Have you ever been on a military base at 5:00 in the evening? The loudspeakers click on and broadcast Retreat and The National Anthem to the entire base. Within the first few notes, movement stops. Cars pull over. Children yell “Colors” to each other on the playground and stop playing. Soccer, basketball, and baseball games stop. Each man, woman, and child turns in the direction of the base flag, and stands still with their hand either over their heart or frozen in a salute. Most people can’t even see the flag being lowered, but the entire community remains still until the music is finished. On military bases around the world, Veteran’s Day isn’t once a year, it’s every day at 1700.
Military brats grow up faster than other kids. They deal with more stress, change, and uncertainty by the age of 18 than most adults will see in their lifetime. Separations from their active duty moms or dads are loaded with heavy emotions like pride, fear, heartache and anxiety. They’ve experienced farewells and welcome homes that would bring most adults to their knees.
During deployments, they watch their parent at home either rush into the room to turn off the national news or sit there barely moving to hear each word. They know that at the base theater you put down your popcorn and stand for The National Anthem before the movie plays. In lines, they’re taught that people in uniform go first. They tend to be hilarious because they’ve learned that humor is therapeutic.
Brats grow up with sentiments like “Home is where the Army sends you.” Ask a brat where they’re from and be prepared for a slightly longer response than normal. They learned early on that home is not a term defined by geography.
As adults, they tear up at the anthem and are enraged by people who can’t stop texting long enough to pay respect. They’re quick to criticize the military life but even quicker to defend it to those who don’t understand. Quite often they end up wearing uniforms themselves.
I’m a classic brat. I’d moved eight times by the time I left home for college. Applications were a challenge because there was never enough space to fill in my three different high schools, nor enough lines to fit in the locations of the ones overseas. I don’t start childhood stories with when something occurred but with where I lived at the time. Of all the things I’ve been in my life, I am most proud to be a brat.
Thank you to all the brats currently waiting for Mom or Dad to come home.
In a battle of inner strength, I’d put my money on a military spouse any day. They deal with stressed out spouses, scared children and moving companies. A military spouse lives with the knowledge that deployments will happen, moves are inevitable, and the needs of the military come first. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
When my husband was deployed, I drove home one day to a strange car parked in front of my house. I pulled my car over and sat for a moment feeling panic rise in my throat. The car ended up being people turning around in my driveway. Not a big deal. It was not the officer in service dress coming to deliver the news of my nightmares that I imagined it to be. In the minute it took me to understand the situation, I’d experienced the true strength of the fears I kept buried, the fear that all spouses carry around inside until their husband or wife is home.
I get frustrated when military spouses are painted as women waiting at home wringing their aprons in anxiety watching for any sign of their returning hero. They’re so much more than that cliché. They don’t put their lives or their children’s lives on hold while their spouse is in harm’s way. They continue to live and demand that their children do the same. In every retirement or promotion ceremony I’ve ever attended, the service member thanks their spouse. They tend to use words like, “without them I wouldn’t have made it this far.” It’s not an empty sentiment and it’s rarely spoken without tears.
Thank you to all the spouses who stay behind.
Finally, thank you to the moms and dads, husbands and wives, sons and daughters who swear to support and defend.
My special thanks to the retired veterans in my family:
My great-grandfather, Major General Douglas L. Weart
My great-grandfather, Colonel David M. Dunne
My grandfather, Colonel Douglas S. Weart
My grandfather, Lieutenant General Charles D. Franklin
My father, Lieutenant Colonel Charles D. Franklin
My father-in-law, Chief Master Sergeant Gary F. Stevens
My uncle, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey M. Weart
My uncle, Colonel Steven K. Weart
My uncle, Captain Douglas D. Weart
My great-uncle, Colonel George Weart
My great-uncle, Brigadier General Oscar Ogren
My great-uncle, Colonel Aldo Artiglia
My great-uncle, Captain Paul Maca