What It’s Really Like Growing Up In A Military Town

Family & Relationships
Family members cheer and wave flags as the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) moors at Naval Station Norfolk.
Navy photo by Milosz Reterski

I was 6 years old when my dad got orders to transfer to Naval Station Norfolk and deploy with the USS Shreveport. So in 1997, we packed up our base house in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and moved to a small, three-bedroom house in Virginia Beach, Virginia.


At the time, my parents made the conscientious decision not to live on base, because we’d already lived in the area from 1991 to 1994 and preferred life off post.

The prospect of moving was daunting at first, as we had family living in Massachusetts, and very few acquaintances in Norfolk. But like all military families do, you put your best face forward and move. Between 1997 and 2001, we rented three different houses before settling on one in a quiet Norfolk neighborhood to buy — one that my parents still live in today.

Unbeknownst to us, the permanent change of station turned out to be one of the best things that could have ever happened. Although moving to a military town is not a decision families make for themselves, learning to love it is their choice.

Known for being home to the world’s largest Navy base, Norfolk boasts something much more special: its people.

Related: Six creative ways to help your kids with deployment »

One of the most striking things about Norfolk and the Greater Hampton Roads Area is that it’s so deeply influenced by the military. There are very few natives, and most of them, somewhere down the line, had parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents who were brought there by the military. As a kid, almost all my friends had at least one parent serving, if not both.

The thing about living in a military town like Norfolk is that the residents become a part of your extended family. Most military families never have the luxury of living near blood relatives, so you learn to lean on your neighbors, squadron, platoon, or church. When good things happen, they rejoice with you. When bad things happen, they are the first to lend a hand in any way they can.

I remember, there was a girl in my class whose dad was serving on the USS Cole when it was attacked in 2000, and everyone came together to do whatever they could to ease the burden for her mom. We attended a small Catholic school, and the church held a prayer service for his safe return and the safety of the whole crew. He arrived home, and the entire community felt relief with the family.

When the two planes crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, it shook the entirety of Hampton Roads.

My dad, and all my friends’ moms and dads who served, were sent out to sea immediately after the attacks to prevent fleet damage. The families left behind, rather than being sad, afraid, and hiding out at home, came together. Parents who were able to stay home helped watch the children of service members who were deployed. We held candlelight vigils and patriotic picnics, and there was just a feeling that while the attacks were painful, they would not keep us down.

It’s no surprise to me that a number of people I grew up with chose to follow in their parents’ footsteps. After graduating high school, so many of them attended military academies, opted for ROTC, or enlisted. Others I know have since married soldiers, Marines, and sailors. Growing up in a military town laid the foundation for a number of my friends’ adult lives — and I guess I should say mine too.

The military is a lifestyle, and once you’ve experienced it, is almost impossible to leave behind. The friendships you make there are lifelong and survive distance in a way that most relationships can’t. That’s just the culture of the military overall.

Even though Task & Purpose readers voted Norfolk as the worst place in the Navy to be stationed, I find myself missing it often. Regardless of the bad traffic on Military Highway or the extreme flooding when it rains, I’m proud to call Norfolk home, and I couldn’t imagine what life would be like had I not grown up in a military town.

An Austrian Jagdkommando K9 unit conducts training (Austrian Armed Forces photo)

An Austrian soldier was apparently killed by two military working dogs that he was charged with feeding, the Austrian Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday.

Read More Show Less

Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario has 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.

Read More Show Less

My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."

Opinion

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

Read More Show Less
Photo: ABC News/screenshot

Federal court judge Reggie Walton in Washington D.C. has ruled Hoda Muthana, a young woman who left her family in Hoover, Alabama, to join ISIS, is not a U.S. citizen, her attorneys told AL.com Thursday.

The ruling means the government does not recognize her a citizen of the United States, even though she was born in the U.S.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- The Marine Corps could train as many as eight co-ed companies at boot camp each year, and the general overseeing the effort is hitting back against those complaining that the move is lowering training standards.

"Get over it," Maj. Gen. William Mullen, the head of Training and Education Command told Military.com on Thursday. "We're still making Marines like we used to. That has not changed."

Mullen, a career infantry officer who has led troops in combat — including in Fallujah, Iraq — said Marines have likely been complaining about falling standards since 1775.

"I'm assuming that the second Marine walking into Tun Tavern was like 'You know ... our standards have gone down. They're just not the same as it they used to be,'" Mullen said, referring to the service's famous birthplace. "That has always been going on in the history of the Marine Corps."

Read More Show Less