I was a normal nine-year-old just getting home from a Christmas shopping trip. Well…as normal as you can get when your dad’s on a 400-day deployment with the Army, and you’re buying desert-proof supplies to fit into a USPS box instead of into a space under your Christmas tree.
I remember exactly where I was standing when the phone rang and my mom answered. The memory of her dropping to her knees, sobs racking her body, telling a man on the other side of the receiver to just let her know that her husband was alive will forever be burned into my mind. That day, on November 20th, 2011, I watched as the strongest woman I know broke. I had no idea what to do.
There are moments in life when strength beyond our years floods into us, and I think that was one of those days. After following my mother’s instructions to call her friend for support, I held my eight-year-old sister, telling her everything was going to be okay. Daddy was going to be okay. It wouldn’t be for another four days that I would find out my father had stepped on an IED and would have to have his right leg amputated below the knee.
The next three years were both the worst and the best of my life. We lived in and out of a hospital, but my dad had come home. Life was confusing, but I was finally surrounded by people – by friends – who understood our military life."If I am able to help even one person outside of the military world understand how the minds and hearts of military children work and function, I’ve served my purpose." @iwillwaitvsp Click To Tweet
My dad was a prior-service soldier before I had memories of it and had led a civilian life for most of my young childhood. When my dad missed the comradery of the military and re-enlisted into the Army Reserve when I was eight, however, that civilian world was suddenly a lonely place. Not only could I not wrap my head around what I was feeling about the jolt of all that military life entails, (the absences, the trainings, the field exercises, and so on), but those around me – most of whom had no military exposure at all – could not understand what I was feeling either.
Flashing back to those three years of recovery, by finally having support of a military community, of people who did “get it,” I was able to cope. If I had not been surrounded by those who eventually became life-long friends and family, I don’t know what would have happened to see us through those darkest of places.
Finding Myself Again…through Them
My dad’s recovery is still ongoing, but I have found answers to where I “fit.” In the years that followed my dad’s re-enlistment, injury, and transition to retirement, I couldn’t find connection within my non-military surroundings. It made life miserable for quite some time. But then…I found my way through giving a voice to those who understood – through sharing the stories of military children.
In early March of 2021, nearly ten years after the day our lives had been forever changed, my mom suggested that I start a podcast I would later name Grace of a Military Child. While I was reluctant at first, I did not realize until after daring to do it how much I had needed to connect with other military children and the military community again to feel like myself.
To truly understand the life of a military child, you have to actually live through it. I know that well. But now, using the platform of my podcast, I have a mission. Military children tend not to be recognized like they deserve to be for the sacrifice they make to be supportive of their parents. By allowing military children a space in which to share their experiences and the ways in which they have been impacted by military life, I want to give them that recognition – both within the military community and outside of it. If I am able to help even one person outside of the military world understand how the minds and hearts of military children work and function, I’ve served my purpose.
The Circle of Voices
While there have been bumps in the road and some overwhelming moments over this last year and a half of recording, I have been able to pass the mic to over 50 military children! Here are some of the more poignant pieces of just some of their stories:
Episode 7: COL Edwards (Army Child; Active Duty Soldier)
“Home is where I am at the time . . . what do I feel like I lost out on as a military child? . . . I, unfortunately, never got to experience having roots anywhere. . . . I’ve never been able to call a place home for any longer than three years. . . . Some people could say, ‘Well, call high school home.’ That would be easy if I didn’t go to four different high schools in four different years. . . . It’s the toughest question in the world: ‘Where’s home?’“
Episode 9: Deryn (Army Child)
“Whenever my dad got injured, I had to mature a little bit faster than all of my friends because you have to care-give, and you have to step up. . . the military changes you for the better, and you all have a common understanding of one another.“
Episode 33: Jacob (Gold Star Son; Navy Child)
“The vivid memories stay. . . . I remember my grandma’s scream . . . I somehow made it down my stairwell in two and a half leaps to go see what was wrong. . . . she just had a phone in her hand, and she was broken, and she looked up at me, and she just said, ‘Your dad.’ . . . I sat down, and I just like stared forward – kinda numb . . . my world just kind of broke. . . . It was the hardest thing.“
Episode 47: Lacey Evans (Marine Corps Veteran; WWE Professional Wrestler)
“They [the general public] don’t know what’s left with your family. They don’t see those nights behind closed doors and what you guys still struggle with, and that’s what this podcast is helping people realize. It continues, it goes on, but we fight through it; we keep pushing, we get our heads up . . . let’s march forward.“
Episode 50: Boston (Gold Star Son; Air Force Child)
“I remember vividly walking in our backyard . . . a few days after what happened and being in denial. . . . My dad, his plane crashed, so he was supporting some Delta force operators who were on the ground, and he was flying over and engaging enemy who was attacking the good guys who were on the ground, and his plane eventually got so close to the ground that he couldn’t pull up after he had made his strafing run, utilizing his machine guns to engage the enemy. And so after he crashed, it was . . . in such a war-torn, kind of “hot” area that the enemy actually got to the crash site before the good guys did, and so, with that, his body was . . . taken from the crash site by the insurgents before we were able to get to him. At that point, they had enough DNA to totally identify that it was my dad and that he was killed in action, but a majority of his remains were . . . taken on site, and so there was, for a few days there . . . a little bit of mystery kind of around what exactly happened . . . I remember being in denial. . . . It was that rejection of the reality of what was going on in my nine-year-old brain. . . . That was a really visceral feeling . . .”
Coming Full Circle from Military Child to Military Spouse
My own “voice” has changed recently and, with it, the name of my podcast. In January, I found my true love in a U.S. Marine, and we’re planning our wedding for the summer of 2023. Since I’ll soon be updating my “military child” title to “military spouse,” I decided it was time to rename the podcast Grace of a Military Child and Life. Over the last two months, I have revamped the podcast, scheduling interviews and working on expanding it to also include military spouses, giving them a platform to share their experiences, as well. I’ve been gaining advice and a glimpse into what my future life as a military spouse will hold.
Looking back at my childhood and forward to being a wife, I see how big of a change is in store. But I have found my path, passion, and true love. Funnily enough, all three of those tie back to the military in some way. The military community provides a sense of family wherever you go that is irreplaceable. I am so grateful to have found that connection again.
Listening to Grace of a Military Child and Life Podcast
To find the podcast, search Grace of a Military Child (and Life). You’ll be able to listen to previous episodes, (including the full stories of all of the guests mentioned above), along with a new series of episodes that kicked off on August 2nd! You can also find the podcast on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.
If you are a military spouse or a military child and would like to be on the podcast, please reach out via one of my social media platforms linked above or email email@example.com