A Military Brat looks back...
by Rebecca Halton
As a former “military brat,” military couples often ask me about the effects of growing up here, there and everywhere. (Especially if neither of the two in the couple grew up as military brats themselves.)
In some cases, this has been because the couple was contemplating whether they should stay in or get out, retire or re-up in a few months or years. In every case, the couple’s primary concern was that the sacrifices required of military families would have negative effects on their children.
I will tell you the same thing I tell them: life as a military family is largely what the family makes of it, not what the military makes of it. Given the sacrificial nature of serving our country, whenever and however called, there is a lot military families do not have a say over. But families do have a say over how they view and respond to expected (and sometimes unexpected) relocations.
First of all, there are unique challenges and circumstances military families face – but life itself is full of change. And how children deal with those changes depends a lot on how the parents deal with those changes. For example, if Mom and Dad respond to orders from Kentucky to Korea as an adventure, the children are more likely to as well.
And what an adventure life as a military family was for me. Before I was old enough to vote, I had lived in three different countries (including the U.S.) and traveled to two more; stood atop the Great Wall of China; and experienced cultures civilian peers could only read about in textbooks.
My 20+ years as a military brat was not without its challenges and adjustments. Friends at one school were not necessarily as friendly and welcoming as another. And I don’t know many teenage girls who would be excited to leave life on the campus of the Naval Academy, months before “officially” being allowed to date.
There are also children who – no matter how well the parents deal with the demands of military life – simply don’t adjust well. That’s why it is important to tune into your child’s or children’s needs to best help them adjust. And, to be honest there may be times when you should modify military-career plans (as much as you can) for the sake of your family.
For the most part, though, my military-brat peers are some of the most resourceful, well-rounded, adaptable people I know. And sometimes we are also the most restless, having grown accustomed to the pace and change of moving every two or three years.
I also believe it was my early-age encounters with different cultures that instilled in me a broader worldview, and a deeper appreciation for the freedoms we are privileged to have here in the United States – freedoms for which our fathers and mothers in uniform sacrifice, serve and fight.
When everything is said and done, inconveniences and challenges and sacrifices included, I would not have wanted to grow up any other way.
When Duty Calls and Dad Answers
by Rebecca Halton
From the time I was born until the end of my senior year of college, my Dad actively served in the Marine Corps. Some of the best times I’ve had with him have been a result or reflection of his role as a Marine – and so have some of the hardest times.
One of the latter times was the summer night I was told he would be going to Iraq. He was approximately two or three weeks from retirement, when he received the phone call. But what was unique about this phone call was that he wasn’t getting orders; he was getting an offer. He had the option of saying no – but he didn’t.
When my parents explained all of that to me over dinner one night, I was silent at first. I remember just staring at my salad, poking kalamata olives and chunks of feta cheese with my fork. I was confused as to why he would say yes when he could have said no; why he would leave us if he didn’t have to.
And I was especially confused that he would say yes when I would be graduating that following spring; and my oldest brother’s wedding was that following fall. He was scheduled to be back by then, but…what if something happens, I thought. For me it was all too complicated; but for Dad it was as simple as:
“Because it’s the right thing to do,” he said calmly, “and because if I don’t go, someone else will have to leave their family.” And go he did: Dad spent six months serving in Iraq, leading the way to progress for Iraqi civilians and Marines who would follow. We didn’t know it then, but one of those Marines would be my oldest brother, who deployed to (and returned from) Iraq a few years after Dad did.
Years later, I embarked independently on a service trip to Central America I felt called to go on. I worked and lived for six weeks on behalf of an organization with programs and facilities there. As I was preparing for that trip, I was reminded of the night they told me Dad would deploy, and what his answer was. I finally and truly understood.
There is no comparing the circumstances – Dad being in a warzone for six months, me being far out of my comfort zone for six weeks – but the principle is the same. And that is the principle of answering when duty calls, of doing the right thing. For that, I’m glad he didn’t say no, and couldn’t be more proud of him.
Four of the Foremost Ways to Pray for Military Brats
by Rebecca Halton
The following are four of some of the foremost ways you can pray for military kids (AKA “brats”):
- Their emotional health. Life as a military kid is full of emotional highs and lows (and everything in between). Feelings can fluctuate from the exhilaration of standing atop Wonders of the World, to the heartbreak of saying goodbye to a loved one just before he or she leaves for the airport (or worse, that the child’s loved one has since been injured). Keeping in mind that kids are not as developmentally capable (yet) of processing and managing emotions, praying for their emotional health is critical.
