“When I grew up, I only had two dreams. One was to be a cowboy and another was to be in the military. I grew up extremely patriotic and riding horses.” -Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle (Veteran U.S. Navy SEAL, born in Odessa, TX, April 8, 1974 and buried in 2013 in Texas State Cemetery)
When thinking of the military life, the word “sacrifice” comes to mind. The sacrifices made by service members and their spouses are extreme, but too often sacrifices made by the military child are overlooked. Nearly two million children have parents currently serving in the military, and that number doubles when you include the children of veterans post 9/11. They’ve had to say goodbye to their parents multiple times during what has been the largest sustained deployment in the history of our all-volunteer force.
Military children live in every zip code of our country, and on military posts and bases across the globe. Yet, their everyday lives are mostly invisible to the general public. To raise awareness and appreciation, April is designated as the Month of the Military Child, underscoring the important role military children play in the armed forces community. This is a time to applaud military children for the daily sacrifices they make, and for the challenges they overcome.
Just how tough are these kids? How resilient?
On average, military children move and change schools eight times from the start of kindergarten to high school graduation. As quickly as orders come through they must pick up, pack up, and say goodbye to friends who have become family. With each move, military children must cope with the stress of making new friends, adapting to a new school environment at awkward times, and figuring out how to fit in once again.
No doubt, they are the quintessential new kid in town. Affectionately known as “military brats,” children of those in uniform are a special breed.
Being an Army family since fall of 2003, we are one of the very few who moved for the first time in May 2015, due to the special operations unit my husband was assigned to. Most families would have moved at least four times. However, we have been on the other end, saying goodbye to our dear friends as they leave. One by one, it has never gotten any easier. Nor have the deployments – which we’ve experienced 10 times now – or the 17-month tour to Korea.
With one of our six children in high school and another in junior high, they were both anxious about our first move from the south into the Pacific Northwest, as well as changing schools. Living in the same house with the same bedroom till I left for college, I can only imagine what it’s like to be the new kid, not once but multiple times.
Laura Kennerson, mother to Maddox, 10, recalls her childhood as a Navy brat moving six times before her freshman year in high school, when her dad retired. Her family always lived off-base, looking for a nearby family-friendly suburb that was within their budget.
“Leaving the familiar to go to the unknown is never fun,” says Kennerson. “However, I always adjusted quickly and made new friends. I feel like my experiences helped me to be better equipped to adapt socially.”
Short term, Kennerson says she had moments of depression due to the constant changes and frequent separation from her dad. In the long run thought, she believes she’s become well-rounded and has developed the ability to empathize and communicate easily with others.
“Through it all, we remained a family unit,” she added. “When we had no one else, we always had each other.”
Sarah Porter, mother to Paisley, 11, and Dresden, 9, believes, with the right support at home, children can learn how to pull strength from all the advantages that the military has to offer, and to seek comfort by managing the disadvantages together as a family.
“The military life has exposed some very important things to my girls and it has affected them in a powerful, and hopefully lasting, way,” says Porter. “It has taught them, at a young age, the expensive price of freedom. It has opened up communication that there is evil in this world, but there are great men and women living among us who fight against it.” “They have learned the true meaning of sacrifice as they have to share their dad when duty calls,” she added. “Our girls have been affected both negatively and positively, but the affects have more to do with how we as parents present and deal with the problems. Children will follow our lead.”
No doubt, the most important factor that will help a child adjust to a military life is the relationship they have with their parents. When we raise them to be strong and to stand up for what they believe in; when we calm their fears and celebrate their accomplishments; when we teach them to respect others and show compassion; and when we love them through their mistakes, we are raising them to be young men and women that we can send out into the world to not just survive, but to thrive.
Childhood is an impressionable time, and when you mix in combat deployments and frequent moves, that home foundation must be built on steel.
Every day my husband and I make a point to hug our children and tell them how much we love and appreciate them. When necessary, we tell them several times. We are grateful for the sacrifices they have made, and continue to make, in support of our family’s way of life.
When our oldest three boys were little, I was once told by a wife in my FRG (Family Readiness Group) that she didn’t know how I could get through deployments with children. I responded that I didn’t know how she got through them alone. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have my children to hold on to when my husband is away. Too often it is they that give me my strength.
The Month of the Military Child is part of the legacy left by former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, a prominent Republican who served under President Ronald Reagan and died March 28, 2006.