By Olivia Overman
“Service members have a strong inclination toward volunteerism. They have volunteered to wear the uniform in service to the nation obviously, but it goes beyond that in many cases,” said Colonel Michelle D. Mitchell, Garrison Commander at Fort Belvoir Army Installation. With what can only be described as a symbiotic relationship between the county and its military residents, life for those who choose to live here can be satisfying and may even want to make you retire here. Personnel, both active and civilian, at the Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCB Quantico) and Fort Belvoir Army Installation total approximately 80,000. It is this number of service members and their families that contribute to the strength, economic prosperity and dynamic diversity of communities within the county. Through working, living and playing in all areas of the county, military families support, develop and make the communities here what they are.
“The relationship between Quantico and the community is extremely strong and mutually supportive. The Marines and family members continue to support Prince William through partnerships that allow our communities to work and live together. We achieve this partnership through volunteerism, team building and leadership networking,” said Quantico Base Commander Col. Joseph M. Murray.
In many cases, the sense of duty the personnel feel when they serve follows through to the communities in which they live. Garrison Commander Col. Mitchell agreed, “Service members and their families often give of themselves and serve their neighbors. From serving as youth sports coaches to helping in their places of worships and service organizations, they always find meaningful ways to contribute to improving the quality of life of the communities in which they live.”
Military Personnel Help Unite the County
Located just over 30 miles south of Washington D.C., in southern Prince William County, northern Stafford County and southeastern Fauquier County, MCB Quantico is the largest military installation in the county and a key player in Prince William. “Quantico has much to offer the surrounding community, and PWC has much to offer the military members that live and work aboard Quantico. This relationship is what makes our partnership so successful and makes it easy for Marines to integrate into the community,” said Col. Murray. Volunteering and getting involved in the community is a large part of why military personnel enjoy living in their communities.
“The Marines that volunteer in PWC do so in a variety of ways, including working in County schools, encouraging healthy lifestyles for youth and facilitating development of healthy social skills through positive role models,” said Col. Murray. It is the sense of duty to give back to the communities that offers them so much regarding their quality of life.
One such role model is retired Marine Col. Michael Riley, originally from upstate New York, who does more than his fair share in the community. “I am extremely active in the community at the federal, state and local levels. I am a member of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians (Fr. Kelley Division which organizes the Manassas St. Patrick’s Day parade), a former town manager of Dumfries, a committee member at the Hylton Performing Arts and the Manassas Ballet Theatre as well as the Prince William Chamber of Commerce,” he said. A Marine Corps reservist for 10 years, Riley was mobilized after Sept. 11, 2001, and eventually retired in 2010. Asked why he likes to get so involved with the community, he said, “I feel the need to give back to society. There are a lot of great things about being in the USA… and [getting involved] is the best way of paying back.”
“Living here for so long and being at Quantico, [I have seen] that Prince William County has done a lot to make the Marine Corps feel welcome,” he continued. Echoing these sentiments, Col. Murray said, “Prince William County has provided safe places for families to gather, be physically active, learn/improve social skills and feel valued.”
Another Prince William resident and Marine Corps Combat Veteran, Christopher Baity, has harnessed the skills he learned as a Marine with the opportunities afforded him in the county to give back to those in need. Seeing the possibilities of living in the county, Baity and his wife, Amanda Causey-Baity, set up Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, a nonprofit organization that enhances “the quality of life for wounded, critically-ill and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families by providing them assistance dogs,” according to the website.
“There are a lot of post-military career opportunities for the former military in Prince William and the Metro DC area. With proximity to Marine Base Quantico and Ft. Belvoir, we can assist many wounded service members right here in Prince William,” Baity said.
The army installation at Fort Belvoir “enjoys great relationships with neighboring communities. Northern Virginia is rich with amenities that our service members find valuable. Prince William County offers a quality education system, housing and many job opportunities for military family members and those transitioning to civilian life. Additionally, the many parks and historical attractions offer service members and families great opportunities for recreation.The county also provides service members and their families with a great sense of community and support,” Baity continued.
Vernon and Jill Londagin, U.S. Army Combat Veterans, live in the county and agree that it’s a great place to live. “There are numerous things about PWC that keep us here, from the great school system that is supportive of the military community to retail stores that offer military discounts to show their appreciation for your service,” said Jill Londagin.
A Rich History Found in Quantico and Fort Belvoir
Unique to the nation, MCB Quantico, a federal installation, completely surrounds the town of Quantico. This relationship stems back to May 14, 1917, when the U.S. Marine Corps established the base. The town of Quantico was incorporated 10 years later in 1927 and chartered in 1934.
“Since 1917, the Marine Corps has always viewed the people of the Town of Quantico as part of the Marine Corps community. For nearly 100 years, Marines and the Town of Quantico have endured war and peace together. Today, retired and active duty Marines live in town, and on any given day, one can find hundreds of Quantico’s Marines patronizing the retail services and small cafes and restaurants that make the Town of Quantico attractive to them. Many Marines also feel there is nostalgia with the Town of Quantico in the heart of the Base. For the retired Marines and their families who visit here each year for their reunions, it’s like coming home, bringing back precious memories,” said Col. Murray. “I feel very fortunate to have returned to Quantico multiple times throughout my Marine Corps career,” he continued.
