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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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Canadian Military Brat

by Brandi U.

Being a base brat had many hard times, but many benefits as well. I moved 9 times in my childhood and went to 9 different schools. My education was all over the board which only really showed up for me when I went to college.

My parents had multiple affairs that led to their separation when I was nine. I went to live with my Dad which had its own issues. The military was not set up for single parent families. The men would go on courses away for months sometimes. I was the oldest which meant that I had to take care of a lot of household stuff like making food, laundry, cleaning and watching my younger sister and brother. When Dad was on a course my elderly grandmother would watch us, which was not a lot of supervision. I would run a bit wild in those days.

The other big issue the military presented was an environment that bred alcoholism. As a recruit you were required to drink at mess dinners and all celebrations were alcohol related. My father became an alcoholic when I was really young. He was functional but it did end in me becoming a codependent as I got older. I had to attend groups to understand and undo some of the issues that come from being a child of an alcoholic and dysfunctional parent.

I also had to do work on the abandonment of my mother. My dad left for six months, (before the internet and Skype), on a course called the “marriage breaker,” which proved to be the final straw that broke my parent’s marriage. They both engaged in other relationships and my mother left my father when he came home from it.

Some of the good things about being a base brat is I learned very quickly how to meet people. I also knew at least one person everywhere we went. It changed how kids related to people. We learned how to make strong connections quickly. Another huge benefit was the trips we got to take. I got to travel through Europe when I was seven because we were posted to Germany. I also got to travel through most of the States and Canada because when we got posted the military gave us the option of how to travel. My Dad would always pick car so we could have a really long vacation. We slept in some great hotels and saw many U.S. landmarks. It was a great experience. His DND card made things easier. He got a lot of military discounts and we were able to go to the base hospitals for free.

I wouldn’t change my childhood but I also wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I am glad some of the policies have changed to help the military kids find some more stability. It was not easy for kids only ever having half a family when the men, ( or in some cases women), were sent away. But I am glad I got to be part of a beautiful community of people that always had your back.

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.

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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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John Thames

Man, Where do I begin?

I think I am the typical military brat. My father was in Vietnam when I was born and my mother had moved to Mississippi to be close to my father’s parents while pregnant with me and having my older sister.

After I was born we bounced back and forth from Virginia to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois then back to Mississippi where I stayed for kindergarten. From there it was Ft. Meade, Maryland, then to Ft. Bliss, Texas. After Texas things got interesting. We moved to Cairo, Egypt and were there from ’80 to early ’83, where I had the unfortunate experience of sitting 10 rows behind Anwar Sadat when he was assassinated.

I was 12 and had asked my mom if I could go with a buddy of mine whose dad was an Army helicopter instructor pilot. My mom said ask your dad when he calls, (he was on TDY in Germany). He called, I asked, and he said, “no absolutely not.” I told my mom he said, “yes,” and I went. The rest is literally history. Myself and Jaime saw everything right down to the fact that the only people shooting back were Prince Charles’ bodyguards. We obviously made it out of there only to be interrogated by the State Dept. once we finally made it back to the embassy.  They kept us at the embassy for a couple of weeks and my father wasn’t allowed back in the country for a little bit, but the smoke blew over and we left after school got out in ’83.

From there Germany, I lived and graduated high school in Stuttgart from ’83 to ’88. I traveled extensively throughout Europe skiing and Eurorailing…  I would never give up who, how, or where I grew up. The kids I grew up with I consider family. As a matter of fact, we just had a Patch High School reunion in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Representatives from ’83 through ’93 were there and we got together like we never left.

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.