You Can’t Go Home Again

“You can’t go home again.”

That quote is largely figurative to those in the civilian world, but for military brats it can be quite literal. Many civilian kids leave their hometowns to make their ways in the world, but they can always return to visit their old houses, schools and neighborhoods and see how things have changed. They can also get together with family and friends that still live in the area and reminisce.

For many military brats though, that’s just not the case. Sure, some can go back a year or two after they leave and do many of the things described above, (if they still have an I.D. card or sponsor and can actually get on the base). But let years go by and the inhabitants of that base will have, in all likelihood, changed entirely. You would now be a complete stranger in a place you used to call home.

And worse still, many of those bases, like those pictured in this post, may no longer exist. These were our homes, our schools, our communities, our friends and neighbors… completely gone. This is something that can generate a profound sense of loss or hollowness in those who have lived it, above and beyond already having to reconcile the difficult experience of being repeatedly uprooted and relocated growing up. It can be something people struggle with for the rest of their lives… some never really finding closure.

Closed_Bases

Some Memories Never Fade

The picture below is a moment in time capturing what has got to be one of the more crushing moments from my youth. It’s the day my family left Greece on our way to my father’s new assignment in Ramstein, Germany.

If you look behind us, you can see that we’re packed and ready to go, with a large bundle strapped to the top of the car. The smiles on our faces, (in response to the request of our randomly recruited photographer), betray the true nature of the turmoil inside me. Moments later, we would pull away from the curb and my life would change forever. My home, school, friends and a place that I had grown such a close connection to… ripped away once again. Of course it wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last.

As we drove away to catch the ferry to Italy, with the city of Athens fading into the distance behind us, I could no longer contain my emotions. My oldest sister would try to comfort me in the back seat of our car, but I was painfully aware, even at that young age, that a significant chapter of my life was ending. I remember it like it was yesterday. I believe that military brats and 3C kids have a more heightened awareness, or clear delineation of those moments in life than the general public, for no other reason than that they happen so often.

I loved Greece. The sights, sounds, culture, ancient history, food, weather, people… special childhood friends. To a kid it was like living in paradise, and everything about it lives in my memory. All military brats and 3C kids have those special places they’ve lived in that leave an indelible imprint on them over the years. This was mine.

Of course nothing lasts forever, and I would move on and adapt to yet another new country and environment. As there had been before, there would be other special places, times and people and this scenario would continue to play out. Looking back, I never really think of my life as a unified whole, but as a series of unrelated, disparate pieces. Different houses, different schools, new friends, that’s just the way it was… over and over again. The faces and locations might change, the emotional impact on those going through it does not.

I would return to Greece years later in my mid-20s, living and working on the island of Ios and in downtown Athens… trying in part to recapture what I had lost all those years ago. And although I was able to create a new set of memories, new friends and special moments from another chapter in my life, it wasn’t the same. How could it be? What was gone was gone… and so it is.

Over the years I’ve found that, unlike my civilian friends here in the states, I don’t talk about my past in terms of age or what year it was, I always seem to talk about it in reference to where I was living at the time. That’s simply the way I categorize and remember things. And this has had the unfortunate tendency to get me in trouble, leaving some with the impression that I’m some kind of blowhard or braggart. (“He’s talking about living in Europe again… give it a rest already!”) In truth, I’m just reciting tales of my reality just like everyone else, my stories just took place overseas. Unfortunately, like some other brats, this has led to me becoming more guarded as I’ve gotten older, and speaking about my past with very selective audiences or in more generic terms, so that people don’t misinterpret it as bluster.

As time has passed I’ve also searched on occasion for some of those friends I’ve lost over the years, and once in a while I’ve been successful in finding them, (the recent onset of social media has certainly helped). But the reality of reuniting never quite equals the Hollywood fantasy that tends to take hold in your mind. Time passes… people change, move on and handle the realities and complexities of their lives in different ways. Some try to maintain those distant connections through the years, and others find it easier to purge and shut out the past in order to move on, (but I’ll save my stories of the intricacies of brat friendship for another day).

