I am a military brat

  • Published
  • By Col Phil Heseltine
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing
On our base and in communities all across Kansas, April is month of the military child. As likely one of, if not the most senior military child on McConnell I am a proud to call myself a life-long Air Force brat. Some people do not like that term, but I do.

Katie Lange of Department of Defense news wrote last year that the term “brat” may have origins as early as 1921 when it was referenced in a book attributing “brat” to a slang term for “British regiment attached traveler,” or the families who were able to travel abroad with their British army soldier. I think that term perfectly summarizes me.

Born at Luke Air Force Base in a hospital that no longer exists, I was issued my first military identification card at age 10. Which was very exciting because I could now go to the base exchange or shoppette stores without my parents. Our family had twelve moves that took us from Arizona to the Philippines, Utah, Virginia, North and South Dakota, and both California and Texas three different times each. I attended six elementary, two middle and three high schools during moves that came almost every two years of my life.

Sometimes it was very hard to drop everything, say goodbye to the friends you made and dutifully load up the car for the next Air Force-assigned adventure. Our family made the most of it and moves were always an opportunity to visit cousins or travel to places across the country that we had never seen. To be honest, I actually loved moving.

An anonymously written poem describes dandelions as the flower of military children. “Dandelions put down roots almost anywhere. Experts say military children are well-rounded and extremely resilient.” Maybe, but please don’t describe me as a dandelion. Ask anyone if they would like a lawn full of dandelions and I am certain you will not get a positive response. To me, this flower represents a weed which is not welcome and is eventually blown away in the wind.

Frequent moves come with a cost. One of the most interesting occurs whenever someone asks me where I am from. Before I left home for college I had never lived anywhere more than three years. Being a lifetime brat means I do not have a hometown. I don’t even have a particular state where I considered to be home.

Whenever I am asked the question I think back to a saying very common across Air Force bases in the late 1970s; “Hang your hat at home tonight … Air Force family time.” For me, home was always where my family was. Today, home is always where my family is. And as the Dandelion poem accurately says, “military children learn from an early age that home is where their heart is.”

Last week I had the distinct privilege to deliver an address alongside Derby’s Mayor Randy White at Park Hill Elementary School. It was quite humbling to stand before nearly 100 military children, who looked like I did, and their families being recognized at a “Purple Out” celebration. This event marked a day the school district and the city had set aside to highlight the service and unique challenges faced by our military families.

I think it is very special that we took a few moments to pause and to reflect on how vital our children and families are. I learned later that similar Purple Out events were happening all across the city. For me this was uniquely special because at no time in my childhood do I ever remember any community taking time out for us. Not that we asked for anything more than a welcome place to live; some were better than others, some were worse.

In 25 years of active duty there has never been a community support that comes close to Wichita and the surrounding cities. No one appreciates the service of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen who wear the cloth of this nation, and more importantly the service of our families more than Kansans.

So as I prepare for retirement, setting down some roots and closing the book on my half-century military journey, I am very excited for my military children, and truthfully for me to finally have an answer to the frequent question, where are you from? Our home town is Derby, in the great state of Kansas.