Celebrating the Month of the Military Child - Hero Image
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Celebrating the Month of the Military Child

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April 1, 2023
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The term ‘military brat’ has been around for as long as militaries have existed, in one form or another, to refer to the children of those who serve. 

Generally considered a term of endearment for those who have a close second hand understanding of the sacrifices inherent to military life, this term and other variations point to one of the most important aspects of a service member’s life; family.

The month of April is reserved for recognition of this select group, with April 19th set as the specific date on which these youth are celebrated… But also considered. There are many benefits to being a military brat, but also some definite downsides.

My mother was born in an apartment above a bar in Witney, Oxfordshire, 12 miles west of Oxfordshire England. My maternal grandfather was a US service member stationed in the United Kingdom during that period of the 1950’s, and relatively young at that time. He would go on to serve his country for the better part of two decades in multiple branches of the Armed Services, being stationed all over the world for various pockets of time.

As a result, my mother received what many would consider a wide ranging education. Grandad Raybon ensured his five children understood useful parts of several languages, challenged them to consider the nuances of various military and political situations of the day, and fostered an unending desire to explore and understand the world. 

When I came around a few decades later, a lot of this spirit was passed to me, as well as a deep respect of the honor and wisdom of military service (but we’ll come back to that.)

Mum didn’t just learn a lot from her 50’s era father and everyone had tea. Such an education comes at a cost. Every few years my grandfather would be transferred, and the children would have to start over at a new town, a new school, with new kids. 

Without the modern convenience of social media and the internet, that essentially meant cutting all ties and beginning from scratch. Psychological isolation of this type often leads to issues of disconnectedness and damaged self-image. Add to that breaking of community with the fact that my grandfather still had to conduct training and deploy on a regular schedule, thereby not being home very often, and it only deepens the damage.

Many years later, I grew up, and from the age of 6 I had decided I would join the Marine Corps. I have military members in my family going back 30 generations, but none of them had been Marines, so it was a little bit of climbing the hill to make my mark while serving my country and my family’s legacy. Neither of my parents were themselves in the service, which makes conversations with my father about that near decade of my life and the career that followed a little difficult. Luckily, there was my mother, Joy.

There is an oddness to being 6’3 and severely American, and having the most family support for your military career coming from a 5’2 British woman, but thanks in part to her experiences growing up in my grandfather’s house, as well as having three brothers who served, it was always spot on. 

During my graduation from MCRD Parris Island, we walked to the Post Exchange, and as all boots do I asked her if she wanted any of the ridiculous motivational nonsense. This woman who raised me looked into the windows of my soul, smirked almost imperceptibly, and said “No thank you. Fat people don’t rate.” Don’t misunderstand, my mother is never one to shame anyone for their physicality, but in her understanding, supporting the fittest military organization in the United States didn’t include being out of shape, in your 50’s, and wearing an Eagle Globe, and Anchor.

During several combat deployments, I would call home when I could, and I had to say little for her to understand my situation both tactically and personally. On more than one occasion, she would slip me information that proved startlingly accurate about future operations, but if I didn’t understand her veiled and coded messages, she would simply say “OPSEC, sorry love” and move on.

I am now a father and have been for some time. With one child in the Navy, and another considering serving as a pilot, the tradition continues. There are times when I remember that while it is better with modern conveniences, my children still had to go without me for long stretches of time. It requires a great but necessary effort to remind them that service requires sacrifice, but that those sacrifices are on their behalf, rather than simply something to do instead of spending time with them. I look for the signs of disconnection, and motivate them to strive for more, to learn, and above all remember that 32 generations of our family have made this choice, and all of them loved and were loved by their families.

Sure, it’s a bit more on the emotional side than a lot of us are comfortable with, but as a Marine I was taught not to make comfort based decisions, and that the safest route through dangerous terrain is often the most difficult one. 

Take some time this month, and every month, to remember that your families are often the people who irritate you the most, but support you the most. Whether you serve, or you are the parent or child of someone who does, we are all one community.

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