For many of us it’s been difficult coming to terms with all of the changes we’ve been through, but when I think of it now it really doesn’t matter… regardless of what’s taken place in the space between now and then, in my mind I’ll always look back with appreciation and a little smile when remembering myself as that little blonde kid playing on the streets of that Mediterranean paradise.

Greece

Your Mother Talks Funny

“Your mother talks funny.”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard that growing up. And it wasn’t because she had some kind of rare speech impediment, it was because like thousands of others, I’m not just a military brat… I’m a bi-national military brat.

You see, my mother is Scottish, (with an unmistakeable accent), and my parents met when my Dad was stationed near Edinburgh in the 1950s. And bi-national families like mine are not unfamiliar in the military community. There are multitudes of military children that have been raised in bi-national families, with parents that met and married while one parent was stationed overseas. As a result, many of these kids have extended families that are split between two countries.

It’s difficult enough getting to know your extended family while you’re wandering around the globe as a military brat, but it’s even harder when both halves are not even on the same continent! We would usually visit one half of the family or the other during summer vacations or moves. Which half we visited mostly depended on where we were at the time and where we were moving, but getting together with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins wasn’t something that happened frequently.

Growing up in a bi-national family can also further complicate things for military brats trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in the world. For instance, while my father was deployed in Vietnam, my mother took my sisters and I to live with my grandparents in Edinburgh. While we were there we became immersed in Scottish/British culture and even attended a Scottish school, (that’s my sister and I in our uniforms below). Because we were so young, we also picked up a Scottish accent very quickly. When my Dad returned from Vietnam, he came home to kids that had undergone a fairly extensive cultural makeover. It must have been a bit of a shock when we first opened our mouths and greeted him with our new Scottish brogues!

In school, I also remember being frequently harassed by other students in both countries; in Scotland for being a “Yank,” and in the states for being an “Angus” or “Limey,” (although the latter is a slur more frequently directed at the English… but whatever). Needless to say I survived, and the accent soon faded away. But that kind of experience does leave an impression on you over the years and makes it just a little bit tougher to determine where you fit in.

But on the more positive side, my family also embraces an expanded range of cultural traditions from both countries, which I’m sure many bi-national brats can identify with. I love being American, but I also love my Scottish heritage. (It might cause some groans, but I’ll not only eat haggis… I LOVE haggis! And the sound of bagpipes just brings a smile to my face!) Being raised in this type of environment is just another in a long list of reasons why I think most brats are more embracing of ethnic and cultural diversity back here in the states. Our distinct backgrounds and rich, multicultural experiences have helped us reject stereotypes and made us more tolerant human beings.

Growing up in a bi-national family adds just another wrinkle to the ongoing issues with identity that many military brats struggle with at various times in their lives. Minor to some… not so minor to others. But even with the complications, I still wouldn’t change it for the world! And I know a majority of other brats feel the same way.

Binational

“Home”

Home. What is it about this place that so many people seem to find so fascinating and dear to their hearts. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros wrote a brilliant song by this title. In Kevin Smith’s iconic religious lambast of a film Dogma, the characters Bartleby and Loki are casted out angels who are so excited to have found a loophole back to heaven, their “home.” More recently, in the hit Netflix series “Narcos,” Pablo Escobar stares out the window of his plane recently departed from Panama, now looking over the hillside of Colombia, while he stares in awe of his “home,” in which he swears he will never leave once again. Home. It is so important to so many people.

But then there are some of us who don’t quite grasp the reality of “home.” The select group who were destined to realize that the idea of home is nothing more than where you lay your head on that very day, and at a moment’s notice, everything you have known and grown used to will soon be diminished and cast away in the name of a cause you may not quite understand. I’m obviously speaking towards the idea of being a military child, as the reasons for submitting these words in this forum so obviously demand. The military child is a unique one to say the least. In fact, to simply use the term “unique” is probably unfair and misleading. And such is the idea of “home” to so many military children who will watch a television show or movie, or better yet speak to a local native of wherever they are currently stationed about what it is like in one certain place, their home, and have completely no idea what the hell they are talking about. What is home?