Situated on the west bank of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Fort Belvoir is located approximately 45 miles south of Washington, D.C. and is home to 130 federal agencies and approximately 27,000 personnel. The largest military installation in the area, Fort Belvoir “has a close partnership with Prince William,” said Joe Richard, director, public affairs. Belvoir’s military community is significantly smaller than the population of its defense civilians. “There are only about 2,100 homes on post. The total population of those who live and work is roughly 51,000. The rest of our military population and all of our civilian work force live in neighboring communities and throughout the national capital region. A significant portion of those civilians live in Prince William County. While their daily routine is to leave the county, they return in the evenings to shop in your stores and eat in your restaurants. They rent or purchase homes in your communities. They are your neighbors,” said Garrison Commander Colonel Michelle D. Mitchell.
Integrating Made Easy
Perhaps one of the biggest contributions the military makes to a community is the constant rotation in and out of personnel. While the movement of people in and out of houses and schools could be considered disruptive, Marine Corps veteran Michael Riley believes it helps bring new ideas, drivers and innovation to the county. “It creates a wonderful melting pot and excitement in the community,” Riley said.
One such family who has moved to the county and experienced the ease of integration is the Hester family. Jennifer Hester and her family moved to Woodbridge from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and told of their love for the county. “There is so much to do here. I love all the programs for the kids, the parks and recreation facilities. There are so many community activities that are designed for families. It is something positive,” Hester said.
Asked whether the Hester family would consider retiring in the county, she said she and her husband have had the discussion about this. “We like the diversity in the community: It is good for our children. [But also], there are so many jobs outside of the military here,” Hester said.
Former Marine Baity agreed with this statement saying, “There are many post-military career opportunities for former military in Prince William and the Metro DC area. That, along with the great schools and military history, offers a lot of appealing qualities.”
Taking Care of our Military
The nation and county take care of its veterans in many ways, but one most notable way is through the local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. “We have the largest VFW in the world right here in Prince William, and they do a lot of great things here,” Baity said. He was speaking about General Lewis B. “Chesty Puller” VFW Post 1503 located in Dale City.
As Commander of one of the top two largest VFW’s in the world, Randy Coker welcomes both military personnel and the public (only on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday mornings) into the Post. Some of the activities the Post organizes for active and non-active personnel include “family fun days, community cook outs and fundraising events for children’s scholarship foundations,” said Coker. “We [also] have an adopted ‘reserve’ unit that we conduct special events for such as welcome home events, unit cookouts, unit fun days and holiday parties,” he said.
Numerous events are held throughout the year including “fund raising events for homeless veterans in the local area; official welcoming committees for WWII & Korean Veterans on Honor Flights; children’s holiday parties; and flag retirement ceremonies. We have a Boy Scout troop here at Post 1503 that conducts area clean ups, flag folding presentations, community mulch sales and delivery. We also offer annual Christmas trees sales, annual open houses (open to public); Christmas wreath and flag placement on the graves at Quantico National Cemetery; hospital and nursing home visits; and Honor Guard presentations at local schools,” Coker said.
Post-1503 donates significantly to the community to organizations, such as food baskets at Christmas, Family Fun Day, Project Mend-A-House, Boy Scouts, Voice Of Democracy and Patriots Pen Scholarships, McGuires Veterans Hospital, homeless shelters, youth Activities, Dale City Civic Association, Marine Corps Toys For Tots Program and ACTS.
Current membership is 2,650 Post members and 650 Auxiliary members with 2,300 being life members (paid membership). One such life member is Col. Michael Riley, who spoke highly of the events, such as the Marine Corps birthday event that was held on Nov. 10, 2015, the annual crab feast and the assistance offered to veterans when completing veteran claims.
A Future Together
“Marines and their families feel welcome in Prince William County. The County’s support to the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) program is an essential benefit to our Marines. This coupled with the transition assistance partnering, education and training for business and the professional development and mentoring programs by the Prince William County Chamber of Commerce and the Hiring Our Heroes programs help Marines and their family members make the transition from military life to civilian life,” said Col. Murray.
Col. Mitchell described the county as a “source of diversity, familiarity and comfort.” He said, “The proximity to the national capital region and Washington D.C. offers plenty of job opportunities for those who take on a new career after retiring from the military. Even at the height of the recent recession, Virginia’s unemployment rate was lower than the national average. The availability of a wide variety of housing options is also a plus. The county has much to offer its residents.”
As the county changes year after year, leaders in Prince William continue to work diligently to ensure there is a regular dialogue with the two largest military bases in the area. Ensuring the military personnel and their families, who add so much to the economic and diverse nature of the community, are made to feel welcome and taken care of is paramount.
A graduate of American University’s School of Communication, Olivia Overman ([email protected]) is a freelance writer for both online and print publications