Photo Credit: US Navy, Flickr.com
I might as well have entered this world with “Navy Issued” on my behind. I’m a third generation sailor married to a Marine. I’ve worn the title of military brat, worn the boots that denote that I’m a Sailor and wear the rings that let you know I’m a spouse. Each of these positions come with a unique set of challenges. People say: “You can’t understand, you don’t know what I’m going through.” Or, “You weren’t a military kid / aren’t in the military / aren’t married to government property.” Well, I can. I can understand all three and the stressful moments that make each difficult. But they also come with amazing benefits. And I’m not talking about the healthcare.
1. Military Brat
People who grew up as military brats are usually proud of that title. When you find out someone else is a brat, you feel an instant bond. You can understand parents missing from major milestones, boxes always on hand to move when the military says it’s time to go and just how frustrating it is to answer the question “So, where are you from?” Even after living in Virginia for almost 20 years, I still don’t know how to answer that.
If you’re a parent of a military child and ever wonder if they will be well adjusted people with all that they go through, let me tell you, they will. I moved eight times in the first 18 years of my life. I went to seven different schools. I made friends and I lost friends. I learned how to use handwritten letters to keep in touch with the people that mattered most. I learned to be independent and outgoing, unafraid of changes that could come.
My sister and I grew up in a way I refer to as color blind. It didn’t matter what the kid next door looked like, when they walked up to the door barefoot in overalls and said “Hey, my brother and I live behind you, wanna play?” we said yes. A kid was a kid and there were limited amounts of those on some bases. So we made friends where we could and appreciated their differences. We could compare where we had lived and on the various bases we had been stationed.
Yes, my dad missed birthdays and holidays. He was deployed and we had to pick up and learn how to live without him and then readjust months later when he got home. But his deployments allowed me to go on a Tiger Cruise in middle school. I was allowed to run around an aircraft carrier for three days and pretend I was a sailor like dad. Who knew that would turn out to be my life one day!
Yet despite all the time my dad was gone, I never felt like he was missing. It makes a difference to a kid when the absent parent puts an effort to keep in touch and have little signs they care even when they are half a world away. For us this meant my dad still signed his letters “change your gotchies and brush your zoobies. Love you Scooter!” even when I was a senior in high school.
2. Service Member
There are people who say you can’t understand the unique environment of the military unless you’re actually in the military. There is some truth to that statement. When you’ve gone through boot camp, it forms that bond to others who have stood in the same place for generations. I’ve dated, and now married, a man in uniform. I always thought being a brat made it so I understood everything about the military. I didn’t know squat until I was showering with 40 other girls and wearing boots and smurfs in Chicago.
Now I can sit with my father and my grandfather and discuss boat chow, boot camp changes and what it means to be pinned AW by someone who matters. We can talk about the stress of being on a carrier for months on end, and how it feels to not be around family the first time you’re deployed for a Christmas. My husband and I can speak the same language without needing a translator to explain all the acronyms that I needed prior to lacing up my boots. There are inside jokes that come only with the experience of actually serving. It’s why families sometimes feel left out when they see their husbands, wives and parents around their fellow military members.
3. Military Spouse
As a spouse, we bond over being on the opposite side of the military career. Over having a lack of control regarding relocations, and our spouse missing events we feel are important. We join together to vent about boots all over the floor and how uniforms smell forever once our spouse comes back from the range. We gain an independence as part of a couple, which is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had to do that.
There is so much about the military life, no matter which aspect of it you live, that is impossible to understand unless you are living it. But those things that are impossible to explain are the things that make this life worth it. I’m thankful I get to call myself a Brat. And a Sailor. And a Military Wife. I get the best of all of it! And I wouldn’t trade that for anything.