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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): The New Military Brat

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The New Military Brat

Since I am one myself and raising two, I consider myself somewhat of an expert. Ha, got you there, didn't I! I am no expert, but I do know at least a little bit about the subject. So, of course I started thinking again...not too dangerously, just enough to wonder how things have changed and how this vagabond but structured lifestyle is going to affect our two boys.

Don't ask me what got me looking, but somehow, I found a library book entitled, Military Brats by Mary Edwards Wertsch. I put it on hold and got it last week. I did a double take when the librarian handed me the thing....it's heavier than a dictionary! My first thought was, "Man, how can there be so much be written on the subject?" and my second thought was "Oh God, this stuff must really be dry". Well, much of the stuff is psycho analyzing bullsh*t in there and yes, it is dry, but it got me thinking about my own life. On a positive note, the book has many stories and quotes from military brats, and it made me look back fondly on my own time as one.

I was born in Germany, shortly before my dad deployed to Vietnam. He ended up spending two separate tours there, once as a tanker (cavalry) and then again as a helicopter pilot (Air Cav). Obviously, I don't remember much about those early years, other than poking around at some little salamanders in the stream behind my German grandparents' house. Our first military move was to the US, where the only language I spoke was German at 6 years old. I also promptly got lost my first time in a big department store in New York City no less. If it wasn't for the little old Jewish man, who marveled at my German and helped me find my mom, Lord knows where I would be today!

My mom and I dutifully moved with my dad. I distinctly remember being dropped off at the CDC, or whatever it was called back in those days. We used to have lots of "quiet time" on mats when the hours dragged on. When I was older, my little brother joined me there too. I guess my parents liked to go out a lot. The "old Army" had lots of parties, drinking opportunities and official events, as mentioned in this Army Brats book. The Army had a different mentality back then...not all good, but it was a more grand and social thing than it is today.

As I got even older, I found that even though I knew I would miss my friends, I would get antsy about being in a place too long. I would get excited about experiencing and seeing new things. Even though I am an introvert, I looked forward to making new friends, and I know if I wasn't thrust into new situations like I was, I probably would not have been as successful in life, knowing my true personality.

I also grew up to love traveling and trying new things, and my best friend became whatever big novel I could get my hands on. I think all this moving around directly influenced my love of reading. As far as school and grades, I guess I am one of the lucky ones. It can be difficult, but the experience can make you more flexible and determined, all which will help you out later in life. I did have friends who had trouble adjusting, or their grades didn't carry over well or especially in high school, they sometimes had different class requirements at their new school and had to double up. But, most were able to get through this phase and many went on to some of the best colleges around. Many military folks do try to have one duty station during the high school years to even the playing field...sometimes it is doable and the Army does try very hard to accomondate soldiers with high school juniors.

For those of you who did not grow up in the military, do you remember how hard it can be to make new friends? Many military brats move where there are other military brats and just like our parents, we make friends quickly when thrown into that situation. People going through the same transitions tend to gravitate towards each other anyway. And gravitate we did...at each duty station. I made some of my best friends during those years.

Now let's get to some things to consider with you and your kids:

  • All the experiences you and your children have such as the above will make your children flexible, stronger, well read, well traveled, more thoughtful and for the most part, smarter and more worldly adults
  • There will be kids who have some difficulty. Get help EARLY. Check with your mental health counselors on post as well as at your school. Counseling and early intervention can work wonders. The man who wrote the introduction for Military Brats was the author of the famous The Great Santini, which is a story of everything that can go wrong in a military family. It was later made into a movie and is well worth watching if you have children.
  • What American kid knows where the Tiergarten or La Celle St. Cloud is or something just as exotic? Who can speak a few words in a few different languages? Only a military kid.
  • Who can easily navigate trains, buses and a variety of means of transportation? That's your kid too.
  • With exposure to many different cultures and people, your kid will have their own sense of style...which can be a good thing, and they will eventually be more sensitive to others and where they are coming from...this will be a BIG plus when they are all grown up.
  • Military kids tend to be more aware of world events and history. It's embarrassing, as a culture, that we Americans are seen as a laughing stock by other countries whose kids consistently outdo us in this arena.

So what has changed from when I was a brat?

  • Less moving around for the most part, especially if your military spouse is enlisted. This enables us to grow bigger roots, which can be both good and bad (possible inflexibility but ability to form lasting and more growing relationships).
  • More opportunities to meet non-military folks. A lot of us live off-post now.
  • More exposure to what our military mommy or daddy does. Most units have family day and parents talk about their job to their kids. In the old days, this was not so and many kids knew only that their parent wore a certain outfit and was gone a lot. If there wasn't a strong mother or father who stayed behind, the kids would suffer for it. I see a lot more kids happily running around at the playground with their mini camouflage uniform on, proudly proclaiming what their daddy does for a living.
  • Less structured home life. I'm not sure what this phenomenon was, but before my time, most military families were run with a real sense of order and discipline...when I was younger and now.....NOT...in fact, it's sometimes the opposite! I can think this had a lot to do with my mother's influence, as she had a strong personality.
  • Free healthcare, subsidized food and lodging til the military cuts you off, typically after you graduate from college. Most civilian kids lose most of these privileges right after high school.
  • Less tolerance of alcohol abuse. The old military did revolve somewhat around alcohol and even drugs in the 1970s. My father told me of pulling staff duty and having to actually have a loaded pistol on you. I had teenage friends who couldn't stay away from the sauce either, as a direct result of what their parents "taught" them. The Army has changed along with society and alcohol and drug abuse. Spousal abuse is also not accepted, ignored or encouraged behavior. That's a good thing of course.
As I mentioned before, the Army is even continuing to change now...even as I write this. There has been a huge shift towards the importance of the family, and to tell you the truth, I look forward to it! If you've read this far, then you know it must be something worthwhile. If you or your spouse are thinking of joining, yes the Army is stretched thin right now...but there are great things to come. Read some of these reasons why I love Army life!

Do you have anything you'd like to add?

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