Teenager with a bike in front of a forest

My Life With a Military Family

Nate, 16, has already lived in more places than many people live in their whole lives. Here’s what he wants you to know about the ups and downs of life as a child of a service member.

Nate poses with his family. From left, brother Gabe, mom Lisa, and dad Bill.

For most people, answering the question “Where are you from?” is a no-brainer. For me, it’s not so easy. That’s because my dad is a lieutenant colonel and a chaplain in the United States Army. Having a parent in the military means my family moves at least every two years. Right now, I live in Northern Virginia, but I was born in Washington State. We’ve also lived in Virginia once before, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas (twice). As a result, I feel like I’m from everywhere.

My situation might sound unusual. But in fact, there are more than 1.6 million children of active service members in the U.S. For us, relocating is a fact of life. 

If you’ve lived in the same town your whole life, it could seem cool to get a location refresh every few years, but it’s not always fun or easy. It can be hard to make friends and sad to leave them. Things get broken and lost during moves. Your parents might be deployed, which could mean they get sent far away to fight in a war. If this happens, they might miss birthdays, big games, and other important events.

Nate and his family have lived in Texas twice. Nate loved trying the state’s barbecue. 

On The Move

There’s a thing in our community of military kids that we call “the itch.” Around the two-and-a-half year mark, you feel like you want to go somewhere new. Living in different places and learning about the local cultures is my favorite part of military life. I feel like I would be really bored if I just lived in the same place my whole life.

Sometimes we get several months’ notice that we’ll be leaving, but other times it’s a week or even just a few days. Things can change quickly in the military world. You have to just go with the flow. 

At the moment, my family is living “off post.” That means we live in a community where civilians, or people who aren’t in the military, live. 

We’ve also lived “on post,” which means living in Army-owned housing on a military base. A base is where the military keeps equipment, trains soldiers, and houses service members.

Making and Keeping Friends

I’m not an especially outgoing person, which can be tough. It helps to find like-minded people wherever I live. I play the guitar, so I joined a guitar class at my current school and made friends through that. The school doesn’t have a mountain bike team, so I joined the crew team, and I ended up meeting a lot of people who mountain bike too. 

I’ve been able to maintain a few good friendships over the years. It does get tough, though, when you’re in high school compared with, say, third grade. Back then, you’d just walk up to someone and say, “Can we be friends?” When I do make a new friend, I try not to take that relationship for granted. 

Family First

Not always having a lot of friends and relatives around can be tough, but it has helped me understand the importance of family. I’m really close with my parents and brother because we’re the one constant in each other’s lives. 

My father has been deployed twice—once to Iraq when I was a baby and once to Kuwait when I was 4. That time he was gone for a year. We kept in touch over Skype, and he came home for short visits. Since I was so young, I didn’t understand it the way I do now. Recently he almost got sent to Poland because of the war in Ukraine. I know it would have been incredibly hard if he had gone.  

I’m involved in an organization for teens in military families called Bloom. We offer each other advice about issues that affect us, like school, moving, parents at risk, and mental health.

People in military families learn to be strong and resilient, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings. It’s important for us to have support. 

Future Plans

Some people have the idea that all military families have strict rules, or that military parents are scary and mean. But it’s not like that at all. My dad’s job doesn’t define who he is at home. He teaches us the values he’s learned from the military, like having a good work ethic, focusing on what’s right, and respecting people even if you don’t agree with them. 

I used to want to be a fighter pilot in the Navy—kind of like a Top Gun-style fantasy. But lately I’m thinking I want to be a mechanical engineer and work in the bike industry. Still, because of how I’m growing up and my father’s job, I’ll always feel connected to military life. I think that wherever my career or life takes me, I’ll have the tools to make the most of the situation. 

I hope reading my story has given you empathy for the new kids in school—they might come from a military family like me! Take the time to get to know us, and you’ll discover we’ve had a lot of interesting experiences and make great friends.

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