The Centrality of Being a Military Brat

My last year of college, I met another student who told magical stories about the small town he was from. As a military brat, I was particularly enthralled by his tales. And so, when I graduated I packed up for a similar small town, and hoped to find the same wonder, love, and safety that he'd experienced.

As the less naive of you might have guessed, it didn't quite turn out that way. While it's a lovely little town, I figured out within a year or two that the only people I was making friends with were other transplants. Natives weren't friendly at all. They weren't unfriendly, but as one of them said to me, "I don't know how to make new friends, because I've never needed to." (And here I'd been thinking I just stopped being likeable after college...)

It wasn't until I met a Mennonite pastor, Max (whose family has been in their town so long that he can see the porch where his great-grandmother smoked pipes from his own porch), that I found someone who understood. Max had been telling the same sort of Phil Gulley/Jan Karon stories that my college friend did, and when we had a few minutes alone, I told him about my experience. He thought quietly, and told me that he thought the place I might feel most at home would be somewhere with lots of other nomads. He said that people are like lego bricks, and we tend to feel most at ease when more of our little notches line up. I was grateful to him, and I've rarely felt so deeply understood by someone than during our brief conversation.

And he's right. The two places where I've felt most at home were Washington, DC, and college-- both places where not many people were from there.

The last year I was in The Process, the bishop was upset that it takes a while for me to open up to people. He saw this as arrogance, or as being unwilling to look at myself. I can't tell you how comforted I was when a wonderful friend said, "doesn't he know that's part of being a military brat?!" Because we make friends, but we're often skittish, and we've learned to be cautious about revealing ourselves. (Related note: this makes those people to whom we can reveal ourselves immeasurably precious to us.)

I'm thinking about this today, because Angela posted a great video (see below), and I was grateful for the reminder that I'm not the only one.

I've tried to explain to a few people how difficult it's been for me to live in this small town for 8 years (though there have been parts I've loved). Without this context, it can be impossible for people to understand. (Sometimes even with context explained...)

We look to a person's origins, their hometown, for clues about them. If, like me, they don't have a hometown, we tend to assume they're a blank slate. Instead, transience itself becomes a formative hometown.


  1. Hey! Thanks for linking to me! It is good to hear what you say about being a brat too. I was afraid I might hear from my parents about how I shouldn't be an ungrateful kid. It's much more than that though and has been helpful to understand the conundrum.

  2. Belonging to a group of people, vice belonging to a place, has its own issues. I am always up against preconceived notions of my political views, and truth be told, my educational background, both by members of my transient group (the military) and my non-transient acquaintances.

    I am not so sure that only acquainting yourself with TCKs is the way to go, which whether intentional or not, is what is implied here. Like being a part of a church youth group, belonging to a group of TCKs should be a touchstone, where you can go to get your zing back to be a member of the larger, uninitiated world outside.

    On a how-stupid-are-adults note:
    I was shocked the other day when our youth group leader, in front of lots & lots of people, insisted on knowing where our friend Katherine was "from." She said, in various ways, Sigonella, the Navy, everywhere & anywhere...this guy a) didn't get it and b) didn't let it go.

  3. Anonymous9:28 AM

    You know I feel you on this. I do, I do. It is both my push and pull. My push to stay in the same place and really establish roots. However, at the same time, my pull to keep moving. To keep experiencing.

    It is a world only a certain group of people can get.

    Also, I LOVE Jan Karan!


  4. Charlotte, I agree with you about that flaw in the video. I didn't mean to imply in my own post that the only people TCKs should befriend are others who share their experience-- more that it's helpful to have those people around. (I can't really imagine being in a place where that would be possible, even if it were desired!)

    And good grief about the youth group leader.

  5. Anonymous9:33 AM


    Yes, yes. Good grief about the youth group leader. Please feel free to say something to him. By not recognizing that her past is her past and just as valid and distinct as any one else's makes her more of an outsider in an already insiders world. . . Poor girl. Poor youth group leader. Help him see!


  6. Anne-- What's funny is that Charlotte is stationed overseas-- ALL of those kids are military brats!

    And Angela-- I don't think we're ungrateful. I feel really lucky to have had the experiences I did. But it seems helpful to understand how they influence our perspective.

  7. And as for ungratefulness, I was just thinking about that! I have the hardest time trying to talk to my mom, the polar opposite of a brat, about the hardships of this lifestyle. Her response is always, "Well, come live next door to me!" It's hard to express the difficulties that we face without sounding ungrateful, even when we are not. In my mom's case, I think it's because she cannot put herself in my shoes. Brats, on the other hand, are very good at seeing all sides of a problem, even if we don't feel like dealing with all sides!

    Being "other," which is really what we are talking about, is the common denominator with a lot of my friends, brats or not. Even though I grew up in one house in one town, we were often "other" as my father died when I was very young and as a single-parent family, an extreme minority in my town.

    Countering that sense of outsideness is what I see as my calling and where I see the necessity of church, not just Christianity.

  8. So, you got me thinking and I wrote my own post about it here: http://daysofwineandsippycups.blogspot.com/2010/03/centrality-of-being-military-dependent.html

    Thanks for the thoughts. . .


  9. Nice post Mrs. M! My whole childhood, I was well-rooted in small town Oklahoma and loved it. My kids are military brats and are well-rooted in the world. They seem to like it. This whole discussion reminds me of one of my favorite kids' books, Toot and Puddle. It's about two pigs--one likes to stay home and one loves to travel. But each one admires how the other one lives life to the fullest. If only all adults "got" this concept (i.e. the youth pastor), we could spend less time fretting over our past and be more "present" to others in the present!

  10. wonderful read. having floated about the country for 10 years, returning to SE PA where so few have left is kind of the same thing.


"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins