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Military Kids Enjoy Rich Experiences and Lifelong Connections

24 April 2024

From Raquel Cloma, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - Before they reach the 12th grade, the Department of Defense estimates that the average military child will attend six to nine different schools. They will relocate every two to three years and say goodbye more often than civilian kids. It’s a rough life but being a “military brat” means being part of a unique subculture and having a network that includes generations of other military kids all over the world.
“The great thing is that we as a brat community, although spread out, are easy to find and are willing to help each other out,’’ said Damon Ellison, an Air Force veteran who grew up as a military brat. “Being a brat influenced my decision to join the military and most of my career choices after separating. It also taught me how to teach my son to be self-reliant and to think critically.”

Ellison and his fellow brats are honored every April, which is designated as Month of the Military Child (MOMC) – a time to celebrate the resiliency and sacrifices of the youngest members of the community who must adjust to a life of moving, saying goodbye to friends and family, and stepping up when their service member is away from home.

Former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger designated MOMC in 1986 to recognize and thank military kids for the unique and invaluable role they play. Of the more than 2.6 million military family members, 1.6 million are military children.

The challenges military kids face give them unique life experiences that their civilian counterparts will probably never have. These experiences connect them to other brats and shape the adults they become. “Being a former brat has greatly influenced my design thinking in working as a visual designer,” said Nayeli Crossdale, whose father served in the military and moved his family overseas while on active duty. “Living aboard helped me understand cultural nuances in human experiences and I use these aspects in the work that I do.”

Growing up in a military family also influenced Christian Baines’ education and career choices. The 22-year-old Air Force brat worked as a security guard for his college community, interned with his state’s legislature, and does volunteer work at the State Capitol. “When I graduate from college, I plan on continuing my career in public service as a way to contribute to my community,” he said.

Among the many challenges of military life is being separated from extended family and putting down roots. Alyssa Fox is using her brat experience to help military families build a home-away-from-home.

“Because I grew up meeting so many different people from different backgrounds, it’s so much easier for me to connect with families,” explained Fox, who owns an indoor playground for kids and runs a fitness group for moms. “It’s because of being a military brat and having my family build our own village each time we moved that makes it easy to create an inviting environment and build a village of parents through my business.”

Fenced off from the civilian world, military bases are like small towns. They have gyms, pools, bowling alleys, neighborhoods, grocery stores, gas stations, health centers, eateries, and theaters. As in many small towns, families look to each for support. When service members must put mission first and are gone for TDYs, deployments or odd hours of work, the community steps in to help. Families look out for one another, and friendships, though brief, are as strong as they come.

Mercedes Helton grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force to kickstart her career.

“Shortly after separating from the military, I got a job in real estate where I specifically work with assisting military members by buying and selling their homes and making the process as easy as possible,” she said. As a military spouse, Helton understands the challenges that come with military members being on standby and having to leave at a moment’s notice. She has learned to cherish family time. “We don’t put off spending time together because we do not know when or if there will be another chance to do it later. I feel like the military forces our family to live in the now, in all the best ways.”

Life as a military child is an eye-opening experience that teaches kids to adapt to new environments, make new friends, and open their minds to new worldviews. Don Baumgartner, who is no stranger to the brat life gives back to the community that helped shape him. “Growing up in a military family instilled in me a deep sense of duty and service and inspired me to be a DoD civilian and give back and support our armed forces.”

Being a military brat can be difficult, but it can also be a rewarding and enriching experience.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks was a brat and is familiar with the challenges that come with growing up in a military family. “Because of my father’s service in the United States Navy, I grew up on bases across the country from Connecticut to Hawaii,” she said in video to kick off Purple Up Day. “One thing is true in all of this – we have the fiercest fighting force in the world because we have the finest military families in the world.”

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