This was Christmas, 1965, Columbus GA. Pop was in Vietnam, flying the Army’s Flying Crane Helicopter. Christmas was left to Mom. She was able to get both my brother and me the GI JOE Navy Panther Jet. These things were big because GI JOE was big back then (my brother is holding frogman Joe). My little sister is sitting in her Christmas rocker, newly painted with decals applied by my mom.
It was a tough year. One of the Cranes crashed, killing all on board. We didn’t know who it was for 24 hours. There were only a handful of pilots and we all lived in the Columbus, GA area, the town surrounding Ft Benning. Mom had us kneel beside her bed and prayed that we would have the strength to deal with the news. The families affected by this tragic event were ones we shared meals with frequently. The Ia Drang Campaign was conducted during his tour. The number of casualties overwhelmed many Ft Benning families. When my dad returned from Vietnam, my mom burned her black funeral dress. She wore it too many times that year.
Despite the fact that Pop was ‘overseas’, 1965 ended with a magic Christmas for us kids, thanks to Mom’s diligence and love.
My parents are both 91 years old and are living on their cattle farm in rural Alabama near Ft. Rucker. We will all be gathering on Christmas Day once again!
Our Mom, brother and myself left NYC in late October 1954 on the USS Patch. It was also a troop carrier but we never saw them. It took about two weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean. During that time we were in a hurricane and there was a major operation on a man.
We were on eating schedules and one time Mom hadn’t made the correct time zone change so when we got there for breakfast the sign said our time was already eating and we couldn’t get in. Mom got us something to eat out of vending machines. Shortly afterward a man showed up, asked us what we were doing there “so early?” Boy were we happy but full of junk.
The ocean was so rough they wet down table cloths so our plates wouldn’t slide around. We could see the waves hitting the ship as it rolled side to side. Thrilling but scary.
Playing around, in our room, I, ten years old, pulled my, 4 year old, brother’s legs out from under him and he cut his head. Bleeding– I took him to get help. Mom had been somewhere and when she got back we were gone. She followed a trail of blood to find us at an aid station. Eleven stitches later he was alright so I got to live for another day.
I don’t remember where or when we docked, in Germany, but I remember my brother dressed up for Halloween on board.
We road a train from there to Wiesbaden. Mom asked a man something and gave him some money, a German I think. Not knowing anything about the exchange rate. It was all the German money she had.
I FELT SORRY FOR THE WIVES
Stephanie Crane Gilmore
We took the Patch over to Germany in 1962!!! I always felt sorry for the Army wives handling their BRATS across the ocean. We missed our dining times twice. Once because we forced our porthole open and slept so well with fresh air. The next day, however, they were swabbing the deck and we got a bucket full of water in our tiny room. They had bingo one night and my 12 year old brother was old enough to go. He won a game and picked out a pearl necklace for my mom. And I remember a movie theater that showed cartoons and a craft room where we made lanyards. My mom got vertigo from rough seas. I had a temperature when we docked, but we all pretended to be 100% so we could just get to my dad without delay. We were boarded onto a bus that took us across the street where we got on an overnight train to Stuttgart.
Nothing compares to the mixed feelings of seeing your bedroom collapse down to a few cardboard boxes every few years. It marks the close of another chapter in your life but turns the page to a new one. I have seen those boxes and turned that page myself, eight times in eighteen years. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to moving to a new place. Everyone has a unique journey. Much of the advice that is presented to you is not tailored to your individual success and is downright damaging. This is because very few people can relate to the lifestyle that you live and do not realize that cliche advice is less applicable. Luckily, I am here to assess the value of common advice granted to military kids throughout the moving process.
“Move on and never look back”
The application of this overused phrase, in relation to moving, can severely limit your social outlets and comfort level in a new place. The disorienting nature of moving somewhere new requires you to look to your past for stability. Especially in a foreign country, you will be slapped in the face by one thing after another. Storefronts in a foreign language, SLAP. No friends, SLAP. Lost moving boxes, SLAP. The next time one of these SLAPS hit you, before pushing forward, take a second to “look back.” Take a second to look for the things you know. The things that are already in your corner. The constants. For most military brats, this can be a sibling, a pet, or even a close friend who is always down to FaceTime. Your constants should not hold you back, but rather be your springboards who want to see you flourish in a new place. And in this new, spinning place that you are entering, finding an old rock or two to keep your grounding is as important as finding new ones. These people are your security blanket – your insurance policy. Does that mean to drive recklessly? Of course not. But determining these constants will give you the confidence boost needed to attack your new situation.
