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People Are the Only Home the Army Issues

My name is Ashlee Cowles, and I am an Army brat and author. My father was in the military for the first 18 years of my life, and this experience has shaped who I am more than any other. I spent most of my high school years in Wurzburg, Germany, which gave me an international perspective and love for Europe as a second home. As an adult, I went back to Germany to work at the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch, and I’ve also lived in Spain, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, all thanks to the military brat travel bug! My closest friends to this day are other brats from my time in Germany, and even though we now live on opposite sides of the U.S., we stay in touch and “pick up where we left off” whenever we get to see each other.

As a high school teacher at an online school that works with military brats, and as an author of Young Adult literature, one of the things I am most passionate about is highlighting the strengths of a military kids and other TCKs, as well as the privileges that come with this wonderful upbringing. Yes, it can be a hard life at times, but I’m so grateful for the resilience, grit, and other character strengths this lifestyle instilled in me from any early age. Instead of people feeling bad for military kids because we have to move so much, I want the civilian world to recognize the unique characteristics and gifts people from our diverse military community possess, as I strongly believe they are characteristics our increasingly fractured and amoral world is in great need of today.

This is one of the main reasons I wrote BENEATH WANDERING STARS (Merit Press, August 2016), a novel about a military brat named Gabi who is called to take part in a grand adventure while she’s living overseas in Germany. Through this work of fiction, I wanted to tell the real story of life as a military brat, with all its ups and downs. There hasn’t really been a mainstream novel about military brats since Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini, so I wanted to focus on the more recent experiences of post-9/11 brats. My hope is that this story will not only resonate with current military teens, but also expose the broader culture to the experiences and sacrifices of military families.

One of my favorite lines from the book is “People are the only home the Army issues…but they’re the only home that matters”–as I’ve found this to be very true in my own life. I’m sure I will always be a wanderer who never feels “at home” in one particular place, but military life has given me a home in all the wonderful people I’ve been fortunate to know!

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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.

Loretta Brown

Wouldn’t know where to start so… will make a long story short “if” possible:

Our 24 year active duty U.S. Army Dad from Anderson, Indiana was a WWII, Korean & Vietnam hero to my family. He met our mom TDY in Athens. Then stationed at bases as follows: My sister and I born in Izmir, brother born in Madrid, Chicago, Ft. Meade, Maryland, Istanbul, Yuma Proving Grounds, Athens (Dad was in Vietnam), Germany, Oakland Army Base, SF Presidio. After he retired he worked another 24+ years civil service for the military, we moved back to Athens for a few years. Oakland Army Base & Alameda Naval Air Station.

Not to gross anyone out but at Oakland Army Base we could smell foulness from the huge warehouses, our Dad waited until we moved off base to tell us those were soldiers from Vietnam, then they were sent to their homes, not enough refrigeration for them all. Sad facts.

Our family bounced around born & raised on bases across the States and Europe. I dated and married Air Force, was in Germany then Edwards AFB in California. My sister also married AF and now lives in Florida.

Although no longer living the military life. It doesn’t just go away, I have so many memories I hold dear to my heart, met friends around the world and kept them.

When stationed overseas, the joy of entering the bases was a fantastic feeling got our hearts pumping to see the water tower, guards at gate, American flag & green grass. I called it mini-America. Stars & Stripes were our hangout for comic books. Although we were never wealthy, we were rich with experience of different languages, cultures and appreciation for people from all over.

Lost our Dad Ken and baby brother Kenny 2 years ago. Although civilians, our Mom, sister and I still feel like we served with our Dad. We come from a family who are very proud US Army Brats and Americans!

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Patrick Odell Kornegay

I was born in Weisbaden, Germany on July 7, 1949. We left Germany when I was three months old. We were flown back, because I had a bronchial infection. My parents were told that I would not live if we went by ship. My early years we moved many times. By the time I was seven we had been stationed in, California, Texas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Alaska. I learned how to make friends and how to adjust to moving.This part of my life taught me how to meet people start relationships and make friends all at the same time.