- Their spiritual protection and wisdom. One of the best things about growing up as a globetrotting military kid is the immersive exposure to other worldviews and religions. I still remember visiting a Buddhist temple for a field trip during high school in Korea, high atop this beautiful mountain overlooking the city. Experiences like that helped teach me to respectfully relate to a variety of people. Experiences like that also helped refine my beliefs in God and Christ, as I met people with different beliefs about both. As their minds are being shaped, it’s important military kids have wisdom to know what’s truthful, godly and Scriptural – and what isn’t.
- Their physical safety. Military installations can be some of the safest, most physically guarded places to call home. However, sometimes home is located in a country (or region) where at least part of the population doesn’t appreciate the United States’ presence. I remember the occasional anti-American protest while living overseas, including the chucking of Molotov cocktails onto military property. And I didn’t know of any teenage civilian peers who had also been trained to use their own gas mask, kept in the hall closet.
- Their relationship with their military mom and/or dad. This especially goes for a child whose parent is coming or has come home from a deployment. Children can struggle with feeling abandoned by that parent, especially if they had limited or no contact with him/her during the deployment. It can make all the difference to pray for an outpouring of love on the reunion; and for the rebuilding of communication. It’s also important to pray for the re-establishment of that parent as one of the child’s authorities.
NOTE: These are just a few of the primary ways I’d encourage you to pray for military brats – they are not the only ways to pray for them. One of the best things you can do is cultivate relationships with military brats in your communities and/or families. Then, pray as you’re led to lift up certain struggles, needs, praises, etc., of those particular children, as a result of the relationship you’ve developed.
New School Tips for your Military Brat
by Rebecca Halton
So it's that time of year again: Back to School! Only, if you're a military family it's very possible your kids aren't going back to a previous school, but starting at a new one instead. I remember it well, and I remember it not always being a smooth transition, especially as I got older (and teenage angst set in). I know you have a lot going on. I encourage you, though, to pause unpacking non-essentials and make these first several weeks of the school year a focal point in your family. Here are some of my tips to helping them have a great start to their school year:
- Pay attention to the type of school it is. One of the schools I had the easiest times making new friends at? A DoDDS school filled with other military kids who could relate. The school I had the toughest time making new friends at? A private school in which most students had basically known each other since being in diapers. This isn't a one-size-fits-all-schools rule, but tuning in to this kind of dynamic can help you anticipate some of the challenges your child or children may face in making new friends.
- Support them in activities they enjoy. Support them in playing school or community soccer, if that's their thing. Or help them prepare for an upcoming school play. Not only will participating in things they enjoy boost their confidence (which helps in trying to make new friends), but it also gets them around kids with whom they already have common interests. And common interests make for great common ground to build new friendships on.*
- Help foster communication with friends where you were living. Don't bust your grocery budget in the name of infinite text messages (which, when done in public, can also make a new kid seem unapproachable to would-be new friends), but keep in mind that one of the hardest parts about moving was leaving friends behind. It's easier than ever to keep in touch with people, so under your supervision help facilitate free Skype video-teleconferencing sessions with their old friends, or exchange extra chores around the house for extra cell-phone time on weekends.
- Build friendships within your family. Find fun activities your child can do with you or with siblings, if you have multiple children. New places are full of new sights and stuff to do when they're not in school, so get creative and get together in ways that highlight common interests, involve teamwork, or just let them have fun together! You can even take this one step further by offering for them to invite a new friend from school!
*NOTE: In cases where your child may have missed an opportunity to participate in something they enjoy, be open-minded! For example, it wasn't until we moved to a new school and I had already missed soccer tryouts that I discovered volleyball (and was hooked)!
My Top 10 Favorite Aspects of Being a Military Kid
by Rebecca Halton
- Meeting people from all walks of life, and cultivating friendships that began years ago and continue today.
- Experiencing new cultures, in some cases in the countries from which the particular culture originated!
- Developing a greater appreciation for our freedom and the men and women who selflessly serve our country.
- Having unique experiences that have been so formative in shaping me into the person I am and will become.
- Learning life skills that have helped me personally and professionally, such as learning to be adaptable.
- Having I.D. card privileges. Now that I'm too old to be a dependent, I realize how fortunate I was to have them!
- Sharing a bond with other military kids, who understand the unique lifestyles and sacrifices of military families.
- Traveling -- and more traveling. Moving isn't easy, but experiencing parts of the U.S. or world firsthand is priceless.
- Growing in my faith: The challenges of life as a military kid helped me learn how to depend more on God.
- Having fun! Most of my fondest memories are of opportunities available to me because of military relocations, etc.