Army Brat Life: Lessons Learned & Appreciated

Army Brat Life: Lessons Learned & Appreciated

Traveling and the military are in my blood. I’ve been exposed to it all my life, from the very first slap on my ass at Ft Mead’s Kimbrough Army Hospital to the last time I was pinched on my much larger ass on the busy streets of Rome many, many, many years later. But my most vivid AND fond memories of the military are of when I was a child. Those experiences made me who I am. However, Army Brat Life is not all good. It’s great!

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army-brat-sleepy-kid Army Brat Life: Lessons Learned & Appreciated

The Life of an Army Brat

Lessons Learned and Appreciated

I was born on that military base, and I’ve been traveling more or less every three years since. Nothing made this more evident than when my husband brushed his hand across my cheek, gazed into my eyes, and told me it was time to purchase our forever home. He matter-of-factly stated that the nomadic life I had been living in the last 40+ years would soon be coming to an end. And that we needed to look into burying our nonexistent roots deep into some soil of our own.

The shock must have been noticeable because he quickly added, “relax, every traveler needs a home base.” For most people, that wouldn’t have been so alarming, but I’m not most people. I’ve been living the life of an Army Brat. Forever home sounds like a prison without bars.

Defining an Army Brat

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Growing up in the Military

Military Life is Full of Second Chances

I never thought of being an Army Brat as a subculture, but it is just that, especially back then. Our worldview is shaped by our nomadic lifestyle. Military installations are compact cities with shopping, theaters, schools, sports teams, and clubs. We understand each other because we share in the fact that we are continually reinventing ourselves.

I thought everybody was born with a passport and a social security number. It wasn’t unusual to travel or change schools so often. Back then, it was harder to keep up with people because we didn’t have Facebook, Whatsapp, or Zoom. I was used to being the new kid again and again. And it didn’t occur to me that living that way would lead to a life of everlasting wanderlust.

Over time one the biggest lessons learned about Army Brat Life is that people are people– everywhere. We all want the same things out of life. We just live in diverse places, eat different foods, speak various languages, and enjoy our unique cultures. And that none of them are right or wrong. There just are. and because Army Brats are subject to all the above, I think we are more resilient, more open to diversity, and more apt to acclimate to life in constant change. And as my dad says, he didn’t raise us to stay at home. He raised us to go out into the world.

military-kids Army Brat Life: Lessons Learned & Appreciated

So Are Military Kids That Resilient?

Lessons Learned. It takes an Entire Community

The jury is out on whether growing up the way I did was a good thing or not. I am a member of the former camp. I feel that my experiences helped me understand people better. The frequent moves helped me learn patience and adaptability. Sure there were some trying times too, but show me a teenager who escapes those?

I asked my community that question a few years ago, and it went viral. The responses and range of experiences as military kids were overwhelming. All I can say is that now that I am a mom, I know how hard my mom and dad worked to make our home as stable as possible. My parents operated from an unwritten playbook. The new experiences, foods, activities, and people we were introduced to were just as unfamiliar to them. Especially my mom, who never imagined she’d be an Army mom & wife in South Korea. She was new to Army life. And yet, they were never shaken. And although the location of our some changed from year to year, the love inside it never wavered.

cacus-flower Army Brat Life: Lessons Learned & Appreciated

The Things You Remember

And Appreciated. That Really Depends on What You Want to Remember

I don’t remember everything, but I remember a little bit about every duty station and military installation. and as an Army Brat, there have been several. As a child, I’ve lived in Georgia, California, Indiana, New York, Maryland, Germany, and South Korea.

I remember Fort Ord, a beautiful base in northern California. It’s been closed now since 1994. We left it in the late ’70s– yes, I’m that old. Monterrey Bay is as stunning a backdrop to life as you can get. Our house sat on a hill, overlooking a large playground where the weirdest plant grew.

They grew in the sand and were thick, filled with juice and pulp. We loved breaking off the plants and drawing pictures on the sidewalk. They made an excellent medium to create long-lasting hopscotch blocks when it dried– way better than chalk.

I also remember getting a puppy, the only puppy I ever had– or wanted during this time. It was a cockapoo mix. I kept it for a few months, and I have no idea what I named it. One morning I woke up, and the puppy was gone.

My dad explained that we were moving to Korea and we couldn’t take a dog with us. I think he lied. I suspect the real reason my parents got rid of the dog was that they were the ones who took care of it instead of me. We moved to Seoul or Yongsan, Korea later that year. My mom, dad, and baby sister lived in a village just outside the city. I have a lot of memories of Korea, and here are just a few of them.

Living in South Korea

PCS move to South Korea

  • They eat dogs. Yes, woof, woof. I found out one afternoon when my friend handed me some meat on a stick. And it wasn’t until I took a bite that my friend screamed that it was a real “hot dog.” And although I spit it out immediately, I’ve have had problems eating meat on a stick ever since.
  • I remember thinking my dad was a badass. Soldiers were required to wear a sidearm to escort the school bus on and off the base. I have a very vivid memory of one of these times with my father. I remember climbing the two or three stairs to find my dad at the top, strapped, and knowing that I was safe.
  • The village we lived in was at the bottom of a hill, and my mother, a little less Evil Knievel these days, used to floor the gas pedal whenever we went up the mountain, so we caught a whole lot of air before landing. It was the highlight of returning home every evening.
  • I remember the words of the popular folk song, “Arirang.” Many years afterward, I thought it was the Korean National Anthem, but it’s not. It’s more popular than the Korean National Anthem. I can sing it to this day whenever I hear it.

