Where are you from?
For a military brat, that can be a complicated question.
The website Blog Critics highlighted an episode at the U.S. Army post at Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany. A visiting magician brought a seven-year-old up on stage to assist him with an illusion. When asked “Where are you from?’, the child looked out at his parents, unsure of how to answer.
The magician might have been smarter to ask “where were you born,” had he better understood the military culture.
After several moves, my military children adopted the “I’m from all over the place” answer. Motherly pride nonwithstanding, that’s pretty astute, considering that more than 80% of the 1-million-plus military students attending public schools have moved six to nine times prior to graduating high school. The summer months are peak moving season for our nation’s military families. Nearly a third of the 600,000 annual shipments of household goods take place during that timeframe.
The Defense Department may be handling personal property, but military children have to handle their own emotional baggage. While some are able to make a new best friend on the playground within 30 seconds, others struggle to fit in as the new kid on the block, base or post.
According to Army Times, military children may be at higher risk of being bullied due to their frequent moves. Furthermore, researchers at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reported that “military children are particularly transient and suffer the loss of lunchtime friends, favorite teachers, and participation in extracurricular activities.” It seems that when anxiety and sadness intensify — isolation can result. But loss and transition also can produce strength, perseverance, and character. Such positive traits mirror those of their military parents, along with a core understanding of sacrifice.
The research also noted some strategies of schools that have successfully integrated military children into their classrooms:
· Honor the purpose and commitment of military personnel.
· Allow students time with a parent leaving or returning from deployment.
· Reserve extracurricular spots for transfer students.
The research indicates a strong link between school connectedness and student self-esteem. The experts noted that after-school activities are particularly helpful in integrating students into the school community. By adapting such flexible support systems, the schools are bully-proofing ever-moving military kids.
While extracurricular activities cannot erase the pain military children experience in leaving the familiar, or in missing a deployed parent, they may help minimize the emotional fallout. They often serve as one of the few constants in a military student’s life, and pave the way to make new friends faster. Operation Military Kids, for example, helps pay fees for youth sports, fine arts and tutor programs, with grants for deployed Reserve and National Guard troops. Retired Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy and his family launched the U.S. Air Force FitFamily Initiative to help entire families benefit from sports and fitness.
Retired Air Force colonel Bill Hamm instilled a love of soccer in his children. On assignment in Italy, he secured family season tickets to a premier soccer club. During subsequent assignments, daughter Mia began playing touch football and soccer alongside her older siblings. The strength and perseverance she gained as a military brat paid off on the soccer field.
At 15, Hamm became the youngest soccer player on the women’s U.S. National Team. “It wasn’t always comfortable, it wasn’t always fun, but it was worth it,” she acknowledges. Her team accolades include paving the way for the formation of the first woman’s professional soccer league, the first FIFA Woman’s World Cup in the sport and two Olympic team medals.
Recently, I connected with Hamm through the crew behind Makers: Women Who Make America, a website dedicated to highlighting “trailblazing women of today and tomorrow.”
Growing up base to base as one of six children, Hamm weathered seven moves during her father’s career as an Air Force pilot. She credits those frequent moves for her appreciation of the bond among teammates. “Sports kind of helped all of us connect,” she says. “Whatever sports my siblings and I played, there was that similarity, or common bond, with our teammates.”
Hamm met life’s challenges with a spirit of determination and resiliency common among military brats. She moved beyond being born with a club foot — and wearing corrective shoes as a toddler — to become one of 125 greatest living soccer players on FIFA’s list. Hamm and her teammate, Michelle Akers, are the only two Americans, and only two women, to make it.
Hamm noted that she is grateful to her older brother, Garrett, who encouraged her interest in sports. His untimely death, due to complications resulting from a bone marrow transplant, emphasized the meaning of sacrifice to her, and paved the path for the Mia Hamm Foundation.
The foundation’s mission is “to help other families going through marrow or cord blood transplants. My brother and I had a tremendous connection through sport,” Hamm says. “So, the other part of my foundation is really helping empower young girls in sports, because I know what sports have done for my life.”
Hamm can sum up the essence of military culture in a nutshell. “I am a member of the team, and I rely on the team,” she says. “I defer to it and sacrifice for it.”
She proudly serves as a role model for military brats – as well as countless other young Americans.
Maryann Makekau is an Air Force veteran, spouse of a retired member, and mother of two grown military children. She’s also an author and founder of Hope Matters.