Looking in the Rearview: Reflections from Former Military Kids
As an adult, the experience of being a military kid can feel like another life. But the truth is, it wasn’t all that long ago that some of us were riding around military installations on our bikes, going to the Exchange and the commissary, and frequently packing up our lives to head off toward the next adventure. Many people grow up in the military and decide to join the “family business,” but most lose dependent status, and then go on to live their lives in the civilian world. No matter what category you fall into, by growing up in a military family, you’re a lifelong member of a really special club. Here are reflections from a few former military kids.
Growing up as a military child my years were filled with tears. Tears of joy, fear, excitement, sadness, and more. Although I was fortunate to never move, one thing remained the same as all other military kids – my Father was gone, a lot. It was hard to see him go, our family wasn’t whole when he was gone and yet some of my fondest memories in life were because he left. Why? Because his arrival home was always exciting and strengthened the love and respect I have for my Father. My earliest memory was at 3 years old, anxiously waiting for him to walk through the door at 5am and even after his exhausting trip home he’d stay up all day to play with me. I remember standing in the airplane hangars with signs, searching for my Dad in the crowd like a game of ‘Where’s Waldo,” and most importantly feeling an incredible sense of pride for my Father’s sacrifice and the relief of knowing he’s home safe and sound. It takes an incredible amount of strength to have a family member who serves, especially when it’s your Mother or Father. Be proud, stand tall, stay strong.
It always struck me as strange when people were genuinely surprised when I told them that I was an Army brat. I’m not sure what idea they had in their mind that I didn’t fit. Was it because I didn’t stand at attention or wear khakis with a polo tucked in, my hair slicked into a tight bun? But then I asked myself, how does my past as a military kid show up in my adult life? It’s a good question-after your ID card expires and your parent retires, where does the military in you go? For me, it’s the two year itch. We moved twelve times over the course of my dad’s career, almost always in two year intervals. We went to Georgia, Florida, Texas, Germany and a bunch of places in between, and for the most part I loved moving to new places and meeting new people (the teenage version of myself will tell you otherwise). Around my sophomore year in college, a weird feeling came over me and I announced, “ I’m so sick of this town, I have to get out of here!” I wasn’t going anywhere until I graduated (thanks, Mom and Dad), but it occurred to me that this quiet unease was because I’d finally stayed in a town long enough to know the back roads and be on a first name basis with the guy at the sub shop. Staying still doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, and it probably never will. As I get older, constant movement isn’t exactly practical, but the mentality keeps me engaged and motivated. And I have the Army to thank for that.
For most people, the truly defining point in their life is a high school or college graduation, or maybe getting that first job. For me, that point came when I turned 23 and my military dependent ID card expired for good. Turning 10 years old was more than just ‘double digits’ to me. It was the day that I got to visit Pass and ID and get my very first form of identification, a good five years before any of my friends would. It might sound silly, but flashing that little laminated card almost made up for some of the not so fun parts about being a military kid. I’ll admit to losing my ID a time or two, and as any military child knows, it is a special kind of fear struck in your heart when you have to tell your dad that one. But throughout the years, I tried to keep track of it as best as I could, and always felt a little special when pulling it out of my wallet.
On my 23rd birthday, giving up that card was tough, but I realized that my memories of growing up military weren’t going anywhere at all. The moves, the new friends, the closeness with my family, the places I’ve had the opportunity to see are all in my heart, not enrolled in DEERS! Even though I am now a “former” military kid, I’ll always feel like a part of the military family.
Moving every two years wasn’t easy. I never minded packing, but I always dreaded unpacking. Going through all those boxes took forever! Sure, it was great to usually have the summer to get it done, but I was a kid and had more important things to worry about like making friends, getting dirty, and getting into trouble. Along with the clothes, books, and toys, I’d inevitably find my junk drawer box, dollar store trinkets, old birthday cards, and loose change all wrapped up in a sheet of packing paper. But that’s the part of being an Army brat that I wouldn’t trade for anything—with every move, every box, and every friend, I collected something that impacted my life in some way. This shared experience creates an instant bond with other former military kids. It’s a conversation starter, a nostalgic smile as you remember a story, and, most of all, a grateful perspective recognizing both the value in the lifestyle and the beauty in the community that accompanied it.
With the next generation of military kids growing up, it’s interesting to think of the mini military communities they create as they scatter to places all across the world. We all move forward, but sometimes it’s great to look back on a “former life,” creating understanding and enriching the community wherever life may take you.
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