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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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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.

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