A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted the following on facebook: “You know you’re a military brat when…” and the responses poured in from people all over the world. Many of the responses brought memories flooding back to me, like this one: “you still know your dad a.k.a. sponsor’s social security number by heart” and this one: “whenever someone asks you where you’re from, you take a deep breath and say ‘everywhere’—and mean it” and even this one about AFN radio: “It’s 10 o’clock in central Europe. Do you know where your children are?”
Others painted vivid pictures like this post from Adele: “If you rode an old Army bus to school for an hour and half one way…and spent more time with the people on it than your own family. If the smell of diesel never fails to bring back those times to you…” and this one from Hal: “When you’re three years old, you can go out to the street, watch the tanks drive by and “direct traffic”. (And the fun thing was that some of the tankers kind of followed your direction and saluted you…and you saluted back.)”
Only a few Brats posted sad memories, but those who did, spoke poignantly: Becky posted, “You ‘saved’ Christmas for over a month till Dad came home. Tree still up, lights still lit every night, one present opened up on Christmas Day, all the rest (for 4 kids) saved for the ‘real’ Christmas, the day you went and picked him up from the airport coming home from ‘Nam.” Ruth posted: “You just shake your head and bite your tongue when someone says, ‘oh I miss my husband/wife/child so much because they have been away for two days’ when you know from experience what it feels like to have a parent or spouse be gone for months at a time either TDY or to a war zone,” and this from Michael: “Making close friends came easy and fast and saying goodbye often meant forever.”
Saying “goodbye forever” is the norm for military families. Their nomadic lives dictate leaving friends and loved ones behind. “Forever” can be a little different now, thanks to cell phones, Scype and social networking, but still, military families deal with loss constantly. Death doesn’t only happen to the old and the infirm.
The military community is close-knit, and what impacts someone clear across the globe, often strikes right at home. Case in point: recently 31 US service members and 7 Afghan commandos and their civilian translator were killed when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.
In New Mexico, the news hit hard. Many of our friends knew some of the servicemen killed. One of them had a distant cousin on the chopper.
Many veterans I spoke to immediately after the incident said, “ I wished I could’ve died instead of those young kids. They had their whole lives in front of them. They were the best of the best”.
The tragedy brought a lot of us together to hoist a drink or two and to share stories. I am sure, across America, families and friends were toasting their fallen warriors.
When my husband went off to the first Gulf conflict, we had a long discussion about what to do if he was taken prisoner or was killed. How long should I wait for him if he was MIA or became a POW? Thankfully nothing bad happened, but to this day, I remember the conversation vividly. Military families have these kinds of conversations routinely.
At one duty assignment, I remember being handed a form requesting I list two or three people I would want to come with the authorities, should they have to notify me of my husband’s death. At the time, I couldn’t think of anyone I’d want to share my pain with, so I left the space blank.
Now, later, I realize that even though I left that space blank, the wives in our battery would have rallied around me, lifting me up, supporting me, even though I didn’t request it, because that is what we military spouses do. We take care of our own—even if we don’t know them or even like them very much. They are our family.
The experiences of the American military family deserve to be immortalized, alongside those of their warriors.
Please help preserve the precious stories of those who kept the home fires burning brightly through the long, dark days of American history.
Send your audio, video or written memories to firstname.lastname@example.org
Circe Olson Woessner, Executive Director