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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!

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.

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

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