In March, I wrote about a classroom of military kids I met in 2007 when they were in fourth grade at Ramstein AB, Germany. They shared some of their thoughts on military life, which I included in my column, wondering how their impressions would have changed now that they are teenagers. Some readers, including their teacher, responded on Facebook.
“Since that year just six years ago, I have had several different teaching positions due to my husband’s military career,” wrote Kathy Keith, now living in South Carolina. “I have been a math intervention teacher for a year, ESOL (English to speakers of other languages) teacher to adults for two years, homeschool teacher for a year, and now an elementary science lab teacher. The military life has given my teaching experience a breadth of variety.”
A mother offered her child’s perspective: “My fourth-grader says the best part is also the worst. You get to meet a lot of new friends but have to leave old ones.”
Another said, “My kids always were incredibly sad to leave each place then claimed each was the best and always loved each new location.”
It’s difficult to encompass the paradoxes of military mobility and adaptability any better than that. We hate to leave, yet we come to love almost every new home and new circle of friends. If we didn’t love each place, leaving would be easier, but living would be harder. These are truths easier experienced than explained.
One military brat spelled it out rather well, though. His message arrived by mail — yes, the kind with a stamp and an envelope. Inside were two pages from a yellow legal pad, filled with handwritten memories of military life, “a wonderful life,” according to the writer. With the perspective of a few years and experiences some might consider challenging, here’s what he had to say:
In response to your last article on military brats: I am 71 years old and still today I think of all the wonderful times I had as a brat. They were right about the moving, but as you move place to place you see some of your old friends from the move you made a few years earlier. After two trips to Germany, 1949-1953 (I was 8 at the time) and 1956-59 (I was 16) I got to see the World’s Fair in 1958 in Brussels and the Black Sea. Went to Berlin two times and was on both sides of the Wall. Plus all the big cities of Germany while playing basketball for Frankfurt (American) High School.
While playing sports for the school, we stayed at the dormitory until the season was over, like in college here in the states. Only the big cities had high schools, so we stayed for the weekend. We were at Munich, Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Wiesbaden. As for our family, we were all up and down the East Coast and California and, like I said, at each place you would run into some of your old friends, which made it a wonderful life. So all the children that you got letters from have some great times coming in their life as a military brat.
As for me, we have about 20 to 30 who still stay in touch with each other. Most by email and some by writing and phone …
What a wonderful life, I had as an Army brat. We didn’t have all the things to keep kids inside as they do now, so we were always outside playing ball, swimming, going to the park or ice-skating. We just stayed outside doing things together. Then after we all got older, most of us turned to the military ourselves, and we had our own brats. Ha ha!
A life to be proud of, for our parents gave us the tools to live a good life and to teach our children with the same upbringing.
— Earl “Sonny” Ellington
It’s all part of the story of growing up as a military child: From the grade-school handwriting of Mrs. Keith’s fourth-graders to the mature penmanship of Mr. Ellington’s letter. A life to be proud of, indeed.