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PCS Survival: Fort Benning

Ah, beautiful Fort Benning, Ga. –- home of the Infantry.

If your spouse is an Infantry or Armor soldier, particularly if he is an officer, you will probably find yourself living at Fort Benning at least once, if not twice, in his career. The post hosts both the officer’s basic courses and the captain’s course for those branches. But even non-officers can log serious Fort Benning time – it is also home to basic training, an infantry brigade and plenty of Army Rangers, as well as Ranger School. Benning could be in your future more than you think.

Fortunately, Benning is a great place to live. (Although I don't know that it's the "best installation in the world!!!!" like their sign with way too many exclamation points as you enter the gate claims). We spent quality time there last year and had plenty of time to explore the area.

Want to know where to head for fun first when you get there? Here are my PCS Fort Benning must-do’s.

1. Hang out in Columbus, Ga. Columbus is the city right outside the Fort Benning gate. It’s not a huge town, but there are plenty of things to do in the cute little downtown … provided you don’t want to do any of them on Sunday, when everything seems to be closed. Start by visiting the Columbus River Walk, which skirts the Chattahoochee River. This 12-plus mile paved walkway starts on post near some of the housing and ends in downtown Columbus. It is fantastic for bike rides and long out and back runs, particularly if you live on base.

While you're downtown catch one of the touring shows at River Center for the Performing Arts, or check out the small Coca-cola Space Science Center, which is just the perfect size for family outings with kids who have short attention spans. When you're done hit Country's Barbecue, my husband's absolute favorite area eatery.

2. Visit the National Infantry Museum. If your spouse is anything like my spouse, you are going to find yourself at this free with suggested donation museum many, many times before you leave. Why? Because it is so huge that you will allow him to only visit for 45 minutes at a time before you get really bored and ask to leave. I find it's just better to break the experience up. Don't get me wrong -- I found it interesting ... just not to the level that my husband did. Fortunately, the museum also hosts a IMAX theater and, on the second floor, the delicious Fife and Drum restaurant. Located just outside the Benning gate, visiting is a great rainy day activity.

3. Hit Atlanta. The city is about two hours from Fort Benning, but worth the drive. There's a long list of fantastic things to do there, but our favorites were hanging out in Centennial Olympic Park (built for the 1996 Olympics) and visiting the Coca-Cola Museum. I confess a very serious personal Diet Coke addiction, so perhaps I'm biased.

4. See rural Georgia. This option may not sound exciting to some readers, but it was our hands-down favorite thing to do in the area. It doesn't take long to hit the big-fat-middle-of-nowhere Georgia after you leave Fort Benning. To make our little adventures interesting we purchased a state guidebook and hit the road to discover small town Georgia. Stop at roadside stands for boiled peanuts (yummm ... and totally foreign to this California girl) and learn about the Civil War in a way that those of us not from the South could not possibly understand without first visiting there. I promise you will not be disappointed.

5. Go to the beach. Billed as "Fort Benning's premier vacation destination," Destin, Fla. is an about five hour drive from the post. The Fort Benning Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) office operates an Army-sponsored resort there. While it can be tricky to get reservations (so plan ahead), it makes a nice escape from the crazy heat of the Georgia summer.

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