Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of requirements and analysis at Coast Guard headquarters, for 13 years. She serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network and a research analyst for Blue Star Families.
Written by Shelley Kimball.
When I hear about far-flung Coast Guard duty stations, I can’t help but think about what they are like and whether I would like to live there. Guam is one of those places.
I know it can’t be easy to live there, but the pictures of beaches and palm trees, and the proximity to exotic travel destinations sound appealing. Every duty station carries with it frustrations and benefits, and everyone has some sort of advice for those who come after them.
Living there was “the experience of a lifetime” for Amanda Pavlik, who lived there with her family from 2009 to 2012. She said she misses “the people, culture, food, diving, accessibility to great beaches, ease of traveling to exotic places.”
Pavlik and two others shared their experiences living in Guam: Chief Petty Officer Stephen Kelly, who has been living there with his family for more than a year; and Tricia Pruett, whose husband just took over as the sector commander this summer. Their diverse perspectives give a varied overview of life on the island.
First, the basics. Guam sits in the Western Pacific Ocean and is the largest island in Micronesia. Temperatures are hot and humid, with average highs of 86 degrees and average lows of 76 degrees.
Coast Guard Sector Guam protects “the crossroads of the Pacific Islands.” It is responsible for search and rescue, law enforcement, port safety and security, and marine inspections for Guam, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Guam is a joint military location – in fact most of Guam’s economy depends on military spending. Other than the Coast Guard, both the Navy and the Air Force have bases there. As for amenities, there is a commissary and exchange on Naval Base Guam. (There are also U.S. retailers off base like Macy’s, Home Depot and Ross.) The Naval base also has a new hospital. And with Anderson Air Force Base nearby, Space A travel is an option.
Let’s start with the difficult aspects of life in Guam, and we’ll finish with the positives.
Waiting for housing definitely resides at the top of this list.
According to Pruett, housing is available on the base, and it seems well taken care of. However, and this is a big however, it takes a lot of time to get into housing. Pruett said they lived in a hotel for 45 days waiting for their home.
“Be ready to spend some time in a Navy Lodge or hotel and there will be a wait for household goods and your car,” Pruett said.
Kelly’s family had to wait for about a month to get into housing, and they lived in a hotel during that time. Additionally, he was unsure of the size of the house they would get, so they ended up shipping over too many belongings.
“When I called Navy housing from the mainland, they told my family that they have no clue as to where we will be living, not sure if there will be a home available, and unsure as to whether or not we would even be able to live on base,” said Kelly. “So how do I know I need storage over there when we don’t even have a clue as to where or what we are going to be living in?”
He suggested that some sort of temporary storage be made available for families because the houses are relatively small.
Another unique challenge to life on Guam is the two or even three-car family.
The Coast Guard pays to ship only one vehicle per family. The Kelly family has two working parents and a teenager who drives. The family shipped one car, then sold one car at a loss on the mainland. Then, when they arrived, they bought a car there to avoid the out-of-pocket shipping fees. He also said it is frustrating for families who have to pay for rental cars while they wait for their cars to arrive.
“The authorization to have the military ship only one POV is just insane and has put my family into another financial hardship,” Kelly said.
“We also had to rent a car for 40 days,” said Pruett. ” You can buy a used car on island if you don’t want to ship your car but it isn’t an easy island to get around without a car. Traffic can get bad and speed limits are about 35 mph. However people drive faster. Due to road conditions I try not to. We bought a Jeep because we heard about the roads and I am glad we did. Lots of potholes. “
“If you have a nice car, you may not want to ship it because the roads and weather wreak havoc on them,” said Pavlik.
When considering a remote duty station like Guam, you also have to be mindful that stuff simply costs more when you live this far outside of the continental United States.
“Being an island, things are more expensive,” said Pruett.
The expense of moving there was overwhelming for the Kellys. Paying for the Temporary Lodging Expense up front as well as for the transportation to get to Guam was a financial hardship on his family, he said.
“Not always being able to get the things you could easily get in the States. If you see something you like or want at the Commissary or Exchange, get it,” said Pavlik.” When it is gone, it very well may not be carried anymore.”
While the isolated location of the island may have its charms, you are a long way from your extended family.
Pavlik said some of the frustration that crop up due to the islands location are “the distance and being at least two days away from getting home if you need to get back to the states. Being 14 or 15 hours ahead of the East Coast, depending on the time of year. Unpredictability of typhoons and the possibility of being stranded there because there is no evacuation plan, and it is an island in the middle of nowhere.”
“While it is a U.S. territory and uses the U.S. dollar, the mail is not as efficient,” said Pruett. “It takes longer to get things delivered. There is no such thing as overnight or two-day delivery.”
Now, on to the good stuff. Let’s take a look at what makes Guam a great place to live.
Pruett said her first few months have been very positive, and she has a lot of plans for taking advantage of her new home.
“So far it has been a great experience,” she said. “The island is beautiful, and the people are welcoming to service members.”
The concensus number one benefit of living on Guam is the outdoor activities.
“There always seems to be something to do on the weekends and it is on my bucket list to get dive certified before I leave. The scuba diving is supposed to be fantastic,” said Pruett. “The people are friendly, the Island beautiful, and the outdoor activities abundant. There is a rich military history here that will take us all three years to explore. Slowing down to island life has been a good thing.”
“Getting certified in scuba diving is so inexpensive there,” said Pavlik. “So if you are interested in that, do it as soon as you can because there are so many opportunities on Guam and most other destinations there.”
Destination travel is also one of the unique advantages to life on Guam.
Kelly’s family has been able to visit Hong Kong and the Philippines so far.
“Register for airline miles because a trip home banks about 6,000 miles round trip,” said Pavlik. “Explore the island and all of the travel opportunities because you are so close to the Philippines, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia, Palau, Singapore and so many other exotic destinations.”
So, what should you keep in mind if you are one of the lucky few members of the Coast Guard family to find yourself on the way to living on Guam?
Pruett says, try to connect with your ombudsman. They are a wealth of information and can answer any specific questions you have or point you in the right direction. Facebook is great so you have an idea of what’s going on. I liked the Pacific Daily News Facebook page so I could get news from Guam and know what was going on.
Pavlik says don’t isolate yourself.
“If you have children, it is best to live on base if you can, but if you live on base, don’t forget to venture out off base,” said Pavlik.
And remember to take advantage of what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she said.
“Go with an open mind,” Pavlik said. “Don’t be shy about trying the local foods and taking part in some of their traditions.”
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.