Michelle Mann

If you mix the colors Army green, Coast Guard blue, Air Force blue, Marine red and Navy blue you get the color purple.

That is why purple is the color used to symbolize the combination of all the branches of the military as we come into the month of April and celebrate the Month of the Military Child.

Communities are encouraged to “purple up” as part of a campaign initiated in 2011 by Operation Military Kids, an organization dedicated to military children.

As do many areas thriving around a military installation, people in the Wiregrass know that military children should be celebrated every day of the year for the rainbow of life experiences that they bring to the table in our community.

“Military brat” is a term of endearment that most military children claim with pride. It signifies a group with a common bond who know that home is where your heart is, frequent moves mean you don’t accumulate a lot of stuff, changing schools means making new friends—and then leaving them behind and loving sometimes long distance parents.

The term military brat was first used in 1921. The story is that when a member of the British Army was assigned abroad and could take his family, the family went in an administrative status called BRAT status, an acronym for British Regiment Attached Traveler.

Over the years, it was altered to refer only to the children of the military. The term stuck.

I proudly claim the title military brat although that is not technically accurate. My parents, both educators, moved from their home in upstate New York and relocated overseas before I was born. They were part of the then fledging school system being developed for the children of military members stationed overseas.

My siblings and I lived from pillar to post between Germany, France, England, Belgium and England until we each graduated from our respective high school in our respective countries and came back to the United States for college.

Some years later we learned that sociologists called us “Third Culture Kids,” a term used to refer to children raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a major part of their childhood.

So while growing up without the opportunity to move back “to the land of the big PX” until we were in college, we TCKs—alongside our military brat friends— learned early several life lessons that have served us well.

We learned patriotism early but also respect for the customs and cultures of our host nations.

We learned to salute the American flag during the National Anthem. We learned, too, that we were mini-ambassadors for our country. That is no small responsibility.

We learned early that speaking loudly in our own language in a “foreign” land does not help people there understand us.

We learned to reach out to the “new kid” because we had been the new kid more times than we can count.

We learned early that we are usually the “strangers” living in countries, states, cities and communities not our own. We understand the meaning of the lyrics, “We are the world, we are the children.”

We learned resiliency, to “soldier on” as we learned how to be brave in uncertain times as our world churned. The phrase “Fake it til you feel it” was most certainly invented by a military child.

We learned that everyone has his or her own set of challenges, everyone has a story to tell, even if it is in another language.

We learned early how to say good-bye to cherished friends—often. We learned how to say “see you later” and to pretend it might happen.

Most of all, we learned early in life to respect and celebrate diversity.

Michelle Mann is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are her own and not the opinion of the paper. She can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at mmann@southeastsun.com.

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