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Army Brat for Life: Lessons for Children After ETS

As a west coast native, it feels strange to me that my daughter has a Tennessee birth certificate and will always have a tie back to the south. Especially as we are in the midst of an ETS to Washington State where she will grow up. But this regional identity conflict is the reality for military brats who live in many states and countries throughout adolescence.

For our family, the time has come for my husband to hang up his Army uniform and look toward the civilian world.

Our daughter will never remember that moment her dad said good-bye to her at the airport when she was three weeks old.

She won’t remember everyone clapping at the airport as the three of us embraced when he returned nine months later.

She won’t remember the long and lonely nights of just her and mom while dad was deployed.

She’ll probably forget about dad picking her up from daycare in his uniform.

Will she remember his promotion ceremony where she bolted out of my arms, ran next to him, and held her hand up alongside him during the swearing-in?

Will she miss waving and smiling at the gate guard when we enter the post?

military child life lessons

Our daughter is only two and a half years old, so she likely will have very little memories of her time as a little Army brat. But there are tremendous values our family learned from the military we can impart on her as she is raised, despite no longer being an active duty military family. We hope our daughter grows up proud of her father’s service to our country and proudly wears that Army Brat title. Most importantly, we hope she carries with her these lifelong values and lessons learned during her time as a military child.

Work and serve with honor

Work hard in school, serve your family with honor, and treat others with the same respect you of which you want to be treated. You should act ethically and earn the trust of your parents, teachers, and peers. Always do the right thing and never let your dignity be bought and sold – a lesson that transcends the military and should apply to all of us.

When you say you’re going to do something – do it

Commitment is another military value and lesson that is ingrained in the service member and their family from early on. In the beginning, when they sign that contract they are committed to years of service. It’s not always going to be easy (more on that below), and at times it will be ugly, but following through with a commitment will build integrity, pride, and strength.

Use your personal courage

Personal courage is an Army Core Value and my husband’s pick for what he feels is most important to teach our daughter. The definition, as quoted in the Army Core Values speaks for itself: “Personal courage isn’t the absence of fear; rather, it’s the ability to put fear aside and do what’s necessary. It takes two forms, physical and moral.” Having personal courage is a value and lesson that will serve her well in her life.

Embrace the suck

This is well known military jargon we have all heard many times. There are t-shirts and book titles donning the phrase.

It has a storied history but is most famously contributed to soldiers’ slang shortly after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Even now, 18 years later, the saying has found its way into everyday military vernacular and passed on down to military families.

I learned about “embrace the suck” when I was going through a resiliency course taught by Army Community Services. I always felt that I was the type of person who didn’t let disappointments hold me back, but I never studied resiliency in a textbook and applied format. Learning to be “comfortable with the uncomfortable” in one of my favorite mantras, It reminds me that life isn’t easy, going after what you want takes hustle and perseverance through the sticky stuff, and if you have the right mindset you can overcome any challenge.

For now, my toddler doesn’t know what it means to overcome the travesty of not being able to have a popsicle until after dinner. But someday soon she will recognize roadblocks. She might feel too tired to go to school or too bored to do a house chore, but adjusting her mindset to understand this is something she has to do. It will give her confidence throughout all the hardships she’ll inevitably face in life.   

Fight for what you believe in

We simply can’t teach our daughter military values without inscribing in her the persistence to fight for what she believes in. I hope she stands up for the kid being picked on by the playground bully. I hope she runs for class president because she believes she can make a difference for her peers. I hope she has grit even when the odds are against her. I don’t want her to be told she’s too passionate or too loud.

These are things humans learn when others try to shut us down. Whether she’s fighting for justice, harmony or even just first place, I want her to know that she can’t back down.

american flag As our family prepares for the transition back to civilians, there will be many privileges we will miss as an Army family.

But we won’t forget the lessons learned through the hardships and triumphs; and as our daughter gets older, we look forward to seeing the resiliency of this Army Brat shine.

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