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Sacrifice of a six year old

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- “It’s 11:11, make a wish,” my best friend, Jessica, says while we star-gaze from her bedroom window. Jessica and I were military children living on an Army post in Maryland. That night we had one last sleepover before she left to a new duty station. I could have wished for anything but I wished that I would see her again.

A couple years later I did see Jessica again, but it wasn’t the way I imagined it as a child. Instead of screaming and hugging each other in a fit of laughter and tears, we both just kind of stared and said a short hello. We had experienced such different lives for so long that we were barely recognizable to each other. It was too late to regain the friendship we had. It was lost to the past and who we used to be.

Around that time my family decided they wanted a ‘normal’ life for me and my siblings. We moved to a normal civilian home away from the base and I spent the next couple of years struggling to find my place among kids who had one home since they were born. Some of my friends would complain about their lives and how hard they had it, I would stay silent because all I could think about was, ‘You have everything I ever wanted.’

One summer, I spent my days training in gymnastics to be a cheerleader. During the first week or so of tryouts I was accepted as one of my peers and mentored. In the middle of tryouts, the parents were welcomed to the school for a meet and greet. My mother was the only military woman, wasn’t blonde, didn’t have a perm, carry Gucci or wear Prada. Later she confessed to me that she felt responsible for the outcome of the tryouts but she didn’t know that I too realized that day that I was different from my peers. When the girls looked at the outfits we were supposed to wear, I was the only girl uncomfortable about them and not gushing over glittery skirts. I was used to pretending to be a soldier in my mother’s old military Battle Dress Uniform, or BDU’s. Not dancing in mini-skirts. We both left that day feeling out of place. Whether there was a change from my peers or a change within myself, tryouts became a lot harsher in criticism and with less support.

It was a relief to me when we got orders to Japan. I couldn’t wait to get away from the place I had spent the last few years trying to fit into. I would be surrounded by military children again, this time in a new country. I remember on the plane ride feeling like we weren’t actually flying, but that the world was shifting below me. At a young age I understood that most people didn’t have that kind of opportunity and that I wasn’t going to be the same person at the end of it. While looking through the cabin window, one thought stuck among my observations; saying goodbye had become easier.

I’m now enlisted in the Air Force and on my way to commissioning. Not every military brat joins the military, but I couldn’t leave it behind. The military was a kind of utopia for me, even as a dependent you’re equal with your peers no matter where you are from or what you look like. The military children I grew up with believed in standing up for one another and supporting each other’s beliefs.

There are a lot of children out there today serving our country right now. They didn’t ask to sign the contract, they didn’t volunteer. Yet they take the sacrifice of a full-fledged service member because they have to. They’re aware that one day their parent could never come home and that they will say goodbye to more people in the span of their childhood than the average civilian adult. Yet they accept it and move on with more resiliency than most of us. If you see a service member with their child, don’t just thank the service member, thank the kid as well. They deserve it.