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Commentary | April 12, 2012

What are the rewards and challenges of being a military child?

By Elizabeth Howe LOSC 2012 Scholarship Winner

EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Howe, the daughter of U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Dave and Mrs. Dulce Howe and senior at Tabb High School, won the Langley Officer's Spouses Club's 2012 Scholarship contest. Her winning commentary, which reflects on her experiences as a military child, is published in celebration of the Month of the Military Child.

I lived in nine different homes in the span of nine years - what am I?
 
I am a military brat. My scrapbook is colored with snowy white North Dakota landscapes, the Golden Gate Bridge (which as a child, I was devastated to find decidedly not golden), and sticky Alabama summers. Pudgy, miniature versions of me smile back from photos on Delaware beaches, visiting Canadian zoos and running through the maze of halls in the Pentagon.

Then there are the moments captured exploring the crowded streets of London, taking hour-long bike rides through deep German forests, and absorbing the sight of the Eiffel Tower at night. I have seen parts of the world many of my peers may never see and have learned from experiences my peers may never get the opportunity to have.

The military cultivates a different type of teenager. This type of teenager develops a sense of resilience and adaptability and appreciates the everyday experiences other teenagers take for granted. Military families go where the military needs them. Members of these families, even notoriously self-centered teenagers, learn to adapt to any location, letting go of the familiar and setting down enough roots to grow somewhere new. We do this without losing ourselves, who we are as people. This is a feat not easily achieved. Naturally, when we are unsure where "home" will be next year, or even next month, we turn every experience into a memorable one, so no "home" will ever be forgotten.

The five years I lived overseas in Europe influenced me the most. I experienced a culture so different from the fast-paced, ever-churning whirlwind that characterizes life in the United States. Going out to dinner was a four-hour long culinary sojourn and daily, work-free "quiet hours" afforded much needed reflection. My German neighbors were simply never in a hurry (with the exception of whizzing past my family's '99 Chevy Suburban on the Autobahn at roughly 100 miles per hour).

Returning to the U.S., I was launched back into the chaos of a competitive lifestyle and experienced metaphorical oxygen deprivation. The experience was one of severe discomfort that undeniably taught me the meaning of "sink or swim." I spent a frustratingly long time desperately treading water but I now know that I am capable of working hard enough to swim. I am capable of working hard enough to achieve just about anything.

I am who I am because of the many places I have lived and what I have experienced. I am different because of my opportunities and challenges. My military upbringing has taught me how to work harder, get further, and always be me.