Military Brat

I’ve written a time or two before about how Frank and I are military brats. Before landing here in ’90, I never spent more than 1.5 years at any one school due to moving around so much. Frank has a similar track record. Yesterday someone started a “You’re Probably a Military Brat If…” group on Facebook. Sitting side-by-side on separate laptops, Frank and I blew most of last night reading and posting to that thread. People across the country and the world felt like kindred spirits, all because we share this bond of being military brats. It felt like meeting up with old classmates and reminiscing on “the good old days:”

You’re probably a military brat if:

  • …someone asks where you’re from and you don’t know what to say. 
  • …you remember the AFN commercials and the AFN wave. 
  • …you went to all the dances at the DYA and remember when they started calling it the AYA or CYA or YCA.
  • …wish you had some spaghetti ice RIGHT NOW.
  • …know that American Haribo is nowhere near as good as German Haribo.
  • …couldn’t wait to get your ID card. 
  • …you think it’s weird when people are born and raised in the same place.
Statements similar to these received many Likes and additional comments. But the ones that made the most impact and were heavily commented upon said something to this effect:
  • …racism baffles you because you grew up with friends of all colors.
  • …that you were shocked at how kids in your stateside/civilian school didn’t hand out with kids from other races. 
  • …if you didn’t choose your friends by their color or their culture. 
When you’re a military brat, you never have to worry about being the “new kid,” because we were all perpetual new kids, often coming and going in the middle of school years. You don’t really see the de facto segregation that is prevalent in most schools today. In the Facebook group, many of us discussed how our first experience in a civilian school was nothing short of culture shock.
That year came for me in 6th grade. We’d moved from Frankfurt, Germany to Orlando, Florida. Aside from attending private school in 1st grade,  it was my first experience in a school that was in no way attached to a military base or had military children in attendance. It was also the first time I had ever experienced any sort of discrimination or racism. Ironically, that maltreatment came at the hands of other African-American children. I was relentlessly teased. I was called an Oreo and a wannabe (as in, wanna be White). The way I spoke (“Why you talk so damned PROPER?”) and the way I dressed (“Why you dress White?”) were easy targets. The fact that I was smart didn’t help matters much. I’d already finished the highest Reading curriculum they had available at the school in the year before in Germany. I was stuck at this little table in the corner of my English class working on some stupid speed-reading drills that my teacher gave me to do independently because she didn’t know what else to do with me (“She think she better than us with her stuck up ass”). That girl who didn’t have any friends whose name (in conjunction with disgusting words and pictures) was smeared all over the bathroom walls? That was me.
I was no different then than I was the year before. I went from having lots of friends and never feeling self-conscious about myself to being a nobody who tried her damndest to melt into the walls.
I’d always felt alone in that experience, like I was the only one who’d suffered from such a stark contrast between that safe, accepting military life and the reality of situations in which people reject, rather than embrace, people’s differences. This is not to say that this type of intolerance occurs in  all civilian schools; I know that my experience was largely due to the location of this particular school. But, last night it became quickly apparent that I wasn’t the only military brat who’d endured something similar. Military brats from all races and cultures discussed being made to feel like outsiders in civilian schools, having been set apart as “less than” because they were White, Black, Asian, a Pacific Islander, etc. Of course as we grew up, we adapted – because that’s part of what being a military brat is. We adapted and learned that we were not less.
I think last night, many of us learned that we were more. I’ve always been proud to be a military brat, but that pride rose to a completely new level in the midst of that solidarity. We lived it, we learned from it, and now we pass it on. We are better people because of it – not better than anyone else, but better versions of our individual selves.
We are not, and never were – alone. We are family.
You’re probably a military brat if you know you’ll always be one.

8 thoughts on “Military Brat”

  1. El Cinco's Gran-Gran

    Ah yes… the year we got to Orlando. Whew, what a ride. I never knew how difficult it was for you until years later. That is… all of the details of what happened. I knew when you told me, “I won’t live another year if you don’t get me out of that school” it was bad. I put you in private school the following school year.

    I knew there was no way in hell I was going back to Chicago with you ladies and I was so glad when we went to the Ville and had Ft. Stewart. You all flourished and I’m so glad you’re Army brats fo life!

  2. I was an oil company brat, not military. We moved about every two years and no one wears uniforms. But I have the same problem with not knowing what to say when someone asks me where I am from. I usually say “uh, well….” But I usually went to regular civilian schools. Except for one school which was an overseas American school and therefore populated with kids like me, I was always the odd one out and the new kid that no one would talk to. I do have to say that I do think that all those experiences did make me better, even if it was hard.

  3. I am not a military brat, but most of my best friends were. I grew up right next to a fairly large naval base. There were no schools on base, so all the kids went to the neighborhood schools.

    Like you, I never considered what someone looked like when choosing friends. It never occurred to me that there was such a thing as race until I was nearly a teenager. It just wasn’t on my radar. It blew my mind when I discovered not everyone thought like me on this topic.

    The hard part for me was that all my friends would eventually move away and I’d be heartbroken all over again. Some years, all my friends would move at the same time. I envisioned them going off to new adventures, yet I had to stay behind…alone.

  4. I was one of those people who stayed in the same place all the time. Which is good, because I would not have been capable of moving around all the time. I’m sorry you were introduced to the cruelty of kids in that manner. It’s totally unfair.

  5. The capacity of children for cruelty is astonishing. I’m sorry that you had to experience it, but I agree that it helped make you the amazing person you are today (although it sounds like your mom had a lot to do with that, too).

    What the heck is spaghetti ice?

  6. Wow, this is like a whole new way of life!

    PS: I simply love your blog. been reading for a long time. ut been a lurker. I nominated you for an award (not that you need one)

  7. what you have to say about the relationship of military brats to race, by the way, is exactly why i’m so glad DADT is finally going down in flames. (um, as it were.) it’s so exciting to me to think of the military’s awesome powers of social integration being applied to sexual orientation, too.

  8. I’m a brat, too! We stayed in the last place my dad was stationed, so I didn’t get the moving around experience after age 6 or so, but I had the great multi-cultural experience that was growing up in a military town. My mom would tell me that other places weren’t like our town, but I had to move away to believe her.

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