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A reviewer writes about Kessler Air Force Base, Miss: "Some like this base, with its numerous casinos, hot humid weather, and famous Mississippi drivers. I don’t! We are hoping to transfer (ASAP)."

Another praises the "fairly good-sized" housing at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, adding: "The only big complaint is no carpet.…There are a few variations in housing, so it’s all luck of the draw."

These forthright assessments of U.S. Air Force bases aren’t from official military sources, but rather "Base of Preference.com," a Web site created by Carly Nottingham, an Air Force spouse currently residing in Pensacola, Fla.

The idea sprung to mind about two years ago, when Nottingham was pregnant and on bed rest and frustrated by the time-consuming process of researching Air Force bases for the couple’s desired destinations.

"It probably took two weeks to find information on eight bases we were considering," Nottingham said.

It was hard getting details that mattered, she said, from the quality of childcare to local attractions off base.

"You can look at a base Web site all you want, but it’s not going to really tell you the environment you’re walking into," she said. "It seemed like the only way to find out the information that impacts the family was to talk to someone who had been there."

The Web site went "live" this past February. Nottingham did the research, and her husband, Mark, an aircraft structural maintenance specialist and a "closet computer whiz," helped Nottingham build the site, she said.

The site lists Air Force bases alphabetically, consolidating information gleaned from public sources, Nottingham said. The site also rates installations according to quality of user reviews. Spouses, active-duty servicemembers, civilians and dependents can weigh in on such categories as housing, local schools, base services and lodging.

Ramstein Air Base in Germany has consistently ranked at the top, she said.

Anyone can write a review, Nottingham said, though as site administrator, she reserves the right to delete anything inappropriate or which could compromise operational security.

"I don’t mind if people don’t have positive opinions on something as long as the information they have could help someone," she said.

So far, the site has had more than 40,000 visits. It’s been a labor of love, Nottingham said, and not a significant source of income.

She hopes to include installations from the other military services, as that’s a common question she gets.

In the meantime, Nottingham and her family are eagerly looking forward to a move to Misawa Air Base, Japan, next year, their first overseas tour.

"Each base is really what you make of it," she said. "If you want to sit at home and say, ‘I’m miserable here,’ then you’re going to be unhappy."

Site seeing

For now, Carly Nottingham’s baseofpreference.com Web site lists information about just U.S. Air Force bases. She hopes in the future to include bases from the other military service branches. For people seeking information now on installations from the other services, Nottingham suggests for the Army to check out http://www.marriedtothearmy.com. The site for the Navy, at least the best one for housing, she said, is https://www.housing.navy.mil/index.cfm.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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