each service branch has its own exchange system, and you’re entitled to shop at any of them, either in person or online.

Your military identification gets you discounts to events, destinations and more off base as well. You can get discounted tickets to many local activities like sporting events, concerts, movies, museums and vacation packages through your installation’s Information, Tickets and Travel office.

5. Enjoy family and friends visits.

If your family, friends or significant other would like to visit you on base, they certainly can. Most installations welcome visitors for events such as deployment homecomings or holiday parties. You’ll find instructions for civilian visitors on your installation’s website.

Some installation recreation facilities – such as bowling alleys and movie theaters – are open to civilian guests if they are accompanied by a service member. You can also show your guests a good time off base – at concerts, amusement parks and sporting events – with discounted tickets from ITT.

6. Check out Military Family Readiness Centers.

Before you dismiss this resource because of its name, understand installation-based Military and Family Support Centers are a resource hub for all service members, whether you’re single or married. They can help you connect the dots on your new installation and surroundings.

The people at these centers can help you with many things like getting a good deal when buying your first car, planning your first PCS, understanding housing options, finding places to socialize and connect to your new community, preparing for deployment, getting personal financial help and more. The centers may go by different names, but they all offer helpful resources for military life issues. Check out MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to locate the center nearest you.

You can also learn more about your new duty station or get answers to your military life questions by contacting Military OneSource by phone at 800-342-9647 or live chat.