The Privilege of Growing Up Army
I was seven years old when we packed up my mom’s station wagon for the 11-hour trek from Alexandria, Virginia through the Appalachian Mountains to our final destination, Fort Campbell, Kentucky. This was 1984, and life was pretty different back then. Looking back it seemed like such an innocent time.
The Cold War with Russia was still looming, but Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was the only other enemy I was aware of as a little boy. Radical Islam didn’t seem like such a threat compared to the mighty Soviet Union.
Ronald Reagan was the only president I had ever known. It seemed perfectly normal at the time that my brothers and I would take that road trip lying down in the back of our station wagon with no seatbelt on and certainly no form of electronic entertainment. We didn’t have iPads, and our Atari wasn’t mobile. License plates and the rare sighting of a Ryder truck were the most exciting games we had.
We would be moving into a single-family home on base in Drennan Park. This was to be my fourth home, and I would be entering my third school. Such is the life of an Army brat, where your personal landscape from home to school to friends and everything else is undergoing constant change.
I have vivid memories from our time at Fort Campbell. Some of the most emotional times were those where your friends would be leaving for a new home, or the times where you would be meeting new kids as they arrived on base. Campbell was a lot different than Fort Belvoir, the post I had known previously. My school was on base and was made up entirely of Army brats. The only time we would leave base would be to take a rare trip to nearby Clarksville, or the hour-long trek to Opryland outside Nashville.
Living on an Army base, even in a generally peaceful time, can bring a young kid a lot of perspective. We would always be in the middle of a pickup game of baseball when 5pm “retreat” rolled around. Every kid would naturally stop what they were doing to honor the flag coming down at the end of the day. Every summer day was spent at the pool with all the other Army brats whose parent wasn’t being transferred. On occasion, my father and I would play nine holes at the par-3 golf course. I became friends with all kinds of kids from all different walks of life. Whether their serving parent was an officer or enlisted, it never really mattered. I had friends who came from all over the country from California to Massachusetts and everywhere in between. It was also a melting pot of racial and religious backgrounds, rich and poor. Growing up around this diversity seemed quite normal.
My father served for 29 years, and in that time my family had 22 different homes. When I was young, “growing up Army” seemed like a curse at the time. Once you got used to a place and wanted to call it home, you found yourself getting ready to move again. Friends came and went. The older you got, the harder it sometimes became to fit in. Your life, and everything about it, was always on the move.
It is more challenging to grow up in the Army today, largely due to the long-running war on terror. If you are an Army parent and you have young kids “growing up Army,” I hope you realize that while your child is going to face some challenging moments there is an upside because their experience will help mold them in a positive way.
Your kids, like me and my brothers, might voice distaste in the constant change along the way. But ultimately they will one day realize that not only is it a privilege to serve in our Nation’s Army, it’s a privilege to grow up as an Army brat. The opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, and to be an relatable person is experience that will be invaluable to your kid as they grow up to become an adult.
It’s been 30 years since we made that move to Kentucky. This past year, I found myself interviewing for several jobs as I was transitioning away from my previous employer. During these interviews, I always made it a point to describe myself as an Army brat. This was an integral part of who I am as a person. I was fortunate to find AUSA as my new employer, and obviously that Army brat experience was extremely relevant to AUSA in particular. But it is relevant no matter who the employer could be. An important quality of an employee in a work place is the ability to relate to and get along with all kinds of people. I consider this one of my greatest strengths, and I owe that strength to the fact that I grew up as an Army brat.