I grew up in a military family and was known as a “military brat.” I was never a brat nor did I ever understand why people referred to children in military families as “brats” but today, I am proud to say I am a “military kid.” Granted, I am an adult now but my life status gives me a very unique perspective that I would like to share this Veterans Day in honor of my family.
This Veterans Day as we celebrate those who serve and have served their country, I propose that we must also honor the invisible “veterans” who serve in their own way to support those in uniform and help them do the important work they do. I have grown to appreciate the service and sacrifices of the spouses and children of military men and women and witnessed that first hand in my family.
If you did not grow up in a military family, you may not appreciate some of the sacrifices families make for service men and women. Military families are often separated and move frequently, like gypsies, from state to state and even country to country. In my father’s 36 years in the Air Force, our family moved 25 times.
We lived in Japan where I was born for two and a half years and returned to the United States to a duty station in California. Over the subsequent years, we would be stationed in California (twice), Texas (twice), Alabama, Oklahoma, Virginia, Germany, Florida, and Morocco, Africa. My father also served in Thailand while the rest of the family lived in South Carolina.
Many would look at those duty stations and see glamorous locations and sometimes they were. Many of our vacations were spent seeing the world and experiencing other cultures. As military kids, there were many plusses but more than a few minuses.
I used to envy the kids who had been born and raised in the same town. They had friends they had known since they started school and would know for the rest of their lives. I, on the other hand, had to learn to make friends fast and be ready to lose them when we were transferred.
In the span of seven months, I went from a high school with 400 students to one in Virginia with 1,200 students before landing in Morocco where there were 100 students! My senior class consisted of 26 students and we attended school on a Navy base about 30 miles from our housing. To make matters worse, after I graduated, I had to come back to the U.S. alone (at 17 years of age) to attend college. It also meant that I could not see my family for a year.
I have looked back many times since my father retired from the Air Force, and marveled at what my mom did to make sure our family was taken care of and especially, how she worked to ensure that my father was able to do his job and rise to the rank of colonel. Many were the times that she packed us all up, supervised the movers, withdrew us all from school, set up house in the new duty station, got everyone back in school and arranged for doctor and dentist appointments.
Mom also maintained a “second job” serving as the wife of a military officer and supporting his career. She had to be prepared to serve cocktails or dinner at the last minute, and host parties required by the military social strata so dad could progress up the ranks. She volunteered for the Red Cross, served as president of the Officer’s Wives Club and much more. She was calm under pressure and more organized than a military drill team but to do what she did, she also had to give up whatever career dreams she might have had.
I am so very proud of my father for his service to his country but also for his love of our family; especially my mother. I am equally proud of my mom for her love and dedication to her husband and children over the course of a career and a lifetime.
So, when you see a service man or woman in uniform, look behind them and you may see the invisible support system they have. The spouses and children of those service men and women are also making sacrifices in their service to our country — but they do it silently and proudly in the process.