Growing Up Military

  • Published
  • By Col. Kim Brooks
  • 36th Maintenance Group Commander
"Growing up in a military family offers some challenges, but it also provides some special rewards. You can be proud of your mom and dad for their brave defense of this great country. Your love and support sustains them. So thank you for being there for mom and dad. You are American patriots and role models for us all."
 - Marine General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff in letter to military children, 19 April 2006

"What do you mean I have to turn in my ID card?" My military ID card had been what defined my identity since birth in an Army hospital at Fort Lee, VA. When my dad retired from the United States Army, the thought of no longer being a part of the military had not occurred to me. It was not only weird but also a little bit scary. It was the only life I'd known. I was one of over a million military children also known as "military brats." A military brat is in no way a derogatory term in my opinion because it, like the terms military spouse or military member, associated me with an esteemed way of life. I was very proud to be an Army brat.

Now having served almost 25 years in the Air Force, I have my own military children and would like to take the opportunity to reflect on life as a military child. I remember being told once that if the military had wanted me to have a family, they would have issued me one. Now I know that this was the callous view of an individual and not the views of the Department of Defense but I can't help but feel that not enough recognition is given to the sacrifices of the children of military members. Perhaps because April is noted for the trials of showers that bring forth the rewards of May flowers, it is the perfect month to celebrate the trials military children must endure but with the hopeful outcome of becoming more rewarding adults. It is a very appropriate time to recognize the sacrifices that military children make.

Growing up in a military community has defined my life and view of America and the world. Living in foreign countries made me stand out as an American. Living in the States gave me the privilege of passing through the gates that many at school could not trespass. At the age of 10, my ID card tied my face to military service and identified me as unique amongst my peers who wouldn't get anything quite as cool until they got their drivers license. That card gave me access to the PX and commissary. It gave me access to travel and discounts and onto bases and posts all around the world. It made me feel I had a duty and responsibility to represent my country. That card identified that I had been to many places, attended many schools, that I was dependable, and honorable and perhaps even a little smarter and more mature than my peers, who hadn't had the opportunity to see the world like I had. Though I am from an older generation of military children, I believe many of these same attributes exist in today's military children.

Military children today are still forced to move often, attend many different schools, and live in foreign places during their parent's service. They have the added burden of active engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan which force them to explore the human condition with more focused perspectives on religion, global communication, and economics. As generation Y and Z'ers, military children are now more interconnected given the rise of instant communication technologies made possible through use of the internet, such as email, texting, and IM, and new media used through websites like YouTube and social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. They are forced to assume the same adaptability traits that come with being a military child but grow up in an environment that allows them to question more, associate more, and yes, even rebel more.

Where military children of generations past were uprooted without the benefits of a lot of information about why they were moving, a lot of advanced information on where they were going, and strong ties to the communities they were leaving behind, today's military children have become masters of more robust communication. Though they continue to have to contend with the real possibilities presented with the military service of their parent(s), they are able to be more actively engaged, whether "skyping" with the military member down range, "googling" the new duty assignment location, or "facetiming" with friends and family from abroad. They are no longer the invisible by-products of our military community.

As Pat Conroy, author of The Great Santini states in the introduction to Mary Edward Wertsch's book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, "there are no ceremonies to mark the end of our career as military brats... we simply walk out into our destinies, into the dead center of our lives, and try to make the most of it." Upon retirement, military members receive great accolades for their years of dedicated service; spouses receive recognition from unit leadership and even the President of the United States for their years of support, understanding and sacrifice on behalf of the military. Military children have been a part of our military community since the first stone was cast and yet they receive very little for the years they may give, and the sacrifices they make for the sake of military service. In these times of tremendous change, we need the growing number of youths who've learned the adaptability skills growing up military provides. They come with openness to other cultures, a first-hand knowledge of the trials of living a military life and are the epitome of resiliency, a resiliency necessary to meet our future challenges as a nation. For those who sacrifice without having the choice to serve, who persevere despite the challenges, and adapt and flourish - our military children, I'd like to say thank-you for your service.

Reference to Marine General Pace Letter to Military Children:

Reference to Pat Conroy quote comes from Mary Edwards Wertsch (1991). Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, Bayside, New York: Aletheia Publications, p.xxiii.