One of the benefits of serving in the military is the opportunity to travel to new places and experience things never before possible. Here’s a rundown of some off-duty excursions located just a short distance from military installations across the United States.
Joint Base San Antonio
San Antonio is a city with a vibrant culture and fierce military history. One of the best ways to appreciate the past is by visiting the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
Before San Antonio was East Texas, it belonged to Spanish colonists. The original missions built by residents nearly 300 years ago still exist today and are open for exploration.
“There are historical Spanish soldiers’ quarters at Mission San José, as well as a reconstructed bastion in the corner of one of the compound walls,” said Chantelle Ruidant-Hansen, the park’s visual information specialist. “At Mission Espada, you can still see inside a Mexican army bastion that was built in the early 1800s and even compare it to ruins of a 1700s Spanish bastion.”
Service members and their families receive free entrance to the park. The missions are roughly 10 miles from Joint Base San Antonio.
Those who want to get a taste of the modern-day culture, dining and shopping in San Antonio but are short on time can hop on an electric-powered boat for a 35-minute cruise down the San Antonio River.
“Everywhere you look on the tour, there’s a point of interest, and that allows you to know exactly what you need to visit after,” said Go Rio San Antonio River Cruises general manager Lee Talamantez. “The Riverwalk is a beautiful place, and it shows the city’s unique charm, its ambiance.”
Fort Custer, Michigan
Fort Custer is one of the nation’s premier National Guard Training Facilities. When service members get time to spend off base, they might be surprised to find there’s an extensive antique car museum just 13 miles away.
The Gilmore Car Museum has a 90-acre campus with a collection of more than 300 antique automobiles and motorcycles.
“Guests are often really surprised that out in the Michigan countryside, there’s a car museum that exists like this,” said Josh Russell, the Gilmore Car Museum’s executive director. “It’s a full experience here. If you come during the week in warm weather months, we have five or six classic cars giving rides every day.”
The museum often hosts car shows on weekends with food, drinks and live entertainment. Admission to the museum is free for active-duty military.
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Home of the Army Reserve Command, thousands of reservists visit Fort Bragg annually for training.
Outfitting company Cape Fear Adventures gives them the chance to experience the great outdoors and explore 25 miles of water on the Cape Fear River. The business provides guided single or multi-day white water rafting trips and stand-up paddleboard, kayak and canoe rentals.
“It can be as mild as they choose, but it can also be as strenuous as they choose,” said Cape Fear Adventures Owner Ilia Smirnov. “We have a trip called the 10-mile challenge where they have to paddle 10 miles and go through some rapids. It’s not only fun, but it’s challenging and something different.”
The outlet also hosts “Land Yoga by the River” one-hour yoga sessions. Cape Fear Adventures offers military discounts, and its season runs from March to October.
Fort Hood, Texas
People looking for another-worldly escape can head underground near Fort Hood.
The Inner Space Cavern is about 43 miles from the base and features an expansive labyrinth of cave passages that range from large cathedral-style rooms to tight crawl spaces. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure style experience as visitors can explore the cave through well-lit and paved guided tours or choose the Wild Cave Tour, which entails crawling, climbing and squeezing through tight spots into dark chambers.
“The Wild Cave Tour is true caving, and we have had quite a few soldiers from Fort Hood come and do it as a team-building thing,” said Taunya Vessels, General Manager of Inner Space Cavern. “It’s a great family place too, and we have a little bit for everybody.”
A military discount is available with an ID.
Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base
Roughly 15 miles from both Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base is a veteran-owned business that takes service members on experiences they won’t soon forget.
Rodney Pangborn was stationed in Alaska when he was active-duty Air Force and loved the area so much he never left. He started his own business, Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service, to share his appreciation of Alaska and offer dog sledding, snowmobile and ice fishing excursions.
He recommends ice fishing trips for families and groups of friends looking for an off-duty break.
“One of the cool things during the day is if all of the fish are up toward the bottom of the ice, we turn all the lights off and your eyes adjust, you can actually see the fish down in the water attacking your bait or swimming by it,” Pangborn said. “It’s just really a neat experience.”
Groups who schedule nighttime fishing trips in a heated cabin might even be treated to a view of the aurora borealis. There is a 10% military discount on all excursions.
Dover Air Force Base, Delaware
The Dover Motor Speedway is only about 5 miles from Dover Air Force Base, making a trip to the racetrack quick and easy.
The speedway is usually open for tours Monday through Friday with a reservation. Adrenaline junkies can go the extra mile and schedule a racing experience that will put them behind the wheel of an Indy-style race car.
“There’s only one Dover Motor Speedway, only one 1-mile concrete oval, and it’s the world’s fastest 1-mile oval,” said Michael Lewis, communications manager for Dover Motor Speedway. “You will see racing here that you don’t see anywhere else in the country.”
This year’s NASCAR weekend is April 29-May 1, featuring the DuraMAX Drydene 400 of the RelaDyne NASCAR Cup race.Read comments