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3 Life Lessons I Learned as a Military Brat


“The short answer is anyone who grew up in a military family and moved from military installation to installation, with one or both parents being “career” military, serving 10 to 30 years (or more) in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard.”

This definition is from an excellent website called Military Brat Life…a great resource for those of us who have had this unique upbringing and for those who want to learn more about it.

I’ve spent a lifetime answering the question “Where are you from?” with a very long pause…trying to figure out which answer to give the person.

Do I quickly say “Everywhere!”

Do I give the slightly longer version, “Well, I’m an Air Force brat and I grew up mainly overseas and came to the States when I was a teenager.”

Or do I go into the more accurate version which would take about 15 minutes and detail all the countries, states, bases, and towns where I “grew up” and the culture shock I experienced which has made me the person I am today?

“BRAT…Born Rough And Tough”

Being a military brat isn’t a choice that a child makes…it’s a lifestyle that you are born into based on a choice that your parents make…and you are along for the–sometimes wild–ride.

There are advantages and disadvantages to a life that involves almost constant moving, often to foreign countries.

Brats get to see things, do things, learn languages, meet people, and have experiences you would never be able to have staying put in one place.

I’ve gotten to climb around on Stonehenge, run through so many castles in Germany I lost count, and have acquired and lost both a Queen’s English and deep Southern accent.  (I’ve kept my Midwestern one!)

Brats also are the new kids in class a lot, often don’t get to see extended family for years, transition into and out of schools frequently, and miss out on seeing childhood friends grow older alongside them.

I learned some of the most important lessons about life and how to cope with the things life will throw at you  growing up as a military brat.

Along with a lifelong respect for anyone I see in a uniform, this is what sticks with me decades after leaving the last Air Force base I would ever set foot on, and maybe it will mean something to some of you:


Brats learn to make the best of wherever they are, and this saying has come to symbolize to me not only what being a military brat’s life is about, but what being a healthy human being is about.

No matter what life circumstances you were born into or where you find yourself at this very moment, all you need to do is the best you can where you are right now.  Find out how you can be the best you that you can be here, now.

You don’t have to wait until all the conditions are “just right.”  They may never be.  And they’re going to change again, anyway!

Just see what happens if you put down your roots and soak up what sun and nutrients there are around you (and they are there!) and just bloom where you are planted.


What I learned moving to a new place every few years was not to get very comfortable where my roots were growing…because there was going to be an uprooting a’coming.

No matter how good (or how badly) things were going, I was going to have to say goodbye to every best friend I made, to every teacher I loved, and to every special place I bonded with.

As painful as that was for me, I learned that “goodbyes” are a part of life.  They are as normal as the “hellos” and the conversations that take place in-between.

And just because there are going to be the inevitable endings, it doesn’t mean that you don’t give your all to create meaningful friendships, relationships, and experiences before it’s your time to go.


I count as one of the incredible blessings of being a military brat the fact that with every move to a new country, base, or town came the opportunity to re-create myself.

Not one person in my new school or neighborhood (other than my immediate family) knew who I was, how I had done in school the year before, what my personality was like, if I excelled or sucked in sports…there was literally no past to haunt me.

I could start over again fresh that year…with a clean slate.  It taught me the power of believing that anything is possible, that you can be anyone and anything that you want to be, and that the past does not determine your future…you do.


To end this, I have to tell you one of my favorite memories of being a military brat…and it has to do with going to the movies on base as kids.

Movies shown on a military base began with previews just like in civilian theaters, but after the previews of coming attractions the movie did not start immediately.

Instead, there was the playing of the National Anthem…and everybody would rise, place their hand on their heart, as best you could with hands full of popcorn and candy, and often sing along.

To this day when I go to the movies, after the previews are over, I start giggling.

I’m waiting for all the jawbreakers and lemonheads to start pinging off of my heels the way they always did…because inevitably some poor kid behind me would lose control of their candy trying to stand for the National Anthem!

So if you hear me giggling in a theater after the previews are over…that’s just me “being a brat” again!  😉


This post is dedicated to all the military brats out there who have served and are serving their country by being such an important part of the families who keep our servicemen and servicewomen grounded, no matter how often they may be deployed or stationed abroad.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart.


7 Responses to “3 Life Lessons I Learned as a Military Brat”

  • Vivek Singh:

    Wow! I can connect to this very well. My dad serves in the air force in India and I had a very similar life. And I totally love the clean slate.

  • Anna:

    I am facing a difficult choice as I am the girlfriend of a future Marine. We both want children later in life and I am doing a bit of research as to what exactly that would mean. So in short:
    Do you think you would be a different person had you not been a Brat?
    Did your relationship with your father/mother (that was serving) get changed because of lack of contact and stability?
    Would you ever put your Children what you went through?
    How did your mother deal with the solo child raising?
    And do you have to move around if your husband is in the Marines?

  • Peter:

    I am a Royal Navy brat …. many bases, many schools, many goodbyes. Being a Navy brat was great preparation for “life” and even though I at times envy those who had “stable” childhoods, I would not trade mine for anything … … 🙂

  • As a fellow Air Force brat I really enjoyed this! Even with all the minuses of living the life we did, I wouldn’t trade it for anything! Great article!

  • Peter:

    After my Dad left the Navy we emigrated to Africa and subsequently I got involved in the civil war there. As reservists we would spend anywhere up to 6 months per year away in the Army and although our 3 children did not experience the “base life” they all grew up with that same “Military brat” mentality. ie: self sufficient, adaptable etc.
    Over the years I have encountered many Military brats from all countries and interestingly enough we all relate to the same lifestyle. Its an interesting study … pity we cannot have a Global network of ” Brats” … 🙂

  • I was an Air Force Brat as well, but my experiences differed drastically from those posted…possibly because I had a very unstable mother from whom I did not receive emotional support during the many moves (3 schools in second grade, 3 schools in third grade, for a total of 13 schools in 12 years). Most of the time, a move came at the wrong time developmentally for me, particularly when we moved to Ankara, Turkey in 1963 when I was eleven, where we had to live “on the economy” instead of on an actual Air Force Base. It was a time when Turkish and American relations were not good, and we were frequently evacuated from school, told to go get on our bus (blue U.S. Air Force military buses) and run straight home from the bus stop, to pretend we weren’t American and to not speak English to anyone who stopped us. I hated being there the entire time, because, at a time when I should have started becoming independent, instead I had to be totally dependent upon my parents for 6th through 8th grades. I hated being there the entire time. My brother, on the other hand, ADORED being in Turkey (three years younger than me) and ended up enlisting in the Air Force out of college. I did enjoy the “clean slate” thing, though, because I always had the optimistic hope that things would be better in the “new home” and the “new school”. But this was my experience…a lot depends on the parenting you had available to you as a child, and your own personality God bestowed upon you. It did take me a long time to learn not to leap to my feet and being singing the National Anthem when the previews of the coming movies ended, the habit so ingrained in me to do so! And I do tend to shake the hand of any veteran that I see, out of great respect for the service they sacrificed to give us all.

  • Peter:

    Do you guys find that in later life you have a great need for orderliness and have trouble defying authority?
    I guess this stems from our Base camp upbringing of “If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move,then paint it white”
    My children and grandchildren are always picking on me for my passion for straight lines ….. 🙂

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