I remember we traveled from Pennsylvania to Texas in our 1954 Desoto. On this trip I brought a baby chicken that traveled in the car with us. What a trip that was. I remember mother making sandwiches and wrapping them in foil and putting them under the hood of the Desoto to keep them warm. Dad was the kind of man that didn’t believe in stopping except for gas. Then you did your business, unless you were a boy. Then you got the coke bottle and filled it up and threw it out the window. As a kid I slept in the back window, with windows down because there was no air conditioning at that time.

I remember watching the Sputnick in the sky while we were stationed in Fairbanks. Breaking my arm and no one could fix it. So we had to drive to Ladd Army Base and let Dr. Right fix me up. He did a great job considering it was broken at the elbow. While we were stationed in Alaska, It became a state… a lot of celebrating going on then. We then ended up in White Sands, New Mexico. After that we ended up back in San Angelo, Texas. There Dad retired.

But life as I knew it was just beginning. Dad took a job with a company contracted by the gov’t. We ended up in Ankara, Turkey. That was in my teenage years. It was the best years of my life. I met so many brats and made so many friends that I still have today. It also allowed me to live in another country and learn their customs and language. I spoke the language fluently and my father asked me to translate what he wanted his Turkish workers to do. I formed so many relationships with my Turkish friends, and had so many wonderful times. I used to travel all over Ankara by myself at the age of 15. I never had any problems and was treated with respect. I believe this was due to my Turkish. There are so many stories to tell, experiences, and friendships that I created I don’t know if there is enough room or if you would want to hear. I will tell you this, the Turkish people as a whole were some of the best people that I ever met. I met them on their ground, learned their language, respected their customs. I never wanted to leave to come back to the States.

By the time I had graduated from George C. Marshall Regional High School in Ankara, I had lived most of my life going from post to post. Ankara, Turkey was where I had lived the longest, 5 years! Add the 5 years in Ankara and the 2 years in Alaska before it became a state. That’s seven years of my 18 of overseas. As I said my formidable years were in Turkey. I made so many friends in high school and to this day we have a connection that no one can take away, that no one understands, except brats…….I will always be a brat. The one thing our family learned was on his deathbed, Dad confessed he had been working for the CIA. We were all stunned… he never let on. My sister found a little black book with crypto in it. It was such an important part of the world at that time with the Cold War and such. But I was so naive and unassuming. I have so much more and so many more stories. But this is have enjoyed. Thanks so much.

Jennifer Trippeer

It was a very hot, early July weekday. We were at Ft. Knox, trying to be cool with our single window air conditioner. My Dad came home a little early that afternoon, dressed in his fatigues. We were all in the kitchen when Dad said, “I’ve just received orders to go to Vietnam.” Indeed, you could have heard a pin drop.. Then there were tears, hugs,and loud voices. My Mom went to their bedroom, my 13 year old sister, sprinted out the door. I was sitting on top of the washer and through tear filled eyes looked at my Dad and realized how this news affected him as well. Then we hugged in silence.

Time to pack up and move again, as that aspect of our lives continued at its normal rate. That was all that was normal. Going to a new school was typical but it was a civilian school, would they know other Army BRATs, or would I stick out as a peculiar entity?

Dad was off for training at Bragg and came home as often as he could. Those weekends were filled with family day trips, special meals, and were filled with the large elephant in the room, which none of us spoke of.

THE day arrived in the middle of October. Dad dressed in khakis, and the ladies of the family in their Sunday best. We arrived at Dulles early and we talked about the massive airport, did Dad have enough magazines to read, wondered what fare he’d be fed during the very long flight.

It was time to board the bus that would take him to the plane, and would take him away from the safety and love at home. Many hugs and kisses were exchanged with positive smiles as he boarded the bus. There is a photo in my head, taken with grieving eyes, of him standing at the back of the bus, smiling and waving good bye. No true photograph could be as clear as that one.

