I am a BRAT

Disclaimer: I am going to write about some personal things in this entry. I will also include a glossary of terms after this entry for those not familiar with military jargon.

The first time I went to a civilian movie theatre, I was fifteen years old. When the lights dimmed, I stood up, waiting. I looked around and became angry that other people hadn’t done the same. “Civilians!” I exclaimed to myself.

I can remember that theatre in South Florida. I remember where I sat and that the chairs were red. But I couldn’t tell you which movie I was there to see. For about two hours I sat, confused as to why the National Anthem had not played before the previews commenced. Was this going to be life “on the outside?” For a long time after my father retired, I felt like an outsider in the “outside” world (the irony), but I at least had an ID card while in college. Then they took that, too. And it sucked.

That is the life of the military child.  When your father retires, you are thrown into this world of disorder. A lot of us become extremely regimented, and a bit inflexible. That’s not to say we aren’t adaptable, because us BRATS, oh do we ever adapt! It feels like everything in the civilian world moves differently, though. It’s slower. The sense of urgency to be on time (which actually means to be early) doesn’t exist so much. The work ethic feels different. You soon learn the metric upon which the military measures itself doesn’t exist for “everyone else”.  And suddenly, you come to the startling realization – YOU ARE everyone else!

I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but after protesting his offers of courtship many times, I once went out with a Marine Major/JAG just so I could get onto the local Air Force Base. I did also enjoy the emails about the parts of his cases he was allowed to share with me while he was up at Camp Lejeune conducting trials.  So back to getting on base…  I didn’t want to go anywhere in particular. I just wanted to be able to *BE* on base. I wanted to feel the nostalgia, see the men and women in their uniforms and drive past the BX (aka NEX, PX, MCX). Maybe I’d see see an F-15 or two and he’d certainly get a salute driving through the gate. My entire childhood these were objects of comfort and familiarity. It’s a special world we live in once we step off civilian land and past the guard gate. It’s also sometimes ugly.

For all of the ways that I love the military I will be the first to tell you it is not perfect. Many children pay a price for their mother’s and/or father’s career. Not having a father present for months at a time, it became a difficult adjustment when he was home. Our mother was our primary caregiver, disciplinarian, chef and family accountant. When our father would arrive home from TDY it was not like the pictures you see of wives running toward their husbands, children in arm having a tearful reunion. Our family was more along the lines of, “Who are you telling us to be home at 1800 hours and trying to lay down the law? You’re never here. NOW you want to play house? I don’t think so.” Yet we still respected our father’s career. I think many BRATS still try to reconcile how they could tow both lines at once.

Years ago, I volunteered to take part in a documentary entitled BRATS: OurJourney Home. It was an extremely cathartic experience for me. I am a very different person now than I was then. I look different. I was in an unhappy marriage and I thought Florida was the end-all, be-all of life. The filmmaker allowed me to express feelings I never knew how to express.  She introduced me to other people who were like me; couldn’t stay in one place, longed to travel, had a few commitment issues, were a bit OCD and who had also been abused at the hands of the military, yet somehow still loved all the good in it. I began to realize I was not alone in my feelings. The name of the documentary could not have hit the nail on the head more accurately: it was like a journey home. I finally learned that home can be a journey in itself and that is OKAY! I also addressed sexual abuse in the military.

This is something that has been in and out of the media for years. Most recently, Two-Star General Magaret Woodward has been named to head the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention Office after Lieutenant Colonel, Jeffrey Krusinski was arrested for sexual battery.

When I first heard about this story in the news, a familiar sick feeling came over me. The sad thing is, I cannot tell you I was surprised. The very thing that was supposed to protect women betrayed them. My story is similar. Except I wasn’t quite a woman. I was sexually assaulted on a military base. I was eleven years old. Years later, when the OSI came to my parent’s home to investigate, the story they reported was not the account I had given them. They worked to cover it up; to bury this ugly secret. It was later found that the men who did this had done it to other children, too. To my knowledge, they were never brought to justice.

So how does one do it? How does one reconcile loving an entity that has and will betray its own? The very thing that put a roof over our head, food on the table and that had always protected me not only made me relive this awful experience, they lied about.

It took me years, the documentary and meeting other BRATS to realize I can assign responsibility to individuals – not the entire military for what happened to me. I lived with a lot of guilt for missing the military lifestyle. I mean, how could I miss something that hurt me so badly? Finally, I began to let go of that guilt.

Whether you believe in retribution, karma or hell, I am convinced all individuals involved will have to try to come to terms with and answer for what they did. I will not blame the many good men and women of our armed forces for the trespasses of others. I am choosing to focus on the good memories, and the new ones that I am creating. Fourth of July fireworks on base, marches around the parade field, a ride in an F-16, upcoming tours of my husband-to-be’s Destroyer, my sailor in his uniform, and yes, even shopping at the commissary; these things bring a smile to my lips. I am especially excited about having an ID card again!

Despite my past and despite its shortcomings, the journeys that come with being a BRAT are my home. My thirst to see the world and meet its people are my home. The arms of my future Navy husband are my home.

Before fiancé and I lived together, I was leaving his place on base for work one morning. Don’t worry, no housing rules were broken /wink! I was walking across the parking lot to get to my car and a familiar bugle call played.  I was curious as to what would play in five minutes. I slowed down so I could hear. Then I heard it; our country’s National Anthem. It was 0800 hours. On Air Force bases, the National Anthem plays at 1700 hours. On Navy bases it plays in the morning. I smiled. I cried. It was like I was being welcomed back home. The military branch was different and the bugle called at a different hour, but I knew in that moment I was definitely where I belong. Embarking on a new journey and home. Finally. Back. Home.

Some terms for those who may not be familiar with military acronyms and jargon:
Military BRAT – Literal acronym is British Regiment Attached Traveler – child of someone in the military. Not seen as an insult.
TDY – Temporary duty; can be a week or several months or longer. It’s a temporary assignment to fulfill a duty. Some also refer to this as deployment (deployment is often associated with an assignment taking place in a war-torn area).
OSI – Office of Special Investigations – this is the department of the Air Force that conducts special investigations
BX – Air Force Term for Base Exchange (think Department Store with clothing, electronics, high end perfumes, make-up, designer bags, etc. at cheaper prices, but not a Ross/TJ Maxx type of store)
NEX – Navy Term for Naval Exchange
PX – Army Term for Post Exchange
MCX – Marine Term for Marine Exchange
Commissary – grocery store on a military base
ID card – like a driver’s license; gets you on base, allows you to shop on base. Children are issued one at the age of 10.
Military time – I still use the 24 hour clock in my car and on my phone.  Just add 1200 to the time and you will get military time. For example: 4:00pm is 1600 hours in military time. Helps distinguish morning from night. Morning hours begin with a zero. Midnight is 2400 and 1am would be 0100.
Bugle call – various pieces of music signaling songs, events, etc. in the military (wake-up calls/go to sleep calls, etc.)