ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill – “Where are you from?”
This is a question many military brats dread being asked. How do we answer such a question? We could say “I’m not from anywhere” or, “I’m from everywhere,” but people probably still wouldn’t understand.
For those who may not know, a ‘brat’ is a slang term for the child of a military service member.
The nomadic lifestyle of a military family is one that is hard to understand unless you have lived it firsthand.
I am a military brat myself. In my 22 years of life, I have moved seven times, attended six different schools, and lived on three different continents. That means that, every few years, I had to pick up my life and start fresh in a new place with new cultures, new people, new schools, new houses, new gymnastics teams and even new languages.
It is a terrifying, yet invigorating, way to live.
Military brats are a special breed of children. They have witnessed more of the world and overcome more adversity than most people will in their whole lives.
You will never meet a more cultured teenager than one who has spent their whole life moving around the United States, and maybe even around the world.
Zachary Stoeger, 17, has moved seven times. He explained why he enjoys moving frequently.
“I think it's good for me because I get to mix with different cultures and people of different backgrounds,” he said. “I think it’s easier for me to understand new people now than it would be for someone who’s lived in the same place their whole life.”
Katie Baltos, 13, also agrees that moving often has benefitted her. She even claims that having lived in many different environments has helped her in school.
“Moving allows me to learn more about different places,” she said. “Honestly, I really enjoy moving every few years. The other year when we were learning about eco science in science class, I had a good idea of how ecosystems are like in a desert . I had a better understanding of it than most of my class who have never been to a desert.”
As exciting as moving may be, it is also a huge stressor on these children. Some choose to put up boundaries so they are not too attached to a place or person.
“Moving so often has given me the mindset that I shouldn’t get close to people because I’m just going to move,” Katie said. “It really stunted my social skills and has affected me negatively in the fact that it's just flat out really hard for me to get to know people and befriend them, and also fully understand the boundaries thing.”
Other children have turned to social media to keep in touch with friends from past duty locations.
Jack Stacy, 14, has moved eight times. “When I move, all it really changes is how I see old friends and making new friends, but social media has helped me a lot,” he said. “ In fact, recently I got Snapchat and reconnected with some of my older friends from past moves. It was nice and we got to catch up.”
Additionally, military children struggle with their service member parent(s) being away, either on deployment or temporary duty assignments, more commonly known as TDYs.
“When my dad isn’t home that's sometimes hard,” Zachary said. “ It's harder for me, it's harder for my mom, and it's harder for my sibling because there’s one less parent in the house. You never want him to leave but you know he's doing something important wherever he is. You know it’s for a reason.”
Not only is there one less parent at home, there is an additional concern for their parent’s safety.
“The scariest part of being a military kid was… when my dad was deployed, being scared if he would come back,” Jack said.
Catherine Burnley, six, chooses to look on the bright side of her dad leaving. “Normally everywhere he goes when he’s on a trip, he gets us something from that place,” she said.
After a military brat graduates from high school, they have a decision to make, whether to stay in the military world or not.
Second Lt. Lauren Miller, 21, chose to follow in her parents’ footsteps and joined the Georgia National Guard. After watching both of her parents serve in the Army and moving seven times, she felt like it was her duty to continue on her family’s legacy of service.
“I was really inspired growing up in a dual military household,” she said. “Through seeing my parents work so hard to build a foundation for themselves, I felt a personal call to serve too.”
For me, growing up around the military opened my eyes to another way I could continue my family’s legacy of service… as an Army Civilian.
If you would have told me when I was 16, that one day I would use the skills I learned in my video communication class while attending my Department of Defense High School on Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, to give back to the Army, I’m not sure I would have believed you.
Despite the struggle that comes with being a military brat, personally, I would not have changed a thing. I am proud of my dad for what he’s done for this country and I am thankful for the life I was able to live.