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Social Media a Game Changer for Modern Brats

By Lauren B. Stevens

Somewhere among my boxes of childhood mementos is an old, paper pencil box. Affixed to the inside of the pencil box is my classroom schedule from fourth grade, and neatly stacked within that box are all of the letters from my pen pals; in the 1980s, P.O. Boxes were exchanged, rather than Twitter handles or email addresses, so that we brats could stay in touch.

The first year after moving, letters would fly back and forth; friends remaining behind at a station sharing details of how life was carrying on after you’d left, while you described your new home by comparing it to your old. I remember receiving photos from friends in middle school, feeling a pang of jealousy, a heaviness in my gut, seeing my former friends dressed for a dance, while I was miserable and hiding out in my bedroom back in the States.

I missed the freedom of living on a base, and I especially missed having all of my friends within walking distance. Not only was I experiencing culture shock, having spent the previous eight years in Europe, I was having a difficult time dealing with the transition from enclosed base-living to off-base civilian life.

Moving after the start of the school year is always challenging, but I’m unsure how much easier the transition would have been, having been placed in a civilian school with kids who had known each other since their diaper days. I struggled to make friends, and was teased relentlessly for being different — at ten years old, I was a tomboy who loved to play for hours outdoors, while my new classmates were more interested in hair and makeup. I missed the slow, tranquil life of the English countryside, where we were allowed to remain kids for much longer than our Stateside counterparts.

I still hadn’t made a place for myself, or a solid group of friends, before we moved two years later. I again faced the challenges of moving and starting school after the beginning of the school year. My father was transitioning out of military life, so we were all challenged with this particular move. Seeing those pictures of my friends from England was definitely bittersweet, and my letter box became more worn as I read through my friends’ letters for comfort.

In high school, I’d finally made a place for myself, having shaken-off the awkwardness of those middle school years. By my senior year, I was only in contact with one of my elementary school friends, and I remember us sharing our phone numbers in a letter exchange. I no longer remember who initiated the phone call, or why it had taken so many years to talk on the phone, but we we were likely driven to chat because we knew that our lives would be taking many turns once we left high school.

Almost ten years after playing together in England, I got to speak with my old friend, and I remember being struck by her southern accent, something that never stood out to me as a child. Perhaps the accent didn’t exist at that time, or maybe it went unnoticed, as so many seemingly insignificant details did, in our lives stationed abroad.

There was talk about our high school days, and plenty of discussion about our plans for the future, with a few awkward pauses sprinkled throughout. I remember having a warm feeling in my belly, a contented feeling of having connected with a friend from a past I revered.

The Internet began to pick up momentum while I was in college, and it seemed almost everyone was a member of some type of chat group of message board; this was about the time I discovered online Brat registries, linking long-lost friends across time and continents. When I found the registry for my base in England, I was excited to see some of my old friends registered, eagerly reading every post to get a feel for the place I still consider home.

The old message boards were clunky, and not especially conducive to lengthy conversations and connectedness. However, names I’d not thought of in years were now on my radar, which came in handy once Facebook began opening up to the masses, years later.

For many, Facebook is a lifeline for connection, and for a Brat, it has helped many stay connected, despite our transient lives. As someone who freelances for a living, I spend a great deal of time in Facebook groups, networking with other writers and editors, and landing jobs along the way — it’s integral to my career.

Years ago I stumbled upon a Facebook group dedicated to the small base where I lived in England. In this group, I was able to reconnect with so many friends from my past, and I am extremely grateful that social media has allowed us to connect. I know what’s going on in my old friend’s lives, watching their careers and families grow; it’s interesting to see where we are spread across both the States and in Europe, as well as to watch how and where many of us move (and move often).

The handful of brats who still live in the area often post pictures, as the old RAF base continues its new life as a small village. Year after year, hangars and buildings come down, making way for more development or areas of green. We even have some locals in our Facebook group, more than happy to answer questions, snap photos of our old homes, and even avail themselves as guides when we make it over to visit. The base holds such a rich history, and it’s uplifting to see the locals understand just how much their village means to so many, and how accommodating they are when we visit — some have even allowed us to come into their homes!

Seeing other brats share their experiences revisiting their childhood home has made it much easier for me to plan a trip back over. Knowing that the locals are welcoming eases my mind, as I plan to take a literal trip down memory lane with my family next year. All of this…connection…is possible because of social media, and I’m incredibly grateful for it!

