Unchained: Being a Military Kid Taught Me Something Amazing…


As I began to grow up, I truly started to realize how different each person’s life can be. Our childhoods, our experiences, and, most importantly, our definition of “normal” vary considerably. In many respects, I had what many would consider a “normal” childhood: two loving parents, a sibling, a cycle of various different pets, and a family that was able to put food on the table, buy school supplies, and take an annual vacation. However, there was one aspect of my life that separated it from many, and that was being a military “brat.”

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Being the son of a father who is active duty Air Force, my life came with everything you would expect from a military household. Every time my dad had a permanent change of station, it was time to move again. This meant new schools, new friends, new surroundings, and even new social norms and subcultures. These moves were not even consistent, although most happened after a period of one to three years. Many occurred during the summer months, although a few occurred in the middle of the school year. Some occurred with more warnings than others. Most significantly, many of these moves brought with them a new way of life. Constant transitions occurred, including living on base versus living in the city, atmospheres changing from being surrounded by many children my age to living in a house that almost felt isolated, to even the simple changes of climate, which required changes to everything from your clothing to your daily routine. And, worst of all, this is all in addition to having to build new friendships, new social circles, and essentially, a new way of life. Nearly every day I would read a book or see a TV show where a character would reference being “friends with somebody since kindergarten,” something I was never able to have.

From my experience, this comes across as sounding virtually unbearable to somebody who has never lived through this kind of life. Many of my friends have lived in the same house since they were born, and have had the same or a similar circle of friends for nearly as long as they have been alive. Their extended family lives within an almost trivial driving distance, and their family has lived in the same area for generations. What they consider to be “far away” is no greater than my daily commute to work. They look at me with awe, as if they could never imagine any good from coming out of this life.

However, as I grew older, went to school, entered the workforce, and started to build a life for myself, I started to realize how thankful I am for this, as some would say, “abnormal” childhood.

Being a military brat came with its number of benefits. For example, living on a military base provided a level of safety, and it was normal as a young, elementary aged kid to grab your friends, grab your bikes, and ride around the area with relatively little worry. Military amenities, such as shoppettes, pools, and the BX food court were all within short biking distance. I got to experience F-15’s flying over my house as a normal daily occurrence. And, to top it off, I even received my own unique ID card at age 10, which, for some reason, was the coolest thing ever back then.

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However, the greatest benefits came as a byproduct to what many people consider to have been the most difficult obstacle of all: moving. As you move around, you have the opportunity to see different subcultures, different ways of life, and different geographical areas. Small towns? Been there. Large suburbs? Been there. Each coast? Been there. I’ve seen the canned, carbonated drink that I refer to as “soda” be called by more different names than I knew existed. You can tell fascinating stories, and be told, affectionately, that you have an interesting life. For some of us, the constant moving develops a very outgoing nature, a de facto requirement for constantly making new friends. I credit this trait with finding success in my first sales job during college, and ultimately leading to securing a job as an account executive with a multi-billion dollar firm.

Ultimately, though, I thank my military brat childhood for leaving me with what I consider to be my most important trait: feeling unchained. I have lived in six different states, moved regularly, and on average, see my extended family twice per year. To me, this is “normal.” There was no hesitation in my mind with going to college hundreds of miles away from my family. When people ask me if I miss my family, I tend to look at them rather dumbfounded, and reply with, “Well obviously. I definitely miss my family. But it’s 2015. I can call them anytime, and Skype and Facetime are always an option.”

When I look at where I would potentially want to move, important factors tend to include anything from climate to job markets to local recreation. Factors such as, “How far away are my parents/sister/grandparents?” or “Do I know anybody here? Have I lived here before?” are essentially just added bonuses if you will. In fact, in my personal opinion, living in the same place as to which I grew up would almost drive me crazy.

To this day, it still surprises me how many people are unwilling to relocate or pursue new opportunities due to fear of losing everything they are attached to. To be honest, I find this completely understandable. However, when you grow up with a very mobile life, seeking new opportunities and pursuing passions in a new area becomes attractive. You feel a sense of freedom, and have a unique ability to be able to dive headfirst into something new. This mentality is ultimately to what I credit my education, experiences (such as receiving a skydiving license this past summer), and virtually everything on my resume. I have found myself applying for jobs anywhere from Washington D.C. to Atlanta to San Mateo, California. When you hate the concept of feeling “stuck,” your only other option is to move forward. Moving creates a sense of self-confidence, proving to you that you can overcome obstacles and build things up for yourself.

You realize what is truly important, and manage to hold it dear to yourself. The house I spent a few years in before moving off to college? It’s just a house. The school I went to for 7th grade? It’s just another one of many. However, the experiences you gain, the friendships you build, and the family you go through hardships with are things that you realize can never be taken away from you. A good friendship doesn’t get destroyed by you living somewhere else, and I have friends that I have seen on and off for years. Being able to see every corner of the country, gain a wealth of knowledge regarding many different ways of life, and developing the ability to adapt to ever-changing situations are things that very, very few people are fortunate enough to share in.