The plane was some distance away yet we stayed at the large glass windows waving and smiling until it took flight. Then the tears flooded our little group and we headed out to the car to drive home.

A year is made up of 365 days, and so began the countdown. Each marked another day closer to his return. A large map of Vietnam was placed near the front door. Other friends had also received orders that year so their places of assignment were marked as well as Dad’s. Every Friday with the evening news brought that week’s toll of killed, wounded for both sides of the war. How could so many die and still have a country?

School turned out to be wonderful and we made friends with so many. None were Military BRATs, but their lives were familiar with the moving every few years, so I was welcomed. At lunch every day, someone would call out, “How many days?” This referred to how many days until Dad’s return. I would reply immediately as those coming days had become more important than ever before.

Three weeks to go with Dad having enough combat hours to come home almost a week early. I think the anxiety was at its highest at this time because everyone knew that the short timers seemed to be at the greatest risk of injury or death. We did not talk about that, just held that angst to ourselves. Mom became very sick with s high fever that wouldn’t break. I placed her in the tub with cold towels to try and cool her, lots if iced drinks, aspirin every four hours around the clock. Was it possible I could lose both parents at the same time?

After two weeks, the fever was over and no negative word from Vietnam. Yes! Hope began to inch its way in. Then one afternoon, the doorbell rang. I looked out the peep hole and saw an officer dressed with ribbons galore. He had a stern look and then I began to cry. No, not this close to his return home! No, it just can’t be. I called out for Mom to come to the door as I opened it.

It was a friend of the family who had just returned home. But all I saw through the peep hole was a military officer with likely bad news. I think my heart might have stopped briefly as all the possibilities flooded my mind.

Each day crept by slowly until we returned to Dulles to be reunited with Dad. We were each dressed in what we thought would please Dad most. The parking lot was pretty full but the excitement that filled our beings, was not phased by the added distance to walk. We approached the escalators which would take us to the appropriate floor. Tugging at our dresses, running our fingers through our hair in order to look our best for the next 30 minutes when Dad would arrive. I was the first on that escalator as my excitement was barely contained.

As we created the top, what to my wondering eyes was another Army officer. Then I saw his face and it was Dad! I don’t remember running to him, but I did and we shared the biggest hug! Thrilled, happy, excited barely describe the emotions that flooded our reunion. Words were spoken but not really heard, as jumped up and down.

New orders were in hand, and we’d be packing for our next home. New school to deal with, new friends to make, new home to make our own. These days, and perhaps then as well, all the changes might seem daunting to a civilian family, even fearful for parents and students alike. For me, the routine was welcomed as Dad came home with no physical trauma, so no matter what may come, we were a family again.

Michael Rueter

This is to honor My Son’s sacrifices to our country.

As a US Merchant Marine returning home from a Marine Corps pre positioning ship. I asked my son’s teacher if she might mention April as Military Brat month. I had hoped she might point out the sacrifice these young soles make for us all. I thought she might, in some way, point out my son’s part in the defense of our country. She was not receptive, pointing out the fact that I am not active military, and she would be right.

I stand watch on military support vessels, be it the Marine Corps, Navy, or Army. I am not active duty. My son Gabriel, sees me 1/3 of the time. 2/3rd, I am away from home, on watch. Gabriel is dual citizenship American and Philippine. He has attended school in Saipan, Philippines, and Texas. He has no base housing or support groups to convey any sense of community. None of his classmates know what it’s like to say goodbye to their fathers so often for so long, 2, 4, and sometimes 6 months at a time. And sadly, to no fault of his own, he is denied the badge of honor that is “Military Brat.”

I once knew life as a Military Brat for a brief time in high school. Mother served in the Army. I am proud to have this honor. Thank you for allowing me my voice.

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