Cathy Dale Glowacz

My first memory began in 1960 living on base in Japan looking out at Mt. Fuji every morning when eating breakfast, I was either in kindergarten or 1st grade. We took Japanese culture classes to learn to speak Japanese and to learn their ways. It was fun dressing up in kimonos and having tea on “girls day”. After living through a typhoon we skip forward a couple of years, still on base but in a different house for some reason. I woke up one morning & my mom had left and returned to the states.

A year or so later we also returned to the states to live with our grandmother(my mom’s mother) in Ohio which was a disaster from day 1. I’m not sure why we couldn’t live with our Dad. We (little brother and sister) were treated terribly but I won’t go into detail. I was in 4th grade the day Kennedy was assassinated. After a series of abuse incidences I wrote to our Dad to let him know what was going on and he came and moved us to live with a neighbor of his sister’s in WV where we lived for 4 years during which time our Dad was sent to Viet Nam. When he returned he took us to live on base at Lakenheath in England. That was a turbulent time for me as I had made so many great friends and a 1st boyfriend in 7th grade and didn’t want to go.

I hated everything and was mad at the world, fell in with kids doing drugs to try to forget my hurt. I couldn’t deal with stuff so I asked my Dad if I could go live with my mom back in the states, so off I went but that didn’t work out so well either. Six months later I was back in England.

I made friends with a girl that lived on our block and that helped but then we started going out with the soldiers and that was a whole new chapter. I guess when you feel like nobody really wants you or cares about you then you look for attention wherever you can. My Dad was still broken up about my mom and just didn’t know what to do with our problems so he stayed on the golf course most of the time and we were left on our own.

After partying through my Jr. & Sr. year of H.S. I finally graduated and moved to the states to live with my mom again, found a job, got a car, made some terrible decisions, was lonely, miserable and suicidal at 20. Could never get into a serious relationship, drank to forget. At the age of 22 met the man I was to marry, turned my life into a positive and we were married 3 years later. I just wish that there had been someone on the base that I could’ve
talked to.

Although my relationship with my Dad was very strained, years later I look back on the short time we had together in Japan and England with great fondness. I truly believe that if my mom hadn’t left our lives would’ve taken a better turn. But you can’t relive the past and just need to look forward to what the future has for you.

My brother and sister have a real hard time maintaining a relationship, Between them both they have had about 7 marriages, if my memory is correct. It is quite sad that so many lives never reached their full potential.

 

Jessica Amos

I was born in England, and moved to an Air Force base just outside of Washington D.C. when I was three years old, with my American father and English mother. A few years later, we moved back to England, this time with my brother, who had been born in the States. And again, a few years later, (I was 9 this time) yet ANOTHER move. I was very lucky to be in one place for quite some time after that, until just before my senior year of high school, when my father retired from the military. I had barely enough time to get to know my new classmates, let alone the large extended family that I had on my father’s side, before going off to college. I feel as if they have this other little family; this other life and life experiences that they have shared with each other. I desperately wish that I had gotten the chance to share it with them.

Bi and Determined

by Katrina Watland

I am Norwegian. I am American. I am both, but not fully either. This is probably a familiar feeling for anyone who is bicultural, biracial, bilingual, bi-anything. It isn’t that you aren’t whole; it’s just that you aren’t wholly one thing. And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being “bi” has led me to feel quite comfortable as the “other.” The liberal blue in a sea of very conservative red. The short hair in the middle of flowing long locks. The American in Norway. The Norwegian in America.

I grew up rootless. Four weeks after being born in Norway, I moved to Germany. This was the beginning of many moves following my father’s career in the Department of Defense Dependent Schools. Included in our “European tour” were 5 years in Norway. I was almost 5 when we moved there and almost 10 when we left. During our other years in Europe, Norway served as our anchor point. Summers and Christmases were often spent there. In my rootlessness, Norway felt like the home of my childhood.

