8 Realities Of Being A Military Brat

Family & Relationships
Army photo

Military brats aren’t your typical kids. They are adaptable, resilient, and maybe pick up a few quirks — like knowing the phonetic alphabet, or asking the barber for a high and tight.


Right now, there are roughly 2 million U.S. military children, ranging in ages from newborn to 18 years old. While military parents face enormous hardships during their service, there is no shortage of sacrifices made by their children too.

In honor of the month of the military child, here are eight realities of being a military brat.

1. Home is wherever your family is.

You’ve moved more times than you can count, probably before you even learned how to count. When people ask you where you’re from, your response is usually, “everywhere.” You’re considered very lucky if you move somewhere and get to stay for more than a year, but your family always makes the best of it. Other military families in the area become your temporary extended family.

Related: 5 crucial lessons military brats learn early in life »

2. Your clothes come from the exchange, and your food comes from the commissary.

Grocery store is not a word in your vocabulary, just like paying full price for popular clothing brands is unheard of. You also probably consider it a victory if you convince your parents to let you eat at the food court at the exchange. But honestly, you can’t beat the tax-free, or duty-free, shopping on base.

3. When you turn 10, you get your first military ID.

The ultimate status symbol for military brats is the ID card. Nothing makes you feel more grown up than getting to go to the base ID center, get your photo taken, and have that holographic card handed to you. Now, you can get past the guard gate without a parent present.

4. You develop a lifelong habit of putting your hand over your heart for the national anthem.

Regardless of the occasion, you always stop what you’re doing when you hear the Star Spangled Banner and put your hand over your heart. You’ve also grown accustomed to taking off your hat during the anthem, especially during ballgames. You were raised knowing the flag deserves the utmost respect, and so does the anthem.

5. Sometimes your parent is a drill sergeant when it comes to chores.

It can be hard for your service member parent to leave work at work. Doing chores may be led by a drill sergeant instead of mom or dad. On days like that, dishes must be put away, the bathroom should be spotless, and you better roll your socks in their drawer. It’s not always like that, but you have a healthy level of respect and fear for the potential wrath of chore day.

6. You have your own uniform.

This starts as early as infancy with little sailor suits or Army fatigues. As you grow up, you often garner a collection of clothes made up of old unit t-shirts, worn out combat boots, hats, or jackets. The best playtime costume is modeled after your mom or dad’s uniform. You run around the house trying to beat the bad guys while playing Army or Navy. If you’re lucky, you may even have your own pair of dog tags.

7. Homecoming is your version of Christmas morning.

There is nothing better than homecoming. You count down the days, crossing them off on the calendar, one by one. Then when that day comes, you get dressed up and head out to the arrival point. Depending on what service or unit your parent deployed with, it could be a tarmac, ship dock, or airport. Sometimes there are hundreds of people; other times, it’s just you and your family. But there is no happier moment than when your mom or dad disembarks and you get to hug her or him for the first time in months.

8. You grow up a lot faster than most kids, but it makes you strong.

It’s not easy to be a military brat. You move a lot, have to make new friends, and sometimes experience loss at a young age, but it makes you a stronger person. The life of a military brat is not always easy or fair, but it’s a unique experience that most of us wouldn’t trade for anything.

Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario's seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.

Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.

The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.

Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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