Once you find your constants, you will realize how outrageous the commonly preached mantra of “move on and never look back” is. Many of the people you endear and trust the most can become thousands of miles away. If you have friends from your past that will stick by your side, do not let them go. These people can be your saving grace in another new place that you call home. Move on? Of course. But please, take a second to look back.
“Just get into a new routine”
Another common piece of advice granted to military children, spewed by everyone from counselors to grandmas, is to get into a new routine. While this may seem logical, to set yourself up with a sense of normalcy from day to day, it has one obvious pitfall. How the hell are you supposed to create a routine when you know nothing about a place, have no friends, and are struggling to find the smallest of successes? Creating a routine cannot be willy nilly and spontaneous. It needs to be carefully crafted to promote your personal growth. I can arrive in a new town and tell myself that my new routine will involve waking up at 6am, going to a coffee shop down the street, reviewing some notes, and then driving to school. That sounds productive, but what if that coffee shop is the worst coffee shop east of the Mississippi? What if the traffic en route to school is awful during that time? There needs to be a phase of exploration in a new place. You cannot be trying to cram everything you are introduced to into a concrete pattern that you are formulating. You need to gather your building blocks first, not constantly build with every block you find, until you realize you have subpar blocks. Stop thinking about routines and start thinking about expanding your arsenal.
“Don’t draw attention to yourself”
You should not be afraid of attention. A crucial part of adapting to a new place is trying new things and exploring. Go to the student council club meeting, then the chess club meeting. Hang out with the football kids, then the tennis kids. Try this restaurant, then that ice cream parlor. Casting a larger net will increase your odds of finding a real, quality student organization, friend group, or food spot that is best for you and your interests. Eyes will be on you because you are “new,” but this attention should not deter you from gaining familiarity with your new surroundings. Doing so will allow you to accumulate options that will be beneficial in ultimately deciding where to invest your time. You are not drawing attention for the attention, but rather as a byproduct of you expanding the cap of your social potential.
“You only get one chance at a first impression”
This one is true, plain and simple. However, not all first impressions are made equal. Meeting Byron in Spanish class is not the same as meeting your parent’s commanding officer. Despite this, we are often only equipped with ancient techniques that do not apply to the modern school setting. When introducing yourself to Byron, you can skip the firm handshake and small talk about the weather. The utmost formality that many military kids are taught prepares you for the utmost formal situations. But everyday life is a few notches below that. Instead, consider spending that one-shot first impression in a more relaxed manner. You should try your best to radiate a sense of calmness, but sincerity when introducing yourself to a new person. When they speak, be an attentive listener. Details about themselves should not be going through one ear and out the other. Yes, you are trying to accumulate building blocks for yourself, but these are real people, with real lives, and real ambitions.
A key strategy is to aim your conversation towards activities or groups that person is involved in, to try and find common interests. If one is found, then feel free to share some of your experiences. If your conversation carries on easily, consider asking for their Snapchat or Instagram to help you “network” in this new social environment. Remember that you and Byron do not have to become best friends. This conversation may be lackluster and go absolutely nowhere. Heck, you may never speak to one another again. However, simply “knowing a guy” and knowing what they are involved in, will help ignite your conversations with other people you meet and give you branches into new friend groups. Be cool, spread out, and always end with “it was nice meeting you.”
“Put others first”
After your first few weeks, it can be easy to feel indebted to those who have taken you under their wing. However, your priorities still need to come first. Determine which activities, groups, and people are most beneficial for you. When choosing where to invest your time, consider which you have the most passion for. Consider which investments will promote successful habits and your own happiness. This may sound selfish or inconsiderate to place your priorities clearly over anyone else’s. You should remember that your investments do not have to be entirely selfish in themselves. Volunteer work, for example, is charitable and fosters personal character growth simultaneously. You have done the hard work of determining the very few constants in your ever-changing life and developing the best ways to adapt to a new place. You deserve to make this decision for yourself. As of now, you do not owe anyone anything. It is similar to the airline demonstrations that say, “Put on your oxygen mask first, then help others.” Remember that at this point you are far more vulnerable than others and you need to cement your footing in a new lifestyle.
As Aerosmith once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Eh – that’s probably too old. As Miley once said, “Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s on the other side, it’s the climb.” As a military kid, you cannot look too far down the road, because that road is uncertain. That is simply a part of the journey that you are going on. Embrace your time in a new place. It is still your childhood and you only have it once. You are tackling problems that many people do not face until they begin college or their careers. That does not make it easier, but it should be a reminder that you are building yourself a better future by gaining these valuable life lessons, even if they are a SLAP to the face.
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