I could probably provide thousands of examples of how the idea of “home” is so obscure and tyrannical to the military child. But, really, I need to look no further than this very project. When asked to provide information about myself, there are asterisks that denote required fields. Two required fields are a city and state. While these asterisks are completely justified to suit the cause of this project as a whole, it actually proves very relevant to the idea that even those involved with and seem to care about the plight of the military child, can miss small nuances of what it means to be a “military brat.” At this current time in my life, now 30 years old and raising three beautiful military brats of my own, I reside at Naval Station Rota, Spain. There was no option for me to put this location, as a “state” was required. Even to this day, as a military brat turned military member, my identity is to say the very least, confusing. I did manage to come up with the city and state of Kelso, Washington. A place that I actually call my “home,” but mostly for technical reasons.

So with this lengthy introduction, I guess I can begin to tell the real story that I hope will somehow bring me back to the idea of “What is Home, really?”

I was born in Longview, Washington (across the river from Kelso, just to get that out of the way) to a couple of teenagers who had a bit too much fun in the 80’s around prom season and ended up with a lifelong commitment in the form of a child. It happens. My father knew pretty quickly that a life in the Air Force could provide the stability that his young son and high school age bride would need in order provide a healthy life. So he enlisted. At the age of 9 months old, I was taken from my “home” of Kelso, Washington, and I would not return for another 10 years and change to live in the lumber economy filled city of which I came, under dire circumstances.

As I have learned with my own children who are military brats, you become hardened pretty early on in your life to the idea of moving on. You make friends, they move on. Friends come to you, you move on from them. In this day and age of social media, you may actually be able to hold onto these friends, and maybe meet up again from time to time. But for me, living the life from the mid 80’s to the late 90’s, it wasn’t entirely possible unless you (or your parents) really wanted to try. But, as most military brats know, we developed a bit of apathy very early on when we began to accept that we may never see these people ever again. it was just a part of our lives.

Out of all fairness, I feel like I should explain that I do believe that I have a “home.” In 1996, I was forced to move back to Kelso, Washington with my mother as my father was set to complete a short tour at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. Unfortunately, this would prove the demise of my parent’s marriage, and I would continue to reside in a town that was once known as Little Chicago until I was legally able to get out. So, in retrospect, I am not sure if I completely translate into a real “military brat.” But, I feel as though I do. I went to more elementary schools than there are actual grades to be in, experienced the drama of several PCS moves, and still wonder what happened to the friends I once had and held so dear at one point in my life. But, I do sort of have a home. In my 30 years on earth, I have actually spent 13 of them in the state of Washington (Kelso, Tacoma, Kelso again, and Spokane, respectively in time). I met my wife in Kelso. I always seem to return there, and I always seem to return there for leave and holiday excursions. So this must be my home. And in this respect, maybe I am more lucky that most people who will submit to this wonderful project. Yet, I still can’t quite grasp the sense of “home,” that I can’t help but come back to throughout this explanation.

As I mentioned previously, I jumped at the idea of leaving my life at “home” as soon as I could. I graduated from Kelso High School, married my high school sweetheart, and was at the Air Force Basic Military Training in San Antonio, Texas within 3 weeks. And I have not looked back since. This may say a bit about the trauma of being a military brat. Maybe we are always looking for a way out of wherever the hell we are, and we need it fast. Or maybe I just saw the military as a brilliant way to get a life started, all the while having all sorts of people telling me what to do and why I should move on from where I came. And I know that the military brat turned military member is not entirely original. I have met dozens since I joined a dozen years ago.

