April 1st marks the Month of the Military Child. There are some 2 million “brats” currently facing the challenges of transitional life and, of those, more than 900,000 have had a parent deployed multiple times. If we are to appropriately honor military kids for their courage and sacrifice, we must look in the rear-view mirror as much as in the here and now.
Back in 1986, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger designated April as the Month of the Military Child to recognize that “such children share the burden of protecting the United States.” The designation occurred in the same year our 2nd child was born at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This mark in our nation’s history was personal in more ways than one.
Our “brats” struggled and persevered in changing schools multiple times over, while navigating the gains and losses inherent of military life. We gave them a voice with age-appropriate decisions, from filling a backpack with personal items destined for the car instead of the moving truck, to choosing the next meal stop, to entering (and winning) a military family essay contest.
Our daughter’s poetic form of “loss & gains” now reads like a pat on the back. A look in the review-mirror at our family’s past shows me that she not only made it through the military transitions, she became resilient because of them. Both our daughter and son have found their niche in the world, using their experiences and talents to enrich the lives of others. And, the one who detested moving (and climbed a tree in protest of leaving a place she called home) now lives the furthest away and has moved more in her adult life than as a military child. Indeed, resiliency can be found in a rear-view mirror!
Kris Kristofferson called military brats “an invisible tribe” in the award-winning documentary Brats: Our Journey Home. Director and film maker Donna Musil said, “their stories reveal the peculiar landscape of their childhood, the culture that binds them together, and the power it exerts over their adult lives.” My children proudly consider themselves part of those cultured brats comprising 5% of the American population.
Some of America’s 15 million brats become more visible than others along their journey home. Olympic Athlete Mia Hamm weathered seven moves during her father’s career as an Air Force pilot. In my TIME.com interview with her, she credited those frequent moves for her appreciation of the bond among teammates. She reflected, “Sports kind of helped all us connect. Whatever sports my sibling and I played, there was that similarity, or common bond, with our teammates.” She was also quick to acknowledge hardships faced on the path to resiliency. “There are always new, grander challenges to confront, and a true winner will embrace each one,” Mia said.
For those who no longer carry the ID card, their courage and sacrifices remain in their hearts … as military-life fiber. While they deserve to be recognized for being among the nation’s most adaptable, worldly, and patriotic, they are, in many ways, just like any other kid. In their journey home, the gains and losses ultimately provide a rear-view mirror for a resilient life. Celebrate the stories of past and present, give them a voice, during the Month of the Military Child and beyond.