So, I was born in Norway. I lived there 5 years. That’s it. But with just that, I have an incredible pull to Norway. Maybe it’s more of a reaching or a deep-seated longing. Something to do with my soul. It’s certainly powerful, as I’m willing to uproot my family in order to respond to this call. In 1981 I boarded a plane in Oslo, Norway choking back tears as I moved from the only place I could remember living. In my mind, either because I had been told or because I made it up, I thought we were going to Alaska for one year and then would return to Norway. This, of course, never happened. Alaska was followed by Iceland and England and then I left home. But I have always known that I would return to Norway. I was determined to go back. And when I make up my mind to do something, I usually do it.

Even if it’s 32 years later.

Carole Piercy

I grew up in an Air Force family during the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. Prior to my 5th birthday, I’d lived in 5 states. Fortunately for me, I only moved a few times after that. We never lived on base. My dad was enlisted and in that day he wasn’t paid much, so we lived in a trailer. I never thought much of it as we always lived in clean parks and we got to take our house with us where ever we moved. (This helped a lot with the adjustment to a new environment.)

My dad went on several TDY’s which didn’t bother us, but he also spent a longer time in Japan and then 15 months in Vietnam. My mom was a very strong and independent women and our household was not disrupted by my dad’s absences. We missed him and looked forward to deciphering his handwritten letters, but, life went on. I do remember feeling, as a child, and somewhat to this day, that whenever I heard his snoring at night, I knew I was safe.

My sister was lucky as we spent her junior and senior high years in Kansas. She actually went on to live there for college and several years as a teacher. We moved to England at the beginning of my 9th grade year. I’d gone to a base school during my kindergarten and 1st grade years, but all civilian schools after that, so attending a base school again was a new experience for me. I really hadn’t associated with military kids my age, before. So each move I’d made in the past had a few months of adjustment to new kids. I wasn’t extremely shy, but it did take me awhile to become friends with people. The difference I felt with the military kids was that they accepted me more readily as a friend. No need to explain where I’d been before, why I moved a lot, why I couldn’t explain what exactly my dad did, why I didn’t have a home town…. Thanks to Facebook and our high school’s reunions, I have reconnected with a few of those classmates and good friends. I did get to graduate from my school (Upper Hayford, England) which is something I’d worried about. We originally were suppose to relocate back to the States after my junior year, but because my dad was going to retire the next year, they extended our stay.

My love for traveling began with our family road trips to visit all the relatives every summer and expanded when I was able to travel through school trips and Girl Scouts while I was in England. I developed a great appreciation for other cultures and the beauty of
different countries. Instead of moving around as an adult (I’ve lived in Guam for over 30 years) I’ve traveled around the world on extended vacations. This kind of wanderlust is directly attributed to my life as a military brat. When I visit my relatives who’ve grown up in small towns in the midwest, I marvel at the long time friendships they’ve
developed and the closeness they have with their other cousins, but, so many have a small view of the world’s peoples and I’m sad to say, a prejudice.

There are no memories of civilian kids treating me poorly or bullying me, by my move to Kansas in the 3rd grade, many of my classmates had know each other since kindergarten or before. So breaking into the friendship groups took awhile and I only really had one or two good friends. (None of whom I’m currently connected to.) My sister, on the other hand, is best friends with 2 girlfriends she’s known since junior high! Just different timing. The only negativity I felt as a military brat was during High School in the 70’s. With the Vietnam war going on (winding down) there were always bomb threats to our base and school. In fact, during my high school graduation at the Oxford Town Hall, someone phoned in a bomb threat. Except for a few families, we all stood our ground and as we expected, the threat was just that.

I believe that growing up military but living and going to off base schools for most of that time, gave me the ability to adjust well back to the States after 4 years away. Starting my college career helped as did having one of my best friends also move to the town my dad retired to. I also feel I am open to more varieties of personalities and cultures. (Of course living in a dorm and working in a fast food joint also helped develop those skills.)

My only regret really is that I wish we’d been stationed in other parts of the world more. I would have loved to learn other languages where I could use them daily. I did get to know some English people through Girl Scouts, but not on a daily basis. If we’d lived in a neighborhood without other Americans, (we lived off base, but in a housing development for folks from the base.) that would have increased my chance to become friends with English kids and get to understand the culture more.

Today’s military families have more support than we did from the military community. When the children’s moms and dads are deployed it’s more than likely to a war zone and this might happen many times over their life. Definitely scarier times. I’m glad the schools are better equipped than ours was, and that the service men and women are paid better. There’s still the moving around and making new friends, but I think, at least for enlisted families, economics are better.

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