At 22 years old, I have lived across the country, built up lasting friendships nationwide, and have nurtured an adaptable, ambitious character capable of handling change and overcoming obstacles. I am a military brat.

Are you a military kid? What do you think is the most meaningful thing you learned?

Posted by Matt Jackson, Air Force military kid

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  1. 1
    Kathy

    I learned that I can live anywhere, and like most brats, I am resiliant rather than dependant on things, places, and people that are familiar.

  2. 2
    Diane Roff

    As a military brat I have learned how much my family means to me, saying good bye, the wonderful reunions, making new friends all over the country, enjoying different foods. As a military wife, I’ve learned independence, self-worth & the ability to deal with difficult situations. As a military Mom I’ve learned to “let go & let live” of my precious children. There are many sad days & nights during deployments when your spouse is away & you’re in the delivery room alone, especially before there was the internet. It’s hardest on the children who miss their parent/s. In the end it makes most people stronger.

  3. 3
    Amber L. Bateman

    Kudo’s on a great article Matt, detailing just a tad of what makes being a ‘military brat’ such a unique experience that has helped each of us ,in this brother/sisterhood, reach amazing heights.

  4. 4
    Yvelisse Santivasci

    I learned that family isn’t just blood…you have your blood family and they are important but being a Military BRAT you have your Military Family and there are times when you lean on them more than anything because they know, more than anyone, what you are going through.

  5. 5
    Rachel Smiley

    Very nicely written. You have captured all great aspects of what makes us brats the unique and fortunate people we are today.
    The most meaningful things I have learned as an Army brat are adaptability and pride.
    Adaptabiliy- being able to adapt to different situations, surroundings, and people is one of the most beneficial traits you can have in life both socially and professionally.
    Pride- being raised in the military, I was surrounded by honorable men and women who sacrifice so much. Their are loyalty and sacrifices for our country instilled so much pride in my heart. I have so much pride for my country, my family, and myself. You try your best, you do your best, you are the best… Because what you do and say is who you are. Who you are is a reflection of the family you come from. Lastly, after being stationed overseas… How you are perceived is a reflection of where you come from. I come from America. I am a proud Armybrat!

  6. 6
    Katherine

    Great article. I got a fabulous education. I was able to go to the Hofbrau Hous in Germany, see Kensington Palace, visit the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, Okinawa in all it’s tropical beauty and a myriad of other places in between. The overseas travels were wonderful, but traveling our own US was the greatest!

  7. 7
    Mom lefebvre

    Thank you to ALL our military families. Those who serve and those who support those who serve
    Your strength and resilience are awe inspiring
    Thank you for every sacrifice you have made for this nation

  8. 8
    Amy Renfroe

    I learned that home is wherever we are as a family. Routines and relationships don’t have to change because your location changes. My mom did an excellent job of making our home a safe haven wherever we lived, and she did it quickly, as soon as we were assigned a house at each new duty station.

  9. 9
    Karen (Bothwell) Siberini

    I am so surprised this is from a 22 year old brat. You relate everything I could put on paper to describe my upbringing. All the emotions, memories, things learned, moving adjustments, lack of extended family, etc. I am a 60 year old brat (still think I’m 22 inside). My dad was a career, 35-year, USAF officer. He didn’t retire until I was out of college so my whole childhood was as you describe. Our immediate family consisted of my parents, 2 girls and 2 boys. Now, both parents and one brother have passed. One brother and one sister left. I will always be proud of my unbringing. There are differences from the civilian life for sure. We didn’t have family birthday parties, reunions, barbecues, etc. The experiences we did have in our lives were amazing and hard for many to understand. We had military chapels and went to services of all kinds of religions. We had cool retreat locations to visit. Rented places at Fourth Cliff in the Cape Cod area and went to YMCA family camp at Silver Bay in Lake George,in New York. We enjoyed being with other military families – even had stickers on our cars reading PROUD TO BE AN AIR FORCE FAMILY! Thanks for writing some a great essay. I thoroughly enjoyed and wish my own two kids could have experienced the brat life. We moved a few times with them so they don’t really have a hometown either. I share all kinds of things about that life with them and I think they really would have loved it too!

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  10. 10
    Jim Kazoui

    Don’t forget about personally visiting places we had only previously read about in the history books – wild west cities, colonial American cities, holdings of ancient Rome and Greece, historic cities of England, France, Germany, Japan, etc,.

    Getting a true sense of respect for authority because when we messed up it got back to our parents commander and then filtered down….

  11. 12
    Cherie Johnston

    Matt,

    Hello. I want to take a moment to acknowledge and recognize your service to our nation as a military child. The insights you convey in this article regarding the life of a military child are, in our opinion, extremely accurate, and helpful to allow other American’s to understand and appreciate your unique contributions to your father’s service in the U.S. Armed Forces. Thank you for openly sharing your experiences and we wish you success and prosperity in your future endeavors.

    Cherie Johnston
    Chief Executive Officer
    Military Children’s Charity, Inc.

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