You didn’t volunteer, you didn’t enlist. Like me, you may have been born to it, drafted the day you arrived. You have no battle ribbons or medals to wear. All you have is an old set of memories worn smooth by time and travel. A memory or two of distant family and a handful of friends scattered into the winds of time and military whims.
These are and were America’s secret warriors: the military child. They often included their mothers and friends, though not all. They claimed the lives of sons and daughters of the warrior clan. Many got sucked into the Warrior mentality. Trained to be strong and brave, to say “yes sir,” and “yes ma’am”.
I am talking about military dependents; specifically, military kids. The Army brats, the Navy ones; Air Force brats and Marine Corps kids. You know who you are. You can feel it in your heart sometimes – that siren call that consists of chopper thumps and Taps lonesome call. The one that wakes you in the morning sometimes with the bugles of Revelry in your mind – and you walk to the window half expecting to see a flag being raised outside.
These are people you meet on the street. Some have “served” in an official fashion; for instance, I joined the Marine Corps. My father was an Army man. My mother came from an Air Force brat background. The military ultimately ruled our clan – and still does in some ways.
They never “asked for it” – but they are there: the military’s children, all grown up. Some didn’t ‘serve’ officially. But they were there. They ‘served’ in their own way – whether by supporting a military parent, doing what they were told; bowing to regulation, living in foreign lands. They may have trained with weapons, they may have learned survival techniques. Some, like me, were trained for nuclear warfare when they were very young. They, too, were torn from their friends and family for extended periods. I know I was – torn again and again.
They say it makes it easier to make friends – learning over and over again, doing the same old dance, the “military shuffle”: making new friends. But what about the old ones? You think it doesn’t tear your heart out sometimes? That you don’t miss them? The ones you loved? Going over to the apartment next door – only to find the familiar faces gone. And sometimes you disappeared instead.
And then there were the Army programs. I learned to parachute by the time I was ten (albeit not from a real plane). I learned how to set up Claymore mines when I was eight. And I was digging punji traps and smearing the stakes with feces when I was seven.
I handled my first shoulder fired rocket when I was ten. I knew how to fire the machinegun on a Huey Cobra – and aim them using the Heads Up Display (HUD) when I was thirteen. I was told it might be my responsibility to use them while a pilot behind me guided the machine – with me becoming a part of it and him. This was in the thought during the Cold War overseas what would happen if the ‘balloon’ went up and our military defeated: they would rely on us U.S. kids to fill the gaps – in order to save our lives and theirs, and hopefully a few besides us.
I know what it is to want to salute the flag; to feel your legs twitch if you are sitting down and the National Anthem comes on. I know I can’t stand to see the Flag go by in a parade without standing and saluting or holding my hand over my heart. It’s part of that patriotism the military built in us – each and every one. We were never given a choice – indeed, everything was very one-sided. Despite growing up around and sometimes in civilian communities, you learned: the military was God of you and your family’s lives. Everything depended on the long arm of the military; everything came from them – and they could take it away; eject you from the only world you knew, the one you had been born in.
These are the silent warriors – many of them suffering from military caused symptoms of their own; many well adjusted to their roles in society – but at the same time with this ‘thing’ inside of them . . . just waiting for ‘the word’, the disaster to come; constantly ‘preparing’ and in military watchfulness – whether you like it or not.
Most of us find ourselves drawn to the military. I don’t know what the percentages are – how many of the military brats go on to serve in an official capacity as a warrior. But I know we were trained – from birth, most of them – to defend this land, the flag – supporting and spreading the “American Way” – meaning liberty and justice for all, protecting civilians (despite themselves sometimes) – and supporting the flag.
These are America’s secret army; the wonder warriors – for we wonder about the roles we played – and what was played on us sometimes. Sometimes I wonder: was it a military program they played overseas? Or one played just by my dad? Was it a conspiracy? Or just the officers and soldiers making sure us kids would (or might) survive – and be able to fight our way out of “this thing” (a nuclear war landscape across Western Germany in my case) – how to command, live, and survive? How to use a weapon in case we needed to escape? And building in us a willingness to group, form, and attack – using anything we could find?
It was – and is – a strange life for a kid, growing up with the military kind. It gives a unique perspective to some . . . an odd one, perhaps, to the civilian mind. They often don’t understand it – how deeply it was ingrained in us, from birth on.
Child soldiers. Mini-warriors. Kids with death on their mind.
The military I sometimes think owes us – owes us a LOT for what they did to us, our minds – our hearts – our ways. Many of us don’t quite ‘fit’ in civilian land – but we didn’t join, or did join and got out – and then sometimes . . . sometimes . . .
(shaking my head).
It gets confusing sometimes.
But the good thing; the best thing is that we have this resource in our land – should our nation ever need us. Because I find it rare that in his heart a military kid turns his back on his kind – and nation.
We’re the ones you want around when it comes down to it – to that last stand of the military, or the nation’s last gasp in the event of a horrible war – the military children . . .
victims of their pasts and the military mind.