Survive and Thrive: Dover Air Force Base

Anyone who’s spent time in Delaware has heard the jokes….Dela-where? It might be a small state (the 2nd smallest after Rhode Island), but it’s got a lot to offer. You’ll find that it’s close to everywhere, and there’s always something going on. Here are some things to know if you just received orders to DoverAir Force Base:

Local History & Community
Delaware is located on the Delmarva Peninsula (Delmarva=Delaware- Maryland- Virginia). Dover is less than an hour from Philadelphia, about an hour and a half from Baltimore, two hours to Washington D.C, and three hours from New York City, so there are always options for getting out of town for a day trip or weekend getaway. Delaware is a small state (only 2, 491 square miles) and has only 3 counties. The largest city, Wilmington, is located in the northernmost county, New Castle. Dover is centrally located in Kent County. All of the cities and towns in the southernmost county, Sussex, are less than 10,000 people. Sussex County is lovingly known as “the Slower Lower” due to the rural, agricultural atmosphere and the winding country roads. New Castle County is separated from the rest of the state by the Chesapeake and Delaware River Canal (“the C&D Canal” or just “the Canal”). There is a large Amish/Mennonite community in the area and it is not uncommon to see horse and buggies on the roads around the outskirts of town and the neighboring towns of Wyoming and Hartly.

If you are a history buff, Delaware will be a great place for you. Delaware was the first state to ratify the United States Constitution and they won’t let you forget it. Their license plates are emblazoned with the “First State” motto, and there are a plethora of businesses that use the moniker as well. The area is rich in Native American and Civil War history, and there are also several landmarks that were stops on the Underground Railroad, as well several landmarks important to the Methodist and Quaker denominations.

Dover Air Force Base was opened in 1941, and is the home to the 436th Air Mobility Wing (the “Eagle” Wing) and the 512th Reserve Wing (the “Liberty” Wing.) Both the C5 Galaxy and the C17 Globemaster operate here and provide support to the missions in Europe and the Middle East. Dover also houses the Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, which processes the remains of many military members who pass away before they are returned to their families. Dover AFB is also home to the Fisher House for the Friends of the Fallen, which works in conjunction with mortuary staff to assist and support families while they are at Dover AFB making arrangements for their loved ones.

The base is located slightly southeast of Dover and is situated just off of Routes 1 and 10. It’s separated into two parts: the “working side,” which has 3 access points, and the “housing side,” which has one access point under normal working conditions (there is an emergency access point available). The “working side” also includes the Commissary, Exchange, Child Development Center, fitness center, the main chapel, a gas station, theatre, bowling alley, and other amenities. The “housing side” includes a second chapel, golf course, a smaller convenience store Exchange, the lodging and TLF facilities, swimming pool, youth center, an elementary school, and a middle school. Housing at Dover Air Force Base is privatized and is managed by Hunt Housing; their office is located on the “housing side” of the base.

Where Should I Live?
Airmen at Dover have a pretty wide variety of housing options. As mentioned before, there is privatized housing available on the installation, but Airmen looking to live off base can look in Dover, as well as the neighboring towns of Camden-Wyoming, Cheswold/Smyrna, Magnolia, Harrington, Felton, and Milford. Average rent cost for a 2 bedroom apartment in the Dover area (19901 zip code) is $975.00, plus utilities, and the median home value in Dover is about $162,000. Dover has a large number of duplexes and townhouses (known in the area as “row houses”), which are considered single family dwellings. There are also several HOA neighborhoods in the area with additional amenities such as community centers, swimming pools, and fitness centers that Airmen with families might be interested in.

Where Will My Kids Go To School?
The Dover area has several school districts, so it is recommended that you check a map to identify which school district corresponds with your possible new home. The DoDEA schools on Dover Air Force Base (Welch Elementary and Dover Air Force Base Middle) are covered by the Caesar Rodney School District. School in Delaware goes from Kindergarten to 5th grade (elementary), 6-8th (junior high school/middle school), and 9-12th grades (high school). Neighboring school districts include Capital (Dover) and Lake Forest (Harrington and Felton). The Caesar Rodney School District has McIlvaine Early Childhood Education Center, which is solely devoted to Kindergarten, and the Charlton School, which focuses on students from ages 2-21 with special needs. There are also language immersion programs in both Chinese (Mandarin) and Spanish, which start in Kindergarten and go through elementary school. The middle and high school levels have continuing instruction for these languages, as well as beginning and intermediate instruction for a variety of other languages. There is also Polytech High School, which is under its own district and offers vocational education for high school ages and adults.

Dover Air Force Base has a School Liaison Officer (currently filled by Sonya Dyer), who can answer questions about schooling in the state of Delaware.

What’s The Weather Like?
The answer to this, in a nutshell, is: crazy. The Delmarva Peninsula is notorious for constantly changing weather; sometimes within a week and sometimes within a day. Delaware does have four seasons–lows in the winter can get into the negative teens and can include up to a foot of snow. All-weather tires are recommended for vehicles, but tire chains are not needed. The summers get hot and humid, with “real feels” up over 100 degrees. Summer in Delaware also typically includes days of rain and days with scattered showers. There is a phenomenon called “sunshowers” (where it will rain while it is bright sun) which is not frequent, but happens occasionally. Most Delawareans have learned to dress in layers and to be prepared for any weather occasion.

Tax Free Shopping
Delaware does not have sales tax on most goods and purchases (exceptions are federally required taxes on tobacco and alcohol, etc.) This makes Delaware shopping malls and outlet stores a destination for consumers looking for a bargain. Dover AFB has a base Exchange and a Commissary, but military families will find these might not be the least expensive options compared to shopping off bas. Research items and price compare before you buy!

Seasonal Events
Dover is home to the Dover International Speedway, which hosts two major NASCAR races a year. In mid-June, the Speedway hosts a large multi-stage music festival known as Firefly. These events all bring a significant amount of traffic and you will see many of the open lots and fields being rented out for RV camping. Hotel rates also go up and are frequently booked out during these weeks. Delaware also has several beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. The largest two are Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach, which are both at the southern tip of the state bordering Maryland. Weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day will have heavy traffic on the highways, especially the Route 1 thoroughfare. There are several seasonal festivals in the local area as well – check out Fifer Orchards in Wyoming for seasonal “pick it yourself” fruit festivals as well as other family friendly activities days on their farmlands and at their country store location. Dover Days is in May and celebrates Delaware’s colonial heritage. The Apple and Scrapple Festival is in Bridgeville, DE in October, and the world famous Punkin’ Chunkin
Competition is in early November in Bridgeville, DE.

Has your family lived in the Dover AFB community? Tell us about your local Delaware tips!

Posted by Jennifer Burns, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

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  1. 1
    Burley Ridge Buck Club

    Dover AFB assignment was short but one of my favorite places in a 30 year Army career. I was the commander of the JPED and Mortuary Liaison team. The AIr Force treated me with the greatest respect and the community offered my wife and I unequalled support. I am in Awe of this community!

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