Behind every soldier is a force, one they protect, serve, and die for. One they leave behind. One that takes just as much in adversities.
I am very proud to call myself a military brat. My dad served in the United States Air Force for more than 20 years before retiring in 2004. A military brat is a child whose parent served in the Armed Forces and retired.
“It pertains to those children who grew up in military families. ‘Brats’ wear the name like a badge of honor, often because of the moves, stressors and cultural experiences that make them more resilient than their civilian counterparts,” Katie Lange from DoD News, Defense Media Activity said in her article, “‘Military Brat:’ Do You Know Where The Term Comes From?”
The life of a military brat is not always easy but one I am very thankful for. I learned to respect my country and our military and all they do to keep our freedoms in America. I was taught discipline, punctuality, gratitude, and integrity. Some may call us a different breed. To some extent that is true.
Military life changes and shapes you in a way diverse from others. My dad was only stationed twice in different states. Therefore, we did not have that stress of moving and finding a new place every month or six months. We did not have to leave school and catch up on grades because we were homeschooled. We resided in the U.S. as dad served overseas so we did not have too many changes in culture.
My mom is originally from the Philippines. She became a U.S. citizen in 1991. We did experience some of her culture, such as, food, hard work, etc., but because she was very proud to be an American citizen, she wanted us to learn to appreciate our country and who we are, therefore, she did not force her languages or her culture on us.
The Air Force is more family-oriented than the other U.S. branches which, looking back, I can see how that is true. When my eldest sister, Hannah, passed away, the Air Force moved my parents out of the on-base housing and into a new house. They also offered my dad a chance to be transferred elsewhere, which he denied as he knew doing so would just be running away from the problems.
When a family member is deployed, the military offers programs and activities to help the families left behind and encourage them while their family member is away. For example, one Christmas, my dad was stationed overseas, they threw a Christmas party for the spouses and children. My brother and I enjoyed making crafts, meeting new kids, eating food, and we were both given a little stocking of candy. There were times my dad had to serve overseas for a year or more, but he was able to return for about half his time there and come home to be with us. My dad was able to see all our births except one, who was a trickster when it came to my mom having him.
The Air Force understands families. Some examples: The Air Force always gave my dad the leave he needed when my mom was expecting a child. The Air Force will do its best to make sure a dad is there for his child’s birth. If an enlistee is newly married, the Air Force makes sure that soldier is not deployed right away.
Deployment is hard for families to go through, especially children. When I was 2 years old, my dad had to serve for six months overseas. In those six months, I lost the recognition of my dad. When we arrived at the airport to meet him, my mom had to gently push me from behind to kiss my dad because I had no idea who he was. As the day wore on, I eventually warmed up to him.
When my dad had to serve in Korea, my brother, who was almost 3 years old, screamed when he realized my dad was leaving on the plane. His cry was heart-wrenching and it tore my dad and brought me to cry even harder. We had a family from our church who came with us to support us and see my dad off, which helped to ease the heartache slightly, but when you realize as a kid that your dad will be gone for a long time, it is as if your whole world has fallen apart.
Brats go through this, some have parents that leave when they are babies and have no idea who they are when they return. It takes time to build a relationship and bond in the time that was lost. My mom made dad still feel a part of us even though he was miles away. For example, at the dinner table, dad was always at the head and always sat in the same seat. My mom made it a habit for us kids when we would set the table to always place a spot for dad. We literally placed a cup, eating utensils, a plate, and a napkin in his place. We didn’t place any food on the plate, but it was something we looked forward to and it made it feel as if he were there.
My dad made us a voice recording on cassette tape of letters to us. The first time my brother and I heard his voice, we cried. We had to put it away and see if we could try again another day, but every time we tried, we cried. Mom would see us and tell us to turn it off, not because she was mean, but because I believe deep down inside, it hurt her just as much knowing he was so far away and she was here alone to tend to us, keep us safe and our hopes up.
I had recently asked my dad if he had written those letters or were they all from the heart when he spoke on that tape. He said as he spoke, the words came. He didn’t need to write it down. Not every holiday can be spent together as a family. There were some we spent without him. One year for Easter, my mom and a friend of ours had a special egg hunt for us. My brother was more interested in the jelly beans that popped out of one of the eggs than hunting for them.
Spouses do not have their partner there to always help them with every problem. However, our church family was always there to help us in desperate times or just to comfort and encourage us.
Deployment can send soldiers to very dangerous countries. My dad, thankfully, did not have to go anywhere extremely dangerous but we still worried about him. Not only is there the fear of your enemies but you have the dangers of sicknesses, wild animals, natural disasters, etc. You also have the fear of whether or not your dad or mom will return home. My dad did return, but some do not.
Are there any good things that come from being a brat? Yes, I still have the special pictures and letters my dad would send me. My mom did whatever she could to keep us busy but still happy. We read books, played games, got special treats at the store, went to museums, the library, the park, etc. One year, she made it a rule, that we did not watch any TV or videos. She replaced that time with family time. I learned all of the US states and each state’s capital from a puzzle that she worked with me on. She took us on adventures, during Christmas one year, she took us to go and see the lights while we listened to a new cassette tape she bought us. We also had our time to talk with my dad on the phone, otherwise it was through letters or the computer.
Military Brats get many great opportunities. My dad got permission for me to attend one of his medal ceremonies. I remember being so excited and I got to sit in the front row to watch. I have many fond memories of my dad’s comrades. They were always so nice to us when we visited my dad’s shop. They made us feel special, gave us treats, took us on adventures.
Before we moved from Oklahoma, my dad’s shop threw a going-away party and imagine my surprise as a 5-year-old when one of their gifts was only for my brother and me. I was amazed that they would care about little kids like us. We were able to attend some of the commander’s calls. We had the ability to tour and learn the history of the base. We learned to respect our flag, country and the military. We got to attend special ceremonies. My younger brothers did not have all the experience we did as one was 2 and the other almost 1 when my dad retired.
Military brats are sometimes looked down upon because of the roles their parents play. Thankfully, that was not always the case for me. We learn many of our character traits by the status of our lives. We learn the meanings of boldness, unity, patience, care, and being different in a world that sometimes hates us. We learn where our strength lies and independence. In ways, we learn combative skills and training, maybe not physically but sometimes mentally. To me, this life was worth it and what I have learned in the past will be contributed to the generations to come and to my own children.
Once a brat, always a brat.