- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2002

HAMPTON, Va. Joe Longstreet is from New Jersey, but he has lived in Hampton since starting a business here in the mid-1980s and he can't see leaving even though he is now retired.
He feels safe in the city. He enjoys watching stock-car races at Langley Speedway. And the former Army staff sergeant spends a lot of time working on community-service programs with his fellow members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"I just like Hampton," said Mr. Longstreet, 69, quartermaster of VFW Post 3219 and a former building contractor.
He's not the only veteran who feels that way.
Census figures show that the number of veterans in Hampton grew from 18,831 in 1990 to 28,312 in 2000. That gave the peninsula city with a population of 146,437 the highest concentration of veterans in the state at 19.33 percent.
Veterans made up 11.1 percent of the state's population of more than 7 million in 2000. That year, there were 786,359 veterans living in Virginia, up 7.3 percent from 733,092 in 1990.
Not surprisingly, many of those veterans live in Northern Virginia, near the Pentagon and defense contractors, or in Hampton Roads, home to military installations including Norfolk Naval Station, Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach and Langley Air Force Base in Hampton.
In terms of number of veterans, Fairfax County had the most, with 96,389, followed by Virginia Beach with 60,260, Prince William County with 34,639, Norfolk with 30,068 and Hampton.
Lt. Cmdr. Ron Hill, spokesman for the Navy's Mid-Atlantic Region, said veterans are attracted to Hampton and southeastern Virginia for several reasons: ready access to military hospitals and commissaries; job opportunities with companies familiar with military personnel; and the quality of life in a region with generally good weather and plenty of opportunities for fishing, boating and beachgoing.
"Also, for those that spend their entire career in the military, there's a familiarity in being around the military," Cmdr. Hill said.
Mr. Longstreet and fellow veterans at VFW Post 3219, right up the street from the Army's Fort Monroe, on a recent afternoon cited those reasons and more for deciding to make Hampton their home.
Some veterans choose to stay here after they wind up their military careers at nearby bases.
"If you like the area and you spent the last four to six-plus years here, you've kind of got some roots already settled down when you retire," said Hal Roesch, a retired master sergeant and commander of the VFW post. "Sometimes, it's hard to pull those roots up."
That's especially true if a spouse has a well-established job, said Mr. Roesch, 40, who was stationed at Langley Air Force Base before he retired July 1.
Mr. Roesch likes Hampton and its "small-town attitude" so much that he now commutes more than an hour to Richmond for his new job with a defense contractor.
Melvin Ott, 55, said he doesn't particularly like Hampton, because he thinks it's becoming overpopulated.
But Mr. Ott, who retired from the Air Force as a master sergeant in 1987, stayed out of convenience. He and his wife already had a house here because he spent the last five years of his career at Langley.
Pete Fitzpatrick, 41, a machinery technician due to retire from the Coast Guard on Nov. 1, said Hampton's central location makes it easy to travel around southeastern Virginia.
That is even more important to him now that he is a military sales representative for a Virginia Beach company that sells T-shirts and other items with screen-printed or embroidered designs.
Living in Hampton has put him in the middle of a territory that includes 25 bases.
Another plus is that Hampton's location makes it easy for military retirees to use the many benefits available to them, Mr. Fitzpatrick said.
For example, he said he can rent a camper from or go bass fishing at the Army's Fort Eustis in Newport News, and he can dock his sailboat at Fort Monroe.
"If my hometown was Geedunk, Kansas, why would I want to go back to Geedunk, Kansas, where I have to drive an hour to get to the closest military base to enjoy the facilities, when I've got 25 different bases to choose from [here]?" Mr. Fitzpatrick asked.


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