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A Family Enlisted This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By , Milledgeville, GA
I am a military brat. As a sergeant major in the Marine Corps, my dad has had countless deployments. My parents have a long-distance relationship; he flies home from California every few weeks, and stays as long as his leave lasts. It hurts seeing him and getting used to him being home, only to have him snatched back by the Corps. If I were honest, I would say I would rather just have it one way, but it's not my choice. When we were awaiting orders in North Carolina, we knew if we got Okinawa, Hawaii, or California, Dad would fly home every few weeks, but we wouldn't be able to bring our horses with us. We had already experienced living in Hawaii, and it was pretty unpleasant. I've lived surrounded by beaches my whole life; because of this, I loathe hurricanes and tornados. When you're trapped on an island, you learn to hate it.

The first time I can remember my dad being deployed to Iraq, I got the dates of his departure confused. I thought I still had a week left. “I thought you were leaving Sunday, Dad …” I said. My stomach dropped in desperation. This could be the last time I see him – he might not come back. I sprinted to my room, climbed onto my bunk bed, and started bawling my eyes out. I couldn't stop picturing myself holding a flag over a coffin. Dad came in and said, “Let's get Mom to set you up an e-mail account so you can talk to me whenever you like.” That was one of the two times I've ever seen him cry. I grew up a lot during that tour.

My dad survived that deployment, along with many others. It was on that tour that he lost a friend in a vehicle that was hit with an IED. One time, Dad's vehicle was blown up – somehow he managed to get out and run for his life. His fellow Marines screamed for him to stop running, but if he had stopped he would have been sliced and diced by the raining shrapnel. Dad returned with damaged hearing and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The PTSD was so bad that if it was thundering out, or if a cabinet slammed loudly, he would throw himself to the floor with us in tow. If he got help, I never knew about it. I was in the fourth grade when this was happening, but I felt as old as a teenager.

When I went to school with other military brats, they were either really rebellious or they sucked it up and grew up. There's no happy medium; you either deal with it or you rebel. I grew up fast. I've never had the luxury of growing up with friends, because every time I made some, we had to move. When you move away from friends so often, it's almost like a death – you forget them and they forget you.

Because I loved horses, my mom started taking me to a stable. She wanted to get my mind off Dad, and it worked. I rode every day and forgot about worrying. If I did feel down about Dad not being there, I had a big, warm horse's shoulder to cry on.

My dad's been on roughly 20 deployments. It's easy to lose count. I've lost track of how many dinners, birthdays, and Christmases he has missed. In hindsight, I think I got used to those holidays and dinners just being another day when Dad ­wasn't there. When you don't have your family around you, special days don't truly count. I envy people who know their family will be there, ­instead of missing in action.

When Dad can be with us for holidays, we treat those days like gold because we never know if he'll be there the next time. Enjoy what you can, but prepare for the worst is our family's unspoken motto.

It sounds like the worst life to lead, but it is a life we have chosen. When you sign up for the service, you're signing your family up too. You become a nomad. If I'm asked where I'm from, I can't answer unless the asker wants to hear my life story. I've never had a home where I could put up posters or paint my room.

The perks of being a military brat are nice, though – quality hospitals, getting expensive shoes half price on base, and seeing all the Marines and spouses reunite at homecoming. Studies show that military kids are more culturally rounded, mature, and accepting of new people and experiences than the average child.

I would choose the life I've led over growing up with the same people and staying in one spot. If not for the Marine Corps, I might take those precious times I have with my family for

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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