The Life of a Military Brat: Resilience, respect, and responsibility redefined
For the past fifteen years, I have been blessed to work in the Ft. Sam Houston School District in San Antonio, Texas. We are a unique district in that, while we are a public school district, we reside entirely on a military installation. Thus, all of our students are military dependents. These military "brats", as they affectionately call themselves, are a unique breed. Facing constant mobility, deployment, and trauma, they do so with incredible bravery and resilience.
A few days ago, one of 2013 graduates posted a link to an article he wrote about his experience growing up as a military child. His reflections are incredible. I asked for permission to post them here and Andrew was kind enough to allow me to do so. It's a long read, but well worth it. Without further ado, here is ....
My Life As A Military Brat
Resilience, respect and responsibility redefined.
Andrew C Cardenas in Lifestyle on Jan 18, 2016*
About two weeks ago, I was shadowing at a hospital and a radiologist told me to put on a lead vest to protect me from the radiation of the x-ray. I responded "yes, sir." He paused and asked me why I called him "sir." I was confused. This gentlemen was almost in his 40s, a professional radiologist and was of course more experienced in life than I was. The nurse next to him also asked me the same question and told me to address her by her first name. Why were they questioning my respect for them by addressing them as "sir" or "ma'am?"
I was born October 9, 1994, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Here, I was initiated into a fraternity that only 1 percent of the population of the United States is a part of. My dad was stationed at Fort Carson, the military installation just south of Colorado Springs near Cheyenne Mountain/NORAD. My father was a Captain in the US Army, and that mere title of my father granted me the privilege of being a kid growing up a "Military Brat." This childhood is not for the faint of heart. In 1994, the job description was simple: it required me to move to another state or country every two to three years, address every adult as "sir" or "ma'am," make new friends with every move, learn to say goodbye to every friend you make, set the dinner table before hearing dad's boots walking through the door around 6:30 P.M. and say our prayers every night that God keeps our family and country safe from the bad guys. My standards of respect and responsibility were escalated, but I was ready to face the challenges.
Moving. Permanent change of station. These terms cannot be expressed enough as an element of the military life. Military families would spend one summer moving to a new station and the next moving from it. When I moved back to Colorado Springs in 2006, I was certain it would be the best experience I ever had. However, I was placed in an unfamiliar environment. As weird as it was, military kids went to school on base and eventually all were going to move eventually. We were always used to it and were able to adjust easier. This time, I was going to a school where all the kids knew each other since kindergarten. I could only imagine having the same friends since kindergarten because I couldn't even remember my best friends name or face from my kindergarten year. They all grew up with each other since their play dates with their mothers, playing on the same sports teams, same teachers, same houses, same stores, same facilities, same everything. I tried to do the same old things to make friends, but it was hard. There, I was a new kid trying to make friends with people, but I was different. Their relationships with their friends was something I would never get to understand.
This sixth grade year was hard, but it was not impossible. I had to come up with new ways to stand out. I was known as the smartest kid in class and always wanted to engage in sports during recess. What would come next, would be the worst year of my life. All military kids will tell you there is no worse transition than that between elementary school and junior high school. I went from having trouble making friends at one school to making friends with kids from six other schools in the district coming together into one junior high school. Again, all the kids knew each other. They were all too familiar with each other growing up competing against each other on different sports teams now joined as one. I was another outsider; a kid who has to say "yes, sir" or "no, sir" or had to eat MREs (meals ready to eat) every night. Someone even asked how many Muslims my dad killed in Iraq. The lack of understanding and abundance of ignorance made me realize I wasn't the problem; however, I could not wait to move to a place where everyone was like me again who had to deal with the same challenges I did.
Where am I from? If you ask this question to any military kid, I promise you they cannot give you an answer. I don't know where I am from. You choose.
I was born in Colorado, moved to San Antonio, then to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, then to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, then to Harker Heights, Texas, during 9/11, then to Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, then back to Colorado Springs, CO, then to Wiesbaden, Germany, for my dad's second deployment, then back to San Antonio, Texas, then to Denton, Texas, for college where my family moved back to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and now reside in Kingwood, Texas.
Maybe it's Colorado where I was born, or San Antonio where I graduated high school. There was only one time in my life where I had a choice of where I was going to live -- Denton, Texas. Maybe this is my home. Maybe I still haven't found where my home will be. Only God knows, but home was always where the Army sent us.
Deployment. Saying goodbye. After the tragedies of 9/11, the Army began deploying battalions and brigades within six months to Afghanistan. Parents would joke and tell their kids to hold down the fort during their deployment. My father was deployed to Iraq for one year between 2003 and 2004 and again in October of 2008 just two days before my 14th birthday. What is deployment like? I couldn't tell you. I can imagine it being hectic, stressful and tiresome. but only my dad and every armed forces member who served time in Iraq or Afghanistan can answer that question. On the home front, I can tell you every single detail. When I was younger, doubt and lack of certainty was our greatest enemy. This was a new war; a different war. Though my dad was involved in the health administration in his camp, we did not know what was going on over there. We did not have Skype or FaceTime, no advanced cellular communications network that would allow such long distance talking, or any good form of communication whatsoever. My mom would go days without talking to my father and sometimes I would go weeks. I did not know if I would wake up one day, look for my mom in the kitchen making pancakes on a Saturday morning only to see her in tears at the door with gentlemen sending their condolences for her husband and my father was killed in action. Fortunately, my family escaped that cruelty while more than 4,000 families fell victim to the death of their loved one.
In 2008, the war was better understood and doubt and certainty were not so much an enemy. However at this time for a teenage kid who has to say goodbye to their father a second time, a new enemy crept up on me: anxiety. When I was younger I had little understanding of war and its vices. Now that I was a teenager, I was beginning my adolescence, and things were changing incredibly fast. My father was not there; the man I looked up to for guidance to becoming a man was 4,000 miles away fighting a war. There were nights where I felt lost, confused, and utterly anxious, my mom had a tighter leash on me, not allowing me to go to downtown Wiesbaden, Germany with my friends, not traveling out of the country to France, Spain or Italy. I constantly got into trouble and disobeyed my mom on many different things. Anxiety turned to animosity, animosity turned to anger, and anger turned into a terrible, disobedient teenage kid. This phenomenon is evident in most house holds that has a spouse deployed and teenage kids around 12 or 14. Most kids don't have to worry about their father missing their First Communion or Confirmation, or their high school graduation because they are serving their country. You could ask me 15 years ago or tomorrow if I hated my dad missing two years of my life, and I will tell you the same answer.
"You can say my dad was defending his country, but my dad was always defending his family first. Hating him would be a sin against humanity and God."
My freshman year of college, someone told me that I shouldn't be using the GI Bill because I did not earn it. As disrespectful as it was, it wasn't their fault because he/she does not understand. Being a military brat was never meant to be easy. I have sacrificed so much and so many opportunities for a life I had no choice in. However, I believe military kids are the strongest, proudest and most amazing people in the world. We endured deployments, parents die or in wounded warrior transition, constant moving from countries or states, ignorant questions, and disrespectful statements, but every single experience taught us to be more respectful, responsible and resilient. It made my transition to college much easier because transition and adjustment has been my entire life. So the next time you hear a young man or woman say "yes, sir" or "no, sir," see a student using the GI Bill to pay for school, sing the "Star Spangled Banner" or "God Bless America" at a baseball game, or simply pray to keep our country safe, just know that they have been through hell and will go back through it again tomorrow if they have to.
*Original post from http://theodysseyonline.com/north-texas/americas-strongest-the-untold-life-of-the-military-brat/280530
Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/6883510574