April is Month of the Military Child, and as a military kid, I wrote a column for the paper to help promote the forum I'm moderating next week on what it's like to grow up in the military.
My dad was a career Air Force officer and my mom was an Air Force nurse for a few years. That's me and my dad in the photo, probably in Michigan. That's where I was born, but we left when I was two and I've sadly never been back.
I swore that I'd have nothing to do with the military when I grew up, but here I am, living with a guy who spent 10 years as an Air Force officer and my entire professional career has involved writing about the military or working for museums or non-profits directly related to the military. It's amazing how much you pick up about military life as a kid that you realize that most other people have no exposure to such things.
There's a lot you learn and a lot that's great about being a military kid. You learn to adapt quickly, make friends everywhere you go, experiences many different cultures and see the county, sometimes the world. But, you also have no real hometown and you feel a little like an outside pretty much everywhere you, even when you find a place to settle down.
That said, I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Here's my column, which was printed in the Great Falls Tribune on Friday (feel free to click the link since our jobs practically depend on it these days, but you can read it all below too):
Growing up in an Air Force family, I hated the military.
I hated moving all the time. I hated my dad being gone a lot. I hated that the Air Force had more control over my life than I did.
Life was basically lived in letters.
While Dad was a WSO on a B-52, we PCS’d, lived in TLFs, dad went TDY and we shopped at the BX.
That’s weapons systems officer, permanent change of station, temporary lodging facility, temporary duty assignment and base exchange.
But as an adult looking back, I’m grateful for that childhood.
Dad didn’t make us use hospital corners on our beds or require that we call him sir, but everyone else was “sir” and “ma’am.”
He did occasionally feed us MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat, when Mom worked late as an Air Force nurse.
I refused to speak to my parents for two weeks during one military move and I may have thrown a tantrum when Dad missed a ballet recital, but I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.
Life as a military kid isn’t easy.
I grew up during relative peace. We didn’t have the threat of dozens of deployments at the time. I have a deep respect for today’s military kids. They carry a heavy load, mostly before they’re old enough to drive.
Tough as those years can be, growing up military makes teaches invaluable life lessons.
You learn that there is a world far beyond your hometown, in part because you don’t have a hometown.
We moved to five different states by the time I was 14. As much as I hated it, I had more pen pals across the country that I actually knew than any of my classmates.
In those moves, from Michigan to Texas, to South Dakota, to Las Vegas and eventually Virginia, I was usually the new kid who talked funny with my acquired accents who said soda instead of pop. But in all those moves, I saw most of the country. We always made a trip out of a cross country move, stopping in national parks, historic landmarks and experiencing local culture.
I say I’m from Virginia, mostly because that’s where we lived the longest.
All that moving makes you really great at making friends. You have no choice. When you move every other year, it’s up to you to make friends and you have to find your place in schools where kids have known each other their whole lives.
It makes you an excellent packer and by the time you graduate college, moving to a state where you don’t know a soul, by yourself, for a new job, seems like a piece of cake. I’ve done it a few times now and left the country solo without breaking a sweat.
You learn rank structures, acronyms and you can read military time. You learn discipline, time management and that you’re going to have to carry your own weight.
Life as a military kid is hard, but years later, most of us wouldn’t trade it. I know I wouldn’t.
Where you a military kid? What did you learn from your experience?