Being a Military Brat

A Guide to Life on the Inside

Mixed race soldier hugging son
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Whether you’re a military brat, grew up as one, are raising one now, or are thinking of bringing one into this world, there are certain things that every military brat can relate to. Much like the actual military, the population of military brats is relatively small, which makes it feel like you’re meeting your extended family anytime you meet another brat. Chances are once you get to exchange stories you’ll notice a lot of similarities.

Where Are You From?

For most kids, this is an easy question. They can reply with Dayton, Ohio or Orlando, Florida, typically the place they were born and raised. But military brats move so often it’s hard to use one location. They’ll wonder whether they should say, “The place I was born? Where I went to elementary school? Where I most felt like home? My favorite duty station?” Fortunately, most people—whether kids or adults—find the military lifestyle fascinating, so go ahead and give the long answer.

If You’re on Time, You’re Late

Anyone who’s in the military or had military parents knows that you show up to appointments at least fifteen minutes in advance. It’s actually a great habit to have; you’ll rarely be punished for showing up early (with the exception of dinner parties), but you’ll almost always regret being late. It’s impolite to keep people waiting, especially doctors and administrative personnel who have dozens of other patients and/or customers to see that day.

Use of Last Names

Brats often refer to their friends and peers by the last name, the same way their parents address their coworkers, but without the rank. Most civilian children can go through elementary school without knowing their best friends last name because it’s rarely used. Even if there are siblings with the same last name in a class, the kids will create nicknames, which they’ll use through adulthood.

Military Language

Whether it’s the phonetic alphabet or learning how to use a 24-hour clock, military brats learn a new language while growing up on base. Hearing their parents make appointments at “zero eight hundred hours” or “fifteen hundred hours” changes the way they tell time. Military brats are bound to judge their future coworkers when they say “C as in cat” instead of simply “Charlie.”

Military ID

Brats know that having a military ID card is the equivalent of a golden ticket and something they should never lose. Losing it means that they’ll have to spend hours in an administrative office with a parent, filling out endless paperwork. In order to have access to the commissary, gym, pool, and any other locations on base, servicemembers and their families must have an identification card.

Pride in Their Appearance

After watching their parents use a ruler to make sure everything on their uniform aligns perfectly, military brats have no choice but to take great pride in their appearance. They may be subjected to the same haircuts and clothing guidelines, thanks to a frequent lack of on-base options, but they’ll wear those clothes and sport those haircuts with the same pride as their parents do.

Growing up as a military brat is a unique and often rewarding experience. It can seem stressful and complicated with the multiple moves, leaving friends, and being forced into new and different cultures. But the lessons learned and skills acquired will stay with them forever. More often than not, looking back on life as a military brat will provide endless entertainment and laughter to anyone they share the stories with.