My phone rang as I was leaving the grocery store. It was my husband. I hadn’t thought much of it because he often calls just to see how my day is going. He’s swell like that.
“We have to move to Alabama.”
“Huh?” I asked.
“I got ACSC (Air Command and Staff College),” he said. “And we’re PCSing to Montgomery in June.”
“OK. Well….What’s ACSC again, and didn’t you already do that?”
As it would turn out, my husband was chosen to participate in Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) in-residence at Maxwell Air Force Base. According to the official ACSC Webpage, “The United States Air Force Air Command and Staff College is the intermediate Air Force professional military school. Annually, we prepare about 500 resident and over 9,000 nonresident students from all U.S. Military services, federal agencies, and 65 partner nations to lead in the operational environment – emphasizing the employment of airpower in joint operations.”
Ummm, OK. Super helpful, I thought, without an ounce of sarcasm.
All I knew was that I had to pack up my family a year and a half early from our absolute favorite assignment. We would move to Montgomery, Alabama, for a year, and then move again.
It wasn’t my idea of a super fun exercise and, like many folks, I had my preconceived notions of Alabama. Fortunately, we had good friends who had just completed the program and talked me off the proverbial cliff.
I know that not everyone has access to an honest assessment of what to expect from this particular program with respect to their family, so I asked some spouses to share their thoughts and feelings about the year.
Here’s what they said and here is what I’ve discovered:
Montgomery is hot.
And, very humid. Not Florida humid, but you will be a hot, sweaty mess for nine months out of the year. If you are like me and are a victim of bad hair, don’t even try to do it. If you are a renter, ensure that your landlord is accessible. Air Conditioners go out right and left. Being stuck in an 87-degree house with two small kids who are constantly complaining about how hot it is because you weren’t already aware of it, isn’t fun.
It’s a nice year.
One of my most honest and seasoned military spouse friends hit the nail on the head with this statement. Although the ACSC Academic Calendar is pretty rigid when it comes to requesting leave, the students are given all standard leave days and have very generous breaks for fall, winter, and spring. Each student’s daily schedule will generally consist of classes that span from 8:30am-3:30 pm. My husband hasn’t gotten home after 5:30 the entire year, which is much different than his previous schedule. The hours can’t be beat. That being said …
Manage your expectations.
Every student will need to study outside of class. My husband spends most of his time reading. However, the students also are required to write papers and, in some cases, complete projects. ACSC Students earn a Masters of Military Operational Art and Science Degree and should expect to complete the coursework associated with the degree. The command staff provides an initial briefing to the spouses in which this issue is deliberately addressed.
Many of my friends have been told that this is a blow-off year by alumni of the program. In recent years, the program has gained nearly 50 Ph.D. level faculty members. As a result, the curriculum has become progressively more rigorous. Some students handle the workload better than others. A common thread throughout so many of the responses I received was that the student is “here but not here.” Although students are physically home each evening, there are times when they are not available or present to help with daily family life.
I’ve used the phrase “pleasantly surprised” for Montgomery and ACSC more than any other assignment.
I am quoting a friend here, but this seems to be ubiquitously true for my entire group of friends. The City of Montgomery rocks. We haven’t lived in a “city” in a long time and the availability of restaurants, shopping and activities are amazing! There are so many day or weekend trips accessible from our area. My family has gone to the Gulf Shore beaches in Florida at least four times, to Atlanta, Nashville, to the “mountains” of Georgia and to Savannah.
Where to live?
The majority of ACSC families live in East Montgomery, the Cloverdale area near downtown or Prattville. We live in East Montgomery in the Deer Creek Neighborhood. We have young children and love living near a lot of the other ACSC families with children of a similar age. I adore my daughter’s elementary school, Blount Elementary. Her teacher is amazing and the principal is one of the sweetest human beings I have ever met. Many of the students at the school are only there for a year and the school works hard to ensure they understand the challenges of military children. East Montgomery is about 30 minutes from base, so if you are looking to buy or rent, please keep the commute in mind.
Many of my friends live in Old Cloverdale or near downtown Montgomery. The homes are lovely and historic and much closer to the base. The reviews of the schools in that area are mixed, so I encourage you to research your options before signing a lease. Children in the City of Montgomery are also encouraged to apply to attend one of the Academic Magnet Schools. If you live in East Montgomery, the commute will be about 30 minutes each way, so Cloverdale may be a better option if you plan to have your children attend a Magnet School.
I cannot speak with any authority on the best schools for older kids, but I know a majority of my friends with middle or high school aged kids choose to live in Prattville. It is a smaller town than Montgomery (but still has a Target and a Bass Pro, which is AMAZING, by the way) but everyone I have spoken to really enjoys living there and are happy with the upper-level schools.
Your Dance Card will be full.
There are SO many activities and clubs to participate in during your year at ACSC. I personally host Wine Club and Cooking Club (big shocker there.). Spouses are encouraged to share their passions and expertise in any area of life. ACSC Spouses organize both large and small events throughout the year and host clubs that feature horseback riding, sewing, running, lunch bunch, salad in a jar, and coffee, to name a few. Spouses also are encouraged to help plan the big family events of the year, Fall Fest, and the Children’s Christmas party.
There is a vibrant International Community.
One of the things I have treasured the most this year is participating in the International Spouses Cooking Club. Officers from over 50 countries are represented at ACSC. I have had the opportunity to meet exceptionally talented ladies from all over the world and taste food made in their own kitchens. I am a firm believer that cooking and eating together is the solution to all of the world’s problems. All of them. If anyone needs any further policy advice, you can just respond to this post. We ask respectful questions and discuss all of the things you are told not to discuss in polite society. At the end of each club, all still fight for who gets to host next. I have made a dear friend from Pakistan who I tell everyone about constantly. She’s my people.
Roll Tide or War Eagle?
I am not trying to add to the problems to be solved by food, but you will need to make a choice. Football is religion in Alabama. You will be asked if you cheer for Alabama (Roll Tide) or Auburn (War Eagle.). Firmly state your affiliation and be prepared to live with the consequences of talking to an old man at Walmart for 15 minutes regarding something you don’t really care about in the first place.
You will have an instant community.
Outside of my children recognizing their father because he is actually home, the friends I have made here are my favorite part of the program. Being a one-year assignment, everyone is very eager and open to immediate friendships. I am kind of a grump about meeting new people and this year has reformed a bit of my curmudgeonliness.
All things considered, I am so happy that we had the opportunity to be a part of this program. If you or your spouse is chosen for this program, make sure to arrive at Maxwell with an open mind and be ready to hit the ground running.