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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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“Home”

Home. What is it about this place that so many people seem to find so fascinating and dear to their hearts. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros wrote a brilliant song by this title. In Kevin Smith’s iconic religious lambast of a film Dogma, the characters Bartleby and Loki are casted out angels who are so excited to have found a loophole back to heaven, their “home.” More recently, in the hit Netflix series “Narcos,” Pablo Escobar stares out the window of his plane recently departed from Panama, now looking over the hillside of Colombia, while he stares in awe of his “home,” in which he swears he will never leave once again. Home. It is so important to so many people.

But then there are some of us who don’t quite grasp the reality of “home.” The select group who were destined to realize that the idea of home is nothing more than where you lay your head on that very day, and at a moment’s notice, everything you have known and grown used to will soon be diminished and cast away in the name of a cause you may not quite understand. I’m obviously speaking towards the idea of being a military child, as the reasons for submitting these words in this forum so obviously demand. The military child is a unique one to say the least. In fact, to simply use the term “unique” is probably unfair and misleading. And such is the idea of “home” to so many military children who will watch a television show or movie, or better yet speak to a local native of wherever they are currently stationed about what it is like in one certain place, their home, and have completely no idea what the hell they are talking about. What is home?

I could probably provide thousands of examples of how the idea of “home” is so obscure and tyrannical to the military child. But, really, I need to look no further than this very project. When asked to provide information about myself, there are asterisks that denote required fields. Two required fields are a city and state. While these asterisks are completely justified to suit the cause of this project as a whole, it actually proves very relevant to the idea that even those involved with and seem to care about the plight of the military child, can miss small nuances of what it means to be a “military brat.” At this current time in my life, now 30 years old and raising three beautiful military brats of my own, I reside at Naval Station Rota, Spain. There was no option for me to put this location, as a “state” was required. Even to this day, as a military brat turned military member, my identity is to say the very least, confusing. I did manage to come up with the city and state of Kelso, Washington. A place that I actually call my “home,” but mostly for technical reasons.

So with this lengthy introduction, I guess I can begin to tell the real story that I hope will somehow bring me back to the idea of “What is Home, really?”

I was born in Longview, Washington (across the river from Kelso, just to get that out of the way) to a couple of teenagers who had a bit too much fun in the 80’s around prom season and ended up with a lifelong commitment in the form of a child. It happens. My father knew pretty quickly that a life in the Air Force could provide the stability that his young son and high school age bride would need in order provide a healthy life. So he enlisted. At the age of 9 months old, I was taken from my “home” of Kelso, Washington, and I would not return for another 10 years and change to live in the lumber economy filled city of which I came, under dire circumstances.

As I have learned with my own children who are military brats, you become hardened pretty early on in your life to the idea of moving on. You make friends, they move on. Friends come to you, you move on from them. In this day and age of social media, you may actually be able to hold onto these friends, and maybe meet up again from time to time. But for me, living the life from the mid 80’s to the late 90’s, it wasn’t entirely possible unless you (or your parents) really wanted to try. But, as most military brats know, we developed a bit of apathy very early on when we began to accept that we may never see these people ever again. it was just a part of our lives.

Out of all fairness, I feel like I should explain that I do believe that I have a “home.” In 1996, I was forced to move back to Kelso, Washington with my mother as my father was set to complete a short tour at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. Unfortunately, this would prove the demise of my parent’s marriage, and I would continue to reside in a town that was once known as Little Chicago until I was legally able to get out. So, in retrospect, I am not sure if I completely translate into a real “military brat.” But, I feel as though I do. I went to more elementary schools than there are actual grades to be in, experienced the drama of several PCS moves, and still wonder what happened to the friends I once had and held so dear at one point in my life. But, I do sort of have a home. In my 30 years on earth, I have actually spent 13 of them in the state of Washington (Kelso, Tacoma, Kelso again, and Spokane, respectively in time). I met my wife in Kelso. I always seem to return there, and I always seem to return there for leave and holiday excursions. So this must be my home. And in this respect, maybe I am more lucky that most people who will submit to this wonderful project. Yet, I still can’t quite grasp the sense of “home,” that I can’t help but come back to throughout this explanation.

As I mentioned previously, I jumped at the idea of leaving my life at “home” as soon as I could. I graduated from Kelso High School, married my high school sweetheart, and was at the Air Force Basic Military Training in San Antonio, Texas within 3 weeks. And I have not looked back since. This may say a bit about the trauma of being a military brat. Maybe we are always looking for a way out of wherever the hell we are, and we need it fast. Or maybe I just saw the military as a brilliant way to get a life started, all the while having all sorts of people telling me what to do and why I should move on from where I came. And I know that the military brat turned military member is not entirely original. I have met dozens since I joined a dozen years ago.

And with this, I know that my story is not entirely unique. I could mention more about my time in the country of Turkey when my mother and I had to evacuate due to terrorist threats, or that even more interesting time that Boyz II Men came to shoot a music video in the White Sands of New Mexico when we were station at Holloman AFB. But, I think the idea that those of us who were military children will always lack an idea of “home,” even if some end up in my state of being where we have some sort of place that we can call home, because maybe we were born there. We still don’t quite understand this idea of “home,” but we can have something to call our own if we want to.

My real trials and tribulations come when I think about my own children. Two of my children were born in Rapid City, South Dakota. I constantly have to tell them that this is not of any real importance, the idea of where you are born. I go with the “you are who you are” or “home is where the heart is” or something equally as corny and disconcerting. I’m not sure if they buy it. I know I wouldn’t. But, it’s the best I can do. My third child was born in Spokane, Washington, so it makes it a bit easier to describe “home.”

I don’t really understand what it means to be a military brat, or even what it means to raise a military brat. It is a complex and disconcerting way of life, but I do believe it builds a certain character that is unlike most children. I certainly believe the psychological effects have to be astonishing to most scholars. It can make us stronger and weaker all at the same time. I truly believe that most military children are ready for anything, at a moments notice. Just as their parents are sure to understand.

So, as a man who grew up as a military child, and is raising 3 military children, but also sort of “grew up” in the civilian sector, I can definitely understand the complexities of this way of life. And with that, I feel as though the idea of “home” is by the far one of the greatest concerns affecting the lives of our military children. But, hey, no one can deny that they are some of the toughest people on the planet. They didn’t sign up for this, but the endure it with a sense of pride and “we can do it” attitude that this courageous and admirable. There are no children like military children. No contest. They make their own “home.”

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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