The adaptability of military children

by Trinity Merrell
39th Air Base Wing dependent

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey — The uncertainty of military life may frighten some. There is never truly a “safe ground,” or feeling of complete calmness since around the next corner may be an unanticipated change of plans. You never know when you may have to uproot your life in one place and suddenly have to rebuild your life somewhere entirely different.

True as these things might be, I can say with certainty that military life has molded me into a well-rounded person, though it may be a biased thought.

Being a military child has taught me more things than I could imagine. For the sake of brevity, I’ll narrow that extensive list down to three key themes that have occurred and reoccurred throughout my military child life: resiliency, participation and relationships.

When a person enlists into the military, they agree to a life of spontaneity and unexpected change for themselves and any direct family they have or will have in the future. As a result, everyone in that person’s family must learn to quickly adapt to whatever sudden events may happen.

Children of military members especially learn to roll with the punches — our motto may as well be “adapt to survive.” The obvious element that establishes this talent for acclimation is constant movement. For most dependent children a move is expected every two to five years. Every new place we live, we essentially have to rediscover ourselves and our place in this world. This is especially true of moves to new countries. Not only must we learn how to function with the Americans in this new place, but we must immerse ourselves in the culture of our host nation.

I have been able to experience this particular type of change in the last few years since I moved to Turkey. Living in a predominantly Muslim-based country with very deeply rooted values has given me perspective and respect for the diversity of the world. I know there are certain things that are considered inappropriate to many Turkish citizens that are completely acceptable in America. In respect for the people of this country, I make sure I respect their values and beliefs, even though they are not my own. While being constantly on the move has taught me much in the area of resiliency in times of change, it has also taught me to make the most of the time I have.

Military children typically have very little time to get a firm grasp on the communities they find themselves in. Thankfully, there are national programs like Girl Scouts of the United States of America that allow for children to easily make a place for themselves amongst their peers. In other cases, where there isn’t a pre-established organization designed to unite children across America, we must learn to forge a path ourselves. At Incirlik, participation is key. I have personally learned that the best way to get comfortable and use my time wisely is to get involved. Whenever I move to a new place, I find out what programs are offered that strike my interest. I relentlessly scout out opportunities to participate in the community, both at the school-level and in the community as a whole. In my two years at my most recent base, I have risen to a leadership position in more than five organizations from Keystone, to Future Educators of America student council, and I am an active member of a few other clubs.

I have also assisted in designing both school and sports crests, as well as academic materials for the school to release on an informational basis. I truly believe that the best way to leave your mark on a community is to make sure you dig in deep. When you start participating early, you expand your network of relationships and contacts, which you can call upon later in life.

An inevitable effect of participation is the forming of relationships. Throughout my life, I’ve always known that I would never get more than a few years with the people I met. It’s due to this hard truth that I geared myself towards building my relationships on strong, meaningful foundations.

When I first meet someone, I strive to be as genuine as possible. There is a great deal of importance in the ability to be fully truthful in a first encounter. Too many times I have encountered people who turn out to be a lot different than they appeared to be at first. Most of the time, those people have had the privilege of forming relationships over time. Their friends already know who they are as people, so they don’t feel the need to let their guard down and let someone else in upon first meeting. Military children rarely have the luxury of that sort of time. We understand that a firm relationship needs to be honest and open from the get-go. The end goal of this strategy is to sort out those people who can truly understand and care for you the way a true friend would. I’ve found that relationships built on this mutual trust and understanding go much further than those built on popularity and intrigue.

Relationships have become an essential part of the person I’ve become, allowing me to easily adapt and participate in any community I’m placed in.

Movement and change have always been a part of who I am. I’ve learned that my participation and commitment to new places, while short in their duration, are essential to thriving in that community. Without the experiences I’ve been privileged enough to have as a military child, I don’t think I would have some of the essential life skills I’ve learned along the way. What others may see as a cumbersome life of uncertainty, I see as world full of endless opportunity for learning and growing as a person. In the end, it is those skills we are forced to learn that set military kids apart from others. We are able to take the resiliency and involvement techniques that we develop from a young age to establish strong foundations with the people around us. Those relationships, in turn, will propel
us through life.