And with this, I know that my story is not entirely unique. I could mention more about my time in the country of Turkey when my mother and I had to evacuate due to terrorist threats, or that even more interesting time that Boyz II Men came to shoot a music video in the White Sands of New Mexico when we were station at Holloman AFB. But, I think the idea that those of us who were military children will always lack an idea of “home,” even if some end up in my state of being where we have some sort of place that we can call home, because maybe we were born there. We still don’t quite understand this idea of “home,” but we can have something to call our own if we want to.

My real trials and tribulations come when I think about my own children. Two of my children were born in Rapid City, South Dakota. I constantly have to tell them that this is not of any real importance, the idea of where you are born. I go with the “you are who you are” or “home is where the heart is” or something equally as corny and disconcerting. I’m not sure if they buy it. I know I wouldn’t. But, it’s the best I can do. My third child was born in Spokane, Washington, so it makes it a bit easier to describe “home.”

I don’t really understand what it means to be a military brat, or even what it means to raise a military brat. It is a complex and disconcerting way of life, but I do believe it builds a certain character that is unlike most children. I certainly believe the psychological effects have to be astonishing to most scholars. It can make us stronger and weaker all at the same time. I truly believe that most military children are ready for anything, at a moments notice. Just as their parents are sure to understand.

So, as a man who grew up as a military child, and is raising 3 military children, but also sort of “grew up” in the civilian sector, I can definitely understand the complexities of this way of life. And with that, I feel as though the idea of “home” is by the far one of the greatest concerns affecting the lives of our military children. But, hey, no one can deny that they are some of the toughest people on the planet. They didn’t sign up for this, but the endure it with a sense of pride and “we can do it” attitude that this courageous and admirable. There are no children like military children. No contest. They make their own “home.”

Scot Steenson

I really don’t know where to start, but I’ll try to keep it short. All I can say is that my life has been one hell of a journey. One fucking adventure after another. Initially groomed as an Air Force brat, I transitioned to a contractors kid after my father retired from the Air Force. From my birth in Japan until I graduated high school in Turkey, I have traveled to many incredible parts of the world and met many fascinating human beings. Seen shit and did shit. An absolutely fascinating lifestyle.

Now I sit here at the tender age of forty… Two wonderful children, a failed marriage and on my third career. I constantly feel caught between two different worlds. The contrasts have been reason for my success and reason for my failure. Growing up with a unique lifestyle. Growing old in a more commonplace manner.

Traveling to over twenty five countries, living in three countries, traveling to forty seven states, living in six states… How does one claim identity? Maybe not having an identity is my identity. Can one be lost and found at the same time? I think so. It can be frustrating at times. When people seek conversation or friendship, it’s usually based on common grounds. But, I have almost nothing in common with the common American. Most of my fellow Americans, in my experience, aren’t concerned about the world beyond our walls. American football? Fixing up old cars? Watching reruns of the Jeffersons? Sorry, I didn’t grow up with any of that. How about we talk about Ottoman culture and it’s impact on the world? What’s Ottoman culture? Oh, well, nevermind. Lets just talk about the weather… I struggle to fit in, I struggle to be different.

Friendship is odd for me when I do find people I can relate with on some plane. Don’t get too close Scot, you never now when they will leave. Don’t get too close Scot, you never know when you will leave them. Ultimately, I find it rather sad. I don’t allow myself to get close to anyone and I don’t allow anyone to get too close to me. What’s to share when you can’t share souls?

Turkey was by far the most amazing time in my life it was intoxicating. The Turks were beautiful. The land was beautiful. Turkey was beautiful. During my time in Turkey I sought out as many experiences as I could. I learned the language fairly well and tried to meet locals. Maybe I’m wrong, but I felt my fellow classmates didn’t want to meet the locals. Our parties and trips never involved local Turks. This was strange for me to a degree. I had one life with my international friends, then I had my other life with my local Turkish friends. Many people lost out on meeting people from a fascinating culture.

