• Henry Jansen

Trains: My Pursuit of Familiarity that Reflects New Chapters in Military Life

During change, people find solace in any form of familiarity; it is human nature. I hate to repeat the cliche Heraclitus quote, but "nothing endures but change" in life. That concept is magnified in the military lifestyle, a staple of which is moving across the country or even the world so the sponsor can fulfill their next job assignment (in most cases; no two military families are in the same situation). Even if you move with a family you've known for years, it can be hard finding familiarity in a new place with different culture, geography, and people. A hobby that has brought me familiarity through numerous moves is trains - the observing, tracking, studying, modeling, photography, and enjoyment of trains.

On the contrary, military families and us military children are influenced by the different places we have lived in. Even if you have only moved within the United States, you will find that local culture and traditions will vary greatly between regions, states, and even regions within states. When we move, we bring these traditions with us and add new ones to our cultural palette. Likewise, all railroads are different; different regions have different company history and geography, meaning new locations breed new railroading experiences.

My earliest memory of the railroad is the BNSF hauling brand new Boeing 737 fuselages through the rainy pine forests of Washington state. I later spent four years in dry, hot Louisiana living next to the Kansas City Southern, where the rumbling of the engines and mellow horns would soothe me to sleep. My interest in trains took off in Buffalo, New York, where my dad and I would spend hours watching CSX and Norfolk Southern, even in the deep snow. My next two years of life were spent in Arlington, Virginia, (my least-favorite move) where the D.C. Metro ruled the rails. A 10-month assignment in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, (best move ever!) allowed my dad and I to observe the dense Norfolk Southern lines that traced the Susquehanna River and infested the Appalachian Mountains (there was also a calmer line that ran through Carlisle and woke the entire Carlisle Barracks in the middle of the night). Today, I live in Minnesota next to the Union Pacific where I often enjoy a train or two after a day at my new school.

Though the railroad names, paint schemes on the locomotives, freight hauled, and geography navigated changes from region-to-region and move-to-move, all United States railroads use the same locomotive models, car standards, track gauge, and general operating procedures. It is thanks in part to their inter-connectivity and interoperability that our nation (and continent, in fact) and its economy has a solid railroad backbone. The rumbling of a locomotive, blare of a horn, click-clack of the cars rolling by, and the feeling these create are the same no matter where I am - and that familiarity has got me through several difficult moves.

I strongly encourage all military children to find a hobby you enjoy (if you haven't already). They are a great distraction from stressors and a great way to make new friends in a new location. The nomadic lifestyle of the military brat can be challenging, provide can also provide unique opportunities that non-military children may not get.