By Elizabeth M. CollinsApril 21, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Apr. 21, 2011) -- The other day, after a new coworker found out that I'm a former Army brat, she said that I must get along with many different kinds of people and adjust easily to new situations.
She was right (although I didn't learn to deal well with change until long after my father retired), and she got me thinking, once again, about the incredible challenges and privileges Army life brings families, especially because this month happens to be the 25th observance of the Month of the Military Child.
I didn't actually hear of the Month of the Military child until after I graduated college and left the DEERS system behind for good, but over the past few years I've seen it all over websites, Facebook and Twitter. I'm thrilled that the Defense Department and all of America are taking the time to recognize military kids for everything they go through.
My father was commissioned at the very end of Vietnam and retired about six months before Bosnia, so I never had to experience the trauma of a father who was deployed over and over again, or one who came home wounded or became a different person because of PTSD or TBI. Or, God forbid, one who didn't come home at all.
I can't begin to imagine what any of that that feels like.
It was hard enough to deal with my father's frequent absences thanks to TDY and other training exercises. Hard enough to wake up from recurring nightmares that he would die in the desert during the first Gulf War. (He was in a nondeployable assignment, so that wasn't going to happen, but try explaining that to an 8-year-old.) Hard enough to change schools multiple times, and especially to change high schools.
I was angry. I screamed at my parents for doing that to me. I told them I hated them and they dragged me to therapy. But while I railed against yet another move and at the same time complained about how horrible whatever state we happened to live in was, I met other kids who had never left their home states. Some had barely left their hometowns.
"See how lucky you are'" my mom would invariably say. And I would invariably roll my eyes.
A decade later, I know she was right. (She's always right, actually. It's quite annoying.) Having lived in so many states, I knew exactly where I wanted to live as an adult, and I had the benefit of a strong, independent role model in my mother. I knew I could do anything. And while I might never learn to make friends easily, I have some very good ones who are all the more precious to me for that reason. I also appreciate my own company.
My brother and I both swore up and down that we would never have anything to do with the military after our father encouraged us to serve in different ways. But it turned out that he was right too: Neither of us could find a better way of life, and now my brother is a Navy officer (We have a small interservice family rivalry going on) and I write about the Army as a DOD civilian.
I get to show off the amazing things our Soldiers and their families are doing, and because of my background, I understand and appreciate their sacrifices far better than I would have otherwise. Or at least I can begin to understand and appreciate their sacrifices in a "My childhood had its challenges, but they don't compare to yours" sort of way.
I've met young kids who have taken over the responsibility of caring for their even younger siblings during a parent's deployment. I've seen military kids reach out to help others in spite of their own challenges. I've watched toddlers and preschoolers visit their parents in the hospital. I've talked to kids who have two parents deployed at once, but who still love the Army and dream of growing up to be just like Mommy or Daddy.
So I salute all of those children, as well as the adults who attempt to make their lives as normal as possible. You are part of what make this the greatest country on Earth, and I can't wait to see what you'll do in the future.
(For more on what it's like to be an Army brat today, see: http://www.army.mil/-news/2009/03/30/18984-life-as-an-army-brat/)