One great gift I’ve received from my upbringing is the ability to ask “why.” I’m not religious because of the questions brought up while living overseas. I’m extremely patriotic because of the questions I asked myself while living overseas. It’s difficult to form solid opinions at times because I can see things from so many angles thanks to my upbringing.

RJ Schlachter

I also dont know where to start. I was born in Fort Meade, Maryland to a Navy dad. Funny, because Fort Meade is an Army base and my Dad was Navy. My Dad actually gave us choices on where to go if I remember, or they talked about it for so long that we actually had no choice. My father had a few options, one being Hawaii and the other Turkey.

George C.Marshall High School!!! There’s a story there, but not one I would like to relive. On the positive side, I have a lot of great friends and people I call family. I have seen a lot of great places. My Dad, being a history geek, took me on a lot of trips around Turkey. Like seeing a horse grave. It’s sad that most people are afraid of what’s across the huge oceans, but there’s nothing to be afraid of. Some people don’t believe me when I say I’ve been to a lot of places, because in their heads they’re dangerous and to me they’re places I called home. I loved the food and the culture. Bryan Wardwell is a brat and a family member. The only images I have left are the ones in my head.

I can say this, being a brat is an amazing feeling. I have traveled a good half of the U.S. and I don’t plan on stopping. Even though Ive been in Oklahoma the longest, it isn’t the place where I’ll pass. Growing up a brat gave me a sense of adventure. I saw some amazing things and stuff that no other kid stateside will ever see.

Michelle Clark

In my 48 years on the planet, I have only spent the past 8 away from Army life. I was born in October of 1967 and my father was activated for the Vietnam war in 1968. I used to joke that I have lived everywhere twice, which is true.

I was born in Hays, Kansas and when Dad was activated we moved to Ft. Hood Tx. From Ft. Hood we moved to the DC area, where my brother was born. My father had to complete his degree in order to remain an officer in the Army, so we moved to Tucson, Az. Then off to Pennsylvania, then Vilseck, Germany. While in Germany I learned so much about life, and how different it could be. I lived in a military community, but was out on the economy. I learned that being an officer’s kid wasn’t cool to the enlisted kids, had to learn how to fist fight boys and girls, in order to just make it home from the bus stop. I learned to speak German and made many German friends, which would help me in later years.

My Dad was then stationed at the Pentagon and I relearned American society at the age of 11. I came back wearing Toughskins and whatever could be ordered from the Sears catalog, which was not popular in the US. Living in the DC area has been and always will be the core of who I am. I learned that being true to who you are and intelligence was a priority in my life. I also envied people who grew up in the same place their whole lives. I always had the 3 year plan to change my friends and surroundings. I did not learn the skills for long term relationships until a much later age, and sometimes still revert to the feeling that everything is temporary.

For college I went back to Hays, Ks, moved to Tucson for college as well, moved back in with my parents at Ft. Knox, Ky and then married a man in the Army. We then moved back to Vilseck, Germany, Ft. Hood, Tx and then back to Ft. Knox. Everywhere twice.

I think the positives from being an army brat were the adaptive abilities that I learned; making friends easily, making a home wherever I land, I have seen the world and realize how fortunate we are as Americans and understaing that nothing is permanent.  The negatives are; there is no location that I call home, everything is temporary (so I always expect some end), I can see the bigger picture and have a hard time with people who are extremely narrow minded, I do not feel connected to any one community.

Edward Dixon

The yearning to find my home, yet a longing to finally settle down. Two separate feelings in conflict with each other. A deep-down aching for a home that no longer exists. Childhood friends that have been forgotten. Blissfully unaware of the protests taking place just outside the entrance to Naha AB, Okinawa. An unspoiled paradise which yielded countless adventures for a young boy. Memories that are hazy, almost like a dream. My very first crush was my babysitter, Wanda Jean. She would take me to see the new Elvis movies. While mind cannot recollect most of my experiences on Okinawa, my heart remembers fondly. Old photographs validate this place that filled my life with joy and wonder.

