On the Other Side of the Gate
College graduation is a big moment for any young adult, but it can feel especially significant to a military kid. My college graduation marked a bittersweet milestone: the loss of my status as a dependent.
(For military kids not enrolled in an institution of higher education, this age may be 21. For those staying in postgraduate programs, it can stretch to 23.)
All of a sudden, I was an adult and a civilian. All of a sudden, I couldn’t just drive on base. It was as if Harry Potter’s Platform 9 and ¾ wasn’t working any more, and I was stuck in the Muggle world. Minor identity crisis...
Here’s what felt true for me, though: you can take the brat out of the military, but you can never take the military out of the brat. For what it’s worth, here are a few things that stuck with me. Each item is a bit of a mixed blessing, like a lot of military life.
1. My feet still itch.
Every three years or so, a timer goes off in my brain. Ding! Time to move! I get the impulse to throw away my couch, disappear from friends’ lives, and find someone to adopt my fish. I have to fight the desire to move for moving’s sake--as if I’m addicted to new places.
That said, I’m really good at minimal living, and I’m great in new environments. But that doesn’t mean I need to pull up stakes “just because.” Instead, I try to explore somewhere new in my current location, invest in a local friendship, or take a vacation.
2. I still have to watch my mental health.
A hard truth: military kids are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other un-fun mental health issues. Frequent moves and parents’ deployment can take a toll. I had a couple rough years in college, struggling with depression and an eating disorder. I put off getting help, thinking I needed to be strong and resilient.
What I learned: I can be strong and resilient and invest in my mental health. I try to be vigilant and honest about my headspace. There’s no shame in seeking help, today or ten years down the road.
3. “Home is where the (insert your branch) sends you.”
(You can still buy one of those signs at the BX/PX, right?) Sometimes brats feel like no place is home. When a civilian asks where we’re from, we wonder: should we recite the list of past postings? Go with where we were born? Still true for me!
But there’s another side to this coin: constant moving taught me that everywhere can be home--that I can connect with people no matter where I go. We milkids have a global perspective that many civilians don’t have, and that can bring with it confidence, tolerance, and flexibility.
4. I’m still in the club.
I’ll always identify as a brat, even as an adult--always wince when someone isn’t at an event at exactly 0900. Military folks belong to a huge community with millions of members who “get us,” even if we’re strangers. We speak a secret language of acronyms; we’ve lived on the same bases; we’ve grappled with similar problems.
I encourage military teens to educate themselves about what the loss of dependent status means for them. (For example, you can stretch TRICARE to 26, and USAA stays with you forever.) If you aren’t following in your military parent’s footsteps, be ready for what the loss of dependent status means for you.
I still keep my ID for sentimental reasons, somewhere in my fire-safe box. (Oh yes, I’m adulting now.) The military shaped me, and it will always be part of my identity. No one can take that away.
This article was written by Taryn Frazier, a grown-up brat living in Georgia. If you have a piece you would like to share with the Bloom community, please visit our Writing page to learn how! Additionally, if you or someone you love needs help, you can check out our Resources page for different places you can go to seek mental health help. Remember, you are not alone.