Some people think military kids grow up, leave home and forget all about the military life. That may be so, but me … I feel lost without it.
I don’t know many people like me – my parents had me very young (19), so I was literally around from the very beginning of my dad’s military career. I started school, he TDY’d for a year. I got my driver’s license, he, well, he volunteered to go TDY. I went to college, he went to war. I started my first “real” job, he went to the Army War College. I got married, he went back to war. I got divorced, he retired.
Throughout all my post-dependent life, I tried and tried and tried to be “normal.” I was living in cities and towns that had ZERO military connection, so it was fairly easy to kind of put that behind me. But something was always missing.
Like so many other people, 9/11 changed it all. Technically, I was still a dependent as I was a junior in college, but I was so far removed from military life, it was a very hard time. One of my ex-boyfriends (a Marine at the time) called me that day to check on me and assure me that everything would be fine. (Not only was I worried about my dad, but also him – though I’m not sure he knew that.)
The one thing that stuck with me about that time was a few months later, when my dad was getting ready to deploy, and he was featured on one of the local TV stations. They talked with him, my mom and even my little sister during one of her soccer games. But, they never called me. It felt like I wasn’t part of the family anymore.
Just because I was a half a world away at college didn’t mean that I wasn’t struggling and hurting and worrying about this deployment (or the four more that followed over the years). Sure, I was around people who weren’t “affected” by 9/11 the same way I was, and I probably did better than if I was at home. But, boy did I miss home. I missed being part of the send-offs and the homecomings. I missed being part of the wives’ groups – because even though I wasn’t a wife, all of them treated me like an adult and I was welcomed. I missed helping out others by cooking, babysitting … just being there. I missed drawing from the strength of others. There’s nothing more depressing than watching the war begin from your desk at a newspaper and have NO one to hug and cry with there.
As the war continued, I searched for ways to get back that feeling of “home.” I tried writing letters, being pen pals, adopting soldiers. But, none of that ever worked the way I was hoping it would. I always felt like I was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. I began thinking that maybe you really couldn’t go home again.
But then, something changed. I was just starting my health coaching practice and on a visit home, I chatted with several military spouses. (My mom was quite proud of me and had apparently been bragging.) We’d talk about how going back to school to do this had changed my life. How I was SO much happier now and was losing weight without really thinking about it. And with each one of those conversations, and each of them giving positive encouragement and expressing desire to have what I had, I realized THIS was the way for me to find my way home.
Instead of reaching out to the actual military members, I started focusing on the wives, the girlfriends, the fiancees, the kids. There may not seem like a lot of support out there for the military, but there’s even less for military families. Just because I wasn’t a dependent anymore didn’t mean I couldn’t still do all those things I missed doing. Being supportive of military families and helping them stay healthy and happy throughout all the craziness that is military life is was what brought back that feeling of “home.”
I realized it wasn’t the military I missed. It was the military families.