By Sarah Fairbanks
What is the life of a military child like? My experience was fantastic: I got to live in four US states and 2 European countries, seeing places I might otherwise never have had the opportunity to see. Additionally, I was not just visiting these locations, they were my home. Hence, my experience, of being uprooted every three years, defined “home” much differently than if I had grown up in just one town. The life of a military child is one of adaptation and continual change, which empowered me to not fear the new and unknown.
I threw on my backpack and hollered a goodbye to my mother as my brother ran out the door. Not understanding his enthusiasm, I reluctantly dashed after him in order to not arrive at the bus stop alone. The blocks flew by disallowing my apprehension a foothold and I arrived mere minutes later. I breathed a sigh of relief at finding it devoid of menacing boys, who may have harassed my little brother, as well as terrifying “cool” girls, who may have shunned me.
A moment later the bus grinded to a halt in front of us. I clamored up the steps after my brother, who located an empty seat and sat down. Grateful that he had not met the other kids in our neighborhood yet, I stopped at his row and with a pleading look sat down next to him.
We rode in companionable silence. First, I looked out the window as the farm fields rushed by, then down at my class schedule clutched in my hands, and then back out the window. As the bus rushed towards its destination, I wished I had one friend in my class, knowing she would make this dreaded first day bearable.
Minutes later, despite my fervent prayers to delay the inevitable, the bus arrived on base and pulled into the depot. I reluctantly shuffled off. My brother turned to head towards the elementary school buildings and me to the junior high. “Have a good day,” we bellowed to one another, and then, I was alone.
Grudgingly I forced my feet to carry me forward. Each footfall is more challenging to place than the last. I kept my head down. Praying for invisibility as I moved amongst groups of friends, shutting my ears to their easy chatter. Reaching the building, I entered. Pushing through the smell of dread topped with a dash of sweat and smelly gym socks, I navigated my way towards my homeroom.
As I approached the door, time dripped slowly forward, my nerves taut as the hardest moment of all was imminent. Drawing on all my inner gumption, I forced myself to take a step into the room. The noise was deafening as the students chatted to each other and my mouth went dry. I immediately pumped the brakes, lingering by the door, as I wondered where to sit while preferring to turn and run away.
Attempting nonchalant coolness, I glanced around the room. Three rows back a girl with brown hair smiled at me. It was like a beacon of hope amid the darkness. Then, she waved her hand, beckoning me over, as though we were already friends. I snatched this lifeline, my shoulders unclenching as I hurried towards her.
The worst part of any move was over. I had faced the first day, at yet another new school, and had found my first friend.
The Life of a Military Child – Every Three Years
Born in America’s heartland to an Air Force officer and his wife. From inception to three, I have no memories.
Three years later, with the addition of a younger brother, my second assignment arrived, and we boarded a plane that shot us over the Atlantic, depositing us in England.
Three years later, new orders were issued, calling us back stateside, but this time, to the South.
Our next post flung us almost as far West as was possible within the continental United States, landing us on the eastern side of Washington state.
Three years later, one morning the announcement was made. The Air Force was sending us overseas again.
Three years later, the summer after my 10th grade, we moved again. This time we did move to Massachusetts.
College and beyond
Two years later, the first day of college arrived. Not yet prepared to fly too far from the nest, I had chosen to attend the University of Massachusetts which was only an hour from Westminster.
Reflecting on the life of a military child
My childhood is a collection of various places with different names and various zip codes. Each of my father’s assignments makes up a chapter of my past. And when people ask, “Which place was your favorite” as though I was on vacation, I try not to roll my eyes. Instead, I attempt to explain to them that I could not begin to choose a favorite place. Every state and country I lived in was only a tiny part of a much larger picture that together, as a whole, makeup who I am.
The life of a military child, an Air Force brat, is so many things.
I am not sure I could ever fully explain my experience, even to another Air Force kid. Though the bond between us is strong. We still had different experiences. We approached the moves differently. And we were affected by them differently.
I never wished to have lived in one town my whole life, to have gone to school with the same kids since preschool. The world is too big, there is too much to see and too many people to meet for me to be ok with such a small world view.
I never longed for stability by way of laying down roots in one place. I did not feel that my life was less for being a military kid, I believe it is more. To this day I continue to travel, my sense of Wanderlust, ignited by my childhood.
Regardless of my personal feelings about the military, I am grateful for the experience that my dad’s service provided me. Though it may have left a few scars, such as not trusting that things last forever. It also instilled in me a keen sense of independence and self-identity. Above all, my years as a military child provided me with a million amazing memories, from the lakes and mountains of the Pacific Northwest to overseas and back across the Atlantic to the United States.