One of my favorite memories is of our friend and housekeeper, Hatsuko Teruya. She made the best fried rice I have ever tasted, even to this day. She also saved me from numerous spankings and other various punishments. Our two families would often celebrate holidays together. I also remember exploring the caves, both on-base and off. It was a time when kids could venture out on their own, without the fear of strangers. My favorite song was “Lola” by the Kinks. It wasn’t until years later that I would understand the twist ending of the song! Year after year, I would tell my parents that we would make the trip back to Okinawa, to visit our old “stomping grounds.” Dad passed away in 2012, putting an abrupt end to that dream. Maybe it’s just as well. I don’t think I would care to see the “progress” that’s taken place over the past 45 years…

William Clarke

USAF Brat! Yes I Am!

I was born into the United States Air Force in November of 1961. The base was Hamilton AFB. The location was across the bay of San Fransico. My memories that I were to recall was a few years later in the mid 1960’s. Being a little beyond 50 some of this memories are fading a little and that maybe expected.

Being a “military brat” from my perspective looking back as I recall is that I never really had “friends” like “civilian” kids did. We like all military families would move around the country and parts of the world. Here’s the Clarke family in order. I was born at Hamilton AFB. Then were moved somewhere my dad got his collage degree at the University of Omaha. Then we went to Lackland AFB where dad went OCS where he was a “Mustang”.

From Lakeland AFB we went to Blytheville AFB. My brother was born there in 1963. Then onto Kessler AFB. We were there for a year or two then dad got orders the Clark AFB , Republic of the Philippines. During this time I entered first grade I think. This is when I was with my fellow brats like this and not know we had things in common. Don’t forget the country was going through civil rights time yet as I recall my “friends” were different colors and I did not care. We were all the same as kids.

After leaving Clark dad had orders back to Keesler AFB. My memories as I recall were a few things. I recall the segregated south off base. Once again I had many “friends” of all shades. Living in the South as I recall was an interesting time. We were there when Mississippi was burning. I recall mom being really nervous during the time of the civil rights advocates being murdered. My mom was nervous this time
and now I know why.

Then in the late 60’s we moved to Altus AFB. We were there until 1972 I think. I was the longest place we stayed at till then. I remember going to school and having many “friends” in school. I remember all the tornado drills at school since we lived in tornado country. That was fun time looking back.

Then the Clarke family would go to the final duty station(s) in Washington D.C kind of. Dad would be stationed all over the Virginia, D.C area. I don’t think he had a office in Maryland with the exception of Bolling AFB. The Clarke family would live in Northern Virgina better known as Chantilly. We lived in two new housing developments called Greenbriar and Brookfield just outside of Washington DC.

Being in “military schools” where things were normal and coming into the public school system was looking back a great challenge. Everyone was caucasian. At the time I did not make much of it until years later. When I was going to Greenbriar West and Brookfield Elementary schools. I once more just had people that I would consider
just “friends” but not “real” friends like civilian kids.

Then after Brookfield Elementary I went to Chantilly Intermediate and spent the 7th to 12 grade there. Those were the formative years for me, I guess. I would be considered a loner not having friends but just “acquaintances” from those years at Chantilly.

Those years though looking back were fun though I felt being a military brat may have had it’s drawbacks even to this day. Not having people my life I can relate to on anything on what was and is going on. Having a true home other then the life of going to place to place and seeing many people. Being a military brat had it great pluses. Making “friends” for a short times then when going to other places making new “friends” right away knowing the “friends” that you meet are in the same boat your in.

To this days I don’t really have “friends” bust just “acquaintances”. My ex-wife would complain all the time why I did not have “friends” because of where I worked. I had to explain to her my upbringing as a military brat that is was really not in my way of life because of my younger days as a military brat.

I think being a military brat we may look things differently because of the environments we lived in. I did not have much even though things as a military brat we were “rich” in seeing new places as an adventure in seeing new place and people. Looking back it was great with all it small problems but that made me stronger today.