When Jenny Harper was growing up, she admits her life looked a lot different than that of her four children.
“I spent most of my childhood in the same house, with the same friends, and going to the same schools,” she said. “The challenges my children face are different from the ones I experienced.”
Lindsay Nemec is raising five children in a military family and says her childhood also looked a lot different than her kids, incorporating more traditions and time with relatives.
“I think the biggest difference is routine,” Nemec said. “I grew up in a small town and had traditions each year and routines during the holidays with family. As a military family, moving every few years, our kids don’t have that.”
April is Month of the Military Child—a time reserved for celebrating the resiliency of military-connected children, and for their tremendous service and sacrifice as they live across the world.
Fort Irwin has been celebrating Month of the Military Child for 35 years. This year, dozens came out for a Walk/Run a Mile for a Child event on March 31 to recognize the strength in so-called “Army Brats” and educate the community.
The Nemecs have five children who have grown up in a military environment their entire life. Lt. Col. Jim Nemec has served for 17 years and he and his wife have moved seven times together, and up to six times with their children, 13-year-old Maddie, 11-year-old Jimmy, seven-year-old Joey, five-year-old Emmy and their newest addition, two-month old Libby.
“Our kids love the adventure of Army life and moving, but the older kids get sad about moving away from their friends,” Lindsay Nemec said.
Jenny Harper and her husband, Lt. Col. Justin Harper have been married for almost 19 years and he’s served in the Army for 19 years. Their four children are Alex, 16, Reagan, 13, Madison, 11 and Andrew, 9.
Jenny says her children also have a tough time moving away from their friends.
“Now that they are older, they understand what each PCS (permanent change of station) means and the challenges associated with it,” Jenny said. “While they like embarking on new adventures, it’s hard to say goodbye to their friends or leave a duty station that they love. We try to combat the sadness by going into each PCS with renewed enthusiasm and excitement for all of the great things to come.”
No matter how optimistic parents try to be, they admit, there are challenges for military children.
“The most challenging part is time away from family, especially during the deployments and most recently the pandemic, Nemec said. “The closeness of Army families makes up for it though. The lack of consistency in their education and sports experiences can be frustrating.”
Harper added to that, saying the multiple moves can affect grade levels and classes because not every city or state school accepts the same credits.
“My oldest will end up attending three, different high schools, so this issue is very pertinent to us right now,” Harper said.
Both Harper and Nemec like to highlight the many benefits and advantages to being raised in a military lifestyle.
“The sense of community and belonging is rewarding for our older kids,” Nemec said. “The sense of adventure and newness of moving every few years is exciting for all of our kids. I am from a small town, so she can see how great it is for the kids to experience new areas and ‘culture.’ They understand so much more about the different U.S. regions than Lindsay did as an elementary kid.”
Harper appreciates the life lessons her children are being taught due to their situation.
“I think growing up in the military is teaching them some really good life lessons,” Harper said. “They know what it’s like to always be the new kid, so we talk a lot about being kind and welcoming to others. My husband and I encourage them to be independent and to advocate for themselves, which is really important when you move as often as we do.”
Harper’s children, like many with military parents, must get used to their parent(s) being away for long periods of time for work. She believes it provides a sense of fortitude that their civilian counterparts may not necessarily possess.
Nemec talked about one time at a restaurant in 2018 when her husband had just returned from deployment to Afghanistan in 2018.
“We were at a local restaurant outside of Fort Campbell,” she said. “Jim was in his uniform because he was on a lunch break. Our youngest boy, Joey, had his head down at the restaurant and started crying. We asked him what was wrong and he said, ‘I don’t want Daddy to go to Afghanistan again.’ In his mind, having his Dad in uniform and being so close to the airfield where Jim deployed from, he must be heading to Afghanistan again. It broke our heart and made us realize just how much our children are tuned in, even at a young age.”
During April, military and private organizations also try to put emphasis on programs they offer that can assist military children and families year-round with things such as this, so, besides the fun activities, events provide resources for parents to help support their military child’s experience.
There are resources available for military families and children through sites like militaryonesource.com that have toolkits and virtual events.
Harper said, like many families, they try to focus on all the positive aspects of their lifestyle and it helps the children acclimate and handle each, new experience.