Archive for February, 2012

One of my favorite T-shirts as a little kid had a globe on the front, along with the phrase: “Army Brats Go Places!” While there are probably a few locations we’d rather the military not send us, Army life can definitely take you to some amazing spots.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany—an alpine resort town and a popular “R&R” destination for American soldiers and their families—is one of those places. My family was never stationed in Garmisch, but I had the opportunity to live there later on as a Department of Defense employee for one blissful year. Reading this NY Times article made me quite Garmisch-sick. So what exactly do I miss?

I miss the quaint winter scenery, hikes to castle ruins in spring, the turquoise waters of Eibsee in summer, and golden afternoon bike rides in fall. I miss cow staus and angry old men in Lederhosen, warm Apfelstrudel and beer that’s cheaper than water. I miss the simple lifestyle, the constant adventures, and a community of likeminded travelers to share it all with.

What memories or ‘misses’ do you have of Garmisch?

My sister brought another successful Brat to my attention–Food Network personality and chef, Sunny Anderson. Born in New Orleans, Sunny traveled the world as an Army brat, and claims her passion for cuisine came from her parents encouraging her to try the local food wherever they were stationed. Through a career with the Air Force, Sunny became an award-winning radio host before joining the Food Network in 2005.

While we’re on the topic of food…what’s your favorite cuisine from your brat upbringing or other international travels? I regularly get cravings for German potato salad and apple strudel!

I thought I’d write a post for Valentine’s Day, and then I recalled that I don’t really like Valentine’s Day. Not because I’m bitter or romantically neglected, but because it reminds me of 7th grade too much. There’s this pressure to give your loved one cheap chocolate or one of those gigantic teddy bears from Wal-Mart (which is destined for a garage sale anyway) so he/she won’t be the only one at the office (aka, “school”) without a Valentine. It’s junior high all over again—peer pressure capitalism, I say! Okay, that’s the end of my rant.

Instead, I thought I’d write about a segment of society that could definitely use some more LOVE. TIME magazine recently published an article about the growing divide between the military and civilian worlds. This division has led to a situation where many soldiers feel they come home to a country they don’t know, and a society that doesn’t really care. And as military installations are consolidated—the result being fewer, but much larger, bases (think Ft. Hood, TX and Ft. Bragg, NC)—the gap continues to grow since military families can practically live their entire lives on the installation, disconnected from the wider society outside.

Military service is also becoming more of a family affair, with former “brats” making up a good percentage of those who voluntarily join up. From personal experience and from other brat friends I’ve talked to, it seems that it’s increasingly difficult for military children to cross the divide to a civilian world that doesn’t “get” their upbringing and the values it instilled. In the wider American population, younger generations today are less likely to have a family or friend connection to the military, making it more difficult for military kids to relate to their peer group when they leave home or go off to college.

To some extent this kind of “culture shock” is, and has always been, part of military life, but some worry the growing gap between the military and civilian worlds may lead to a kind of “warrior caste.” For me, the big question is: what are the consequences of a military that feels increasingly disconnected from the country it’s fighting for, and a civilian population that has no idea what its military is really up to?

I'll Miss You Dad Child holds on tight to her ...

So in honor of Valentine’s Day—or perhaps in protest of it :)—find a military solider, spouse, or brat and give them a big hug. The military-civilian gap will never close unless the rest of American society takes active steps to  invite soldiers and their families back in.

 

I’ve decided to do a short blog segment just for fun…a weekly mention of a well-known musician, actor/actress, writer, or politician who happens to be a military brat. It’s interesting to think about how a military childhood may have shaped a person’s artistic or political career. And since I’m a writer, I thought we’d start off with a writer. 🙂

Cover of "The Great Santini: A Novel"

There probably isn’t a writer out there more influenced by military brat life than Pat Conroy, New York Times bestselling author of novels such as The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, and The Lords of Discipline. Conroy was born in Atlanta, GA to a U.S. Marine officer and moved 23 times before he was 18 years old! He’s also spoken out on the ‘invisibility’ of military brat subculture and the unique challenges these kids face.

“We spent our entire childhoods in the service of our country, and no one even knew we were there.”

The Great Santini in particular–and its film adaptation–most reflects Conroy’s upbringing, with an almost comically stereotypical “military dad” who was  based on Conroy’s own father.

If you’re a brat, would you say military life pushed you to excel and–as the Colonel so eloquently puts it–“chew nails while other kids are sucking cotton candy”? 🙂 Or was there a darker side to this “best and brightest” achievement mentality?

In military life, saying goodbye to family and friends is part of the routine—something so frequent, it’s practically expected. I’ve often heard people connected to the military use the phrase, “It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later”—which has a lot of truth to it, given the “small world” of the military and the serendipitous encounters with old friends that tend to occur years later.

Saying goodbye to a loved one leaving this life can be quite a bit harder, however. Yesterday, my great-grandmother passed away after nearly 99 full years on this earth. Living out of state, I wasn’t there to say goodbye, but am comforted in knowing the large extended family she gave birth to was with her the entire way.

As a writer, I can’t help but look at life as a story…one we each have a hand in composing. Grandma Adams was a natural storyteller. Born to Czechoslovakian immigrants nearly a century ago, she shared insights from the past with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren through a sharp mind and  playful wit she retained almost to the very end.

Growing up, whenever we moved I always retained mental snapshots that seemed to capture the feel of the place we had left behind. Perhaps a person’s stories are the best “snapshots” they leave us after a life well lived. Through her stories, Grandma Adams’ spirit and smile will remain with each of us, until we meet again.

After all,  it’s not goodbye…it’s see you later.