Proud to be an Army Brat
I have soldiers for parents. I have soldiers for cousins, uncles, grandparents, and friends. I come from a line of soldiers who fought in the Civil War, both sides of WWI and WWII, Vietnam, Korea, Desert Storm, Bosnia, and the War on Terror. I grew up with the military, and though I would never dream of answering the call to service like so many others in my family, I wouldn’t change how their service has affected my life.
To put it simply, I would not be here without the army. My mom is a medical technologist who worked in blood banking, and my dad flew helicopters for 20 years. They met in Germany, and my favorite story is how he literally swept her off her feet with a chopper ride over the Alps and lunch in an alpine valley. Pretty epic, right?
I proudly label myself an army brat twice over. Eating MREs felt like an adventure, even if it was just spaghetti and meatballs. Dressing up in Dad’s flight suit was the only fashion trend that mattered. Unlacing mom’s boots at the beginning and end of every day was a cherished routine. Pretending I was Dad’s co-pilot when we taxied a blackhawk out of its hangar made me feel like a superhero. Attempting to perfect scarfing down my meals in fifteen minutes or less seemed like training for a marathon. Going to the commissary and PX were our family field trips (and still are). Going to school with kids who were in the military community was the first place I felt like I belonged as a child. Being able to have a parent chaperone a field trip was a privilege and a delight. Joining the Girl Scouts with my mom taking on the role as troupe leader brought us many fond memories. Having my parents come to school in uniform to talk about what they did was awe-inspiring. Experiencing multiple cultures at once in different countries shaped my life.
There are many wonderful things about being a member of a military family. The sense of loyalty to a cause, determination to do and honor in doing what’s right, the perseverance and patience that comes with working toward a goal, an unshakeable independence and confidence in your abilities, the strong community you build with those around you, the incommunicable pride in soldiers who believe in and sacrifice so much for what they believe that it calls forth tears during moments of silence. And while those are all inspirational things, learning them as a child with military parents is not exactly an easy or harmless task.
There have been plenty of times when my parents have been separated over the years due to being called up for active duty or other military assignments. I mastered the art of solo airline travel before I was ten. I celebrated a number of birthdays and Christmases without one of my parents. I don’t enjoy recalling the first time my dad was deployed for Desert Storm. I was around four years old at the time and all I can remember is balling my eyes out in the car while he let me hold his beat-up, Nerf football. I didn’t want to let him go. Fast forward a couple of years and we’re back in Germany. My dad is about to come home from his deployment in Bosnia and I’m roughly nine years old. Mom managed to snap a picture of the moment when I leapt into his arms crying. I still cry whenever I think about it.
Another jump into the future. My mother is in the reserves and my father has retired from the service, but is working for a military contractor. Sometime when I’m in high school, he’s notified that he’s to be sent overseas to assist with the War on Terror. He comes up to me while I’m doing my homework and says, “If you don’t want me to go, I won’t go.” To this day, I can’t think of anything he has said to me that has expressed more love than that moment. And I have never told him that. Not going would have cost him his job, and he didn’t need to tell me that for me to understand the possible consequences of a selfish decision on my part. I had gone through his deployments enough times and was old enough to know that, “You gotta do what you gotta do,” was the only answer I could give. I would “man up” and take care of my mom and whatever I could do around the house. Everything would work out. As for my mom, she has had to deal with the separations as well, when being called up in the reserves could mean a year’s assignment in a different part of the country if not overseas. I am always amazed with her fortitude and her no-nonsense take on life when it comes to making and accomplishing goals. It is something I envy at times.
I understand how fortunate I am to have two living parents who served in the military. I understand how fortunate I am to have not lost a family member I have known to war. And my heart goes out to those who are not as lucky as I have been. So I dedicate this post to not only the veterans, but to their families, to their friends, and to all the people whose lives they have touched. Soldier on.