Change is the only predictable thing about military life. So, when five years ago we received orders to Minot Air Force Base, N.D., we were not surprised, even though we had only spent one and a half years at our duty station in Amsterdam.
Minot AFB did not have the best reputation.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry for you,” people who had never been stationed there would say, placing their hands on our shoulders. “Brrr, it gets really cold up there!” they would exclaim, shivering and rubbing their arms to highlight the struggle. “There’s nothing to do up there! You’ll be bored to death!”
I forced a smiled, even though I was growing more and more concerned each day. What was waiting for us there? Would we be able to acclimate? Why was the military punishing us?
The first thing I read when we finally arrived at Minot AFB was “Only the Best Come North” written at the main gate. It left me puzzled. Were they trying to put a positive spin on the fact that we were stationed to the one base everyone we spoke to agreed it was the worst place we could have ever been sent to?
When the first winter arrived, I braced myself for what people kept calling “the worst winter of your life!” And they were right: blizzards, icy roads and windchill temperatures of -60 F. It was so cold it literally hurt to breathe. My husband’s job was very demanding, the mission tough and complicated, and he worked unpredictable hours that often left me home alone with our children during the worst times.
I wanted to throw my hands up and surrender. I had been pushed to my limit.
Yet, people who had gotten there even just a year before us went about their days surprisingly unshaken by Old Man Winter. What was their secret? I began investigating.
Soon, I discovered that life would go on. I drove on icy roads; I felt the skin-cutting windchill on my cheeks but still went to the commissary; I took my children to swim lessons with a temperature of -35 F; we attended birthday parties, school events and squadron get-togethers; and, we climbed on tall, thick, scary, frozen mountains of snow and had the best time sliding down them.
Before I knew it, winter was over. I had done it. I had survived the worst winter of my life! And if I survived this winter, I could certainly survive another one. Who knew I had that in me?
When spring came along, we were ready to explore the outdoors. But finding events and things to do required skills I didn’t know I possessed. I soon learned that, in order to live in North Dakota, we had to go looking for experiences. And, boy, am I glad we ventured outside the safe gates of the base.
We attended Native American powwows with their beautiful and heartwarming dance and enchanting outfits. We went on a mission following Lewis and Clark on their path to the discovery of the American West. Along the way, we met Sakakawea and we swam in the lake named after her.
We marveled at the breathtaking sights of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We visited the pioneer village of Jamestown. We wore cowboy hats. We met locals whose friendly and kindred spirit made us feel welcomed. And we met fellow military families, whose heartwarming stories were heard across the world and reminded us of how incredible this big military family of ours can be.
But change is the only predictable thing about military life. After five years, we prepare to wave goodbye to Minot AFB and North Dakota by dusting off our How-to-PCS guide and becoming reacquainted with the process and the lingo.
When I read “Only the Best Come North” through my rearview mirror one day while driving out of the base, it suddenly hit me. I finally knew what it meant.
The military was not punishing us by sending us to Minot. On the contrary. The military was showing us how much they value and trust us by sending us here, where they know they will be able to count on you and on your commitment to this powerful mission. We are strong beyond our own beliefs, truly adventurous and resilient.
We’re not just military life resilient, but Minot AFB resilient. After all, only the best come north.Read comments