Growing up, I never thought about how much the Air Force was shaping my identity. Everyone has a “unique” circumstance. Some families have a parent who is a firefighter and works four days and is off three. Some families have only one parent, some have both parents and grandparents living in their house. In Denmark, they have compounds where up to six families live together and work as one singular unit taking care of the kids, doing the cooking, cleaning, etc. We all become accustomed to the way we live and that becomes the “norm”.
During my interviews, I asked a group of teenage mil-brats whether or not they felt different from their civilian friends. All three said they weren’t different. They go to school, participate in clubs and sports and do all of the things their friends do. But then when I asked them to describe living on a base, it struck them a bit. Some things we are used to really aren’t average. Things like singing the national anthem before a movie, having to use an ID card to buy something at the BX, knowing terms like BX, TDY, PCS, and commissary, driving exactly the speed limit in case you get a speeding ticket on base and it’s reported to your parent’s boss…
I always go back to this book, Third Culture Kids, because it has explained things about myself that I never really understood. One phenomenon the book describes is when you go to a new place; people will either become chameleons, or they will try to stick out. The “chameleon” approach is to blend in; adopt the style, observe your peers and do as they do. Those who stick out have a very strong sense-of-self and tend to want to keep their unique traits, sometimes at the expense of being a social outcast.
I definitely identified as a chameleon. Whenever I would go to a new place I would be quiet for the first few weeks until I understood the people around me and then I would come out of the shell. Overtime, this sort of chameleon attitude makes it difficult to figure out what your own identity is. When I went to college I began to realize what I had been doing. There were definitely times I felt very different from my peers and couldn’t quite figure out why. It was because even though I thought my upbringing was normal, it really was quite different from what my friends had experienced. And since I had spent so much time fitting in to new social circles, I never took the time to realize and understand what makes me different.
For example, to this day I try to be careful in saying things like “when I lived in Rhode Island…” because I feel like I am somewhat bragging about the places I lived. But really, that is how I categorize life. First I think about where I was the situation happened, and that helps me to remember how old I was.
One other common theme when I asked mil-brats what their role in the military was, they really didn’t know. To us as kids, we are just doing what we are told. Being military was never a conscious decision, so we don’t tend to think of ourselves as having a “role”. We never realize how much impact we actually have/had. But that doesn’t mean our parents don’t see it.
Without fail, every parent told me that if their children fell apart during a move or deployment, that made the entire thing much more difficult and sometimes impossible. Our positivity, resilience, and pride for our parents is what makes it possible for them to perform well and serve our country. So yes, you as a military child do have an impact, and a big one at that. There is a reason there is a month devoted to everything you do; whether you realize your importance yet or not. So happy month of the military child! Go tell your parents they owe you some ice cream. And enjoy this second teaser for the documentary. This is a bit of my footage from Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Special thanks to the Easton family for all of your help.