Some Things Never Change

And finally– The Kim Factor

But my favorite memory of living in Korea as a military child has to be the Kim Factor. They were three maids we had over the three years we lived in Korea. Ms. Kim was the first; she was a young girl who spoke very little English and cleaned the house even less. She didn’t last long, but she was sweet.

Then there was Ms. Kim, the remix. Ms. Kim was a little older than her predecessor, but she didn’t take direction very well, and she wouldn’t, or couldn’t, cook. And that’s when we met Mrs. Kim.

FYI– Kim is a very, very popular surname in South Korea. The most common last name in South Korea is Kim. In fact, out of the 50 million people, one in five are named Kim. Ultimately, one in 10 is named Lee, and nearly half the population is named Kim, Lee, or Choi.

Duffelbagspouse-Travels-Mrs-Kim-3 Army Brat Life: Lessons Learned & Appreciated

My Ajumma

Mrs. Kim was terrific. She was an older lady or an ajumma. She was also much happier than the picture above. Mrs. K lived in a nearby village, wither her husband, and four kids. She spoke English well, and she loved to cook. She fed us very well and is the reason why I love kimchi, bulgogi, and yaki mandoo to this day. I eat kimchi at least 2-3 times per week.

She used to take my sister and me home with her on the weekends, where we slept on the floor with her “other” kids.

I can still remember the double-takes we received when the three of us rode the bus to the market. I remember how Ajumma smelled when she brought us in close, explaining we were her American children. She brought us two chicks to play with that mysteriously disappeared one day, just like my dog. My ajumma even taught us some Korean curse words that I still remember.

She stayed with us until we left Korea– becoming part of our family. Not surprisingly, I never knew her first name. She wanted to come back to the US with us. And it broke my mother’s heart to tell her no. She was willing to leave her family behind until she had made it possible for them to join her. I have no idea where she is now, but I think of her often. We all do.

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Some Things Never Change

It’s Never Goodbye, it’s See You Later

Being back here in Korea 30 years later has triggered all those memories even though Seoul and Yongsan look nothing like I remember. When I was a younger girl, I lived here. I was 11 when we moved to a Korea that is much different from the one I knew.

The people are just as curious, a little loud, and a bit pungent in close quarters. Fortunately, the food is still delicious, if not extremely spicy. And wouldn’t you know, Kim is still the most prevalent surname, and this time, we befriended five different Mr. Ks. You can imagine how confusing it could be when we hung out with them. To keep them straight, my husband and I called added: Brewery, Doctor, Policeman, Salesman, and Realtor to keep them straight.

But Some Things Change A Lot

Back then, there was only one AFN (Armed Forces Network) channel that went off around 1 am. Now there’s a dozen or more channels, access to satellite and cable, VPN connections, and order on demand. You can also go to Korean movie theaters who routinely play American films with Korean, not English, subtitles.

When I was here, my cousin Glenda sent me care packages of BUBBLE YUM in all the flavors. That made me very popular because everyone else could only get the original flavor. My favorite was watermelon.

It’s so funny and sometimes very arbitrary what you remember being moved from one set of circumstances to another. You tend to remember things by the music you played or the movies you watched. Back then, it was Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and the Bee Gees Staying Alive. And Queens We Will We Will Rock You was like a national anthem. I guess it STILL is.

Remembering the Good Times

Now here as an adult also makes it clear that I only remember the right things. Things that a child of 11-13 would remember. The adult in me says the language is difficult, and the people can be rude to the country’s sewers system reaks. We spent the first three months looking for an apartment. As an adult, I spend a lot of time separating my trash, and I hang my clothes on the line as they did in medieval times. I don’t remember any of that. I do, however, remember kung dingy knock-knock chosimida, thanks to my Korean Grandma.

They don’t eat dogs like they used to. The younger generation prefers pork. But I still like kimchi. I’m just careful who I tell that too. Because once your neighbors find out, you’ll have more kimchi than you can ever eat. You should trust me on that one. Happy Veteran’s Day to all of you who have served. Because without you, there wouldn’t be any Army Brats.

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  1. Georgina

    I can’t imagine moving so many times but I admire your adventurous and fun outlook at all the experiences of an Army Brat. You have travelled to many countries and learnt of the cultures which in my book is a triple plus. Really enjoyed reading this article. I agree with your husband, we all need a base at some point.

  2. Jay Artale

    I was a force brat growing up And I can’t even remember how many times we moved during my childhood. But it’s giving me that adventurous spirit that makes me embrace every new Destiination and every new opportunity to make new friends.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I agree completely, I also credit my upbringing for my sense of adventure and ability to be open-minded.

  3. Leslie Sellers-Cummins s

    Wow, you brought back a lot of memories! I loved this, and I love you? Keep writing!
    Your little sister,

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