Story by Randy Roughton, Airman Magazine
Jordan Vermeire, the daughter of U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Scott Vermeire, reads a poem she wrote about life as a military child. She and the rest of her family are stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. U.S. Air Force video by Andrew Breese
It seems like practice on any American soccer field. High school girls in a swirl of motion intent with only one objective – slam the black and white ball into the opponent’s net. But for 18-year-old senior Lexi Vermeire, the practice game does a lot more. For her it represents a sense of belonging, a social teddy bear of sorts that helps deal with the emotional stress of constant moving, leaving friends behind and picking up the pieces at a new, often foreign environment.
Lexi, and sisters 16-year-old Jordan and 12-year-old Shelie, are the daughters of Master Sgt. Scott Vermeire and his wife, Sara, an Air Force family that has spent their lives in an environment most of their peers outside of military life rarely face.
The family resides at Ramstein Air Base, a large, sprawling base near Kaiserslautern, Germany. For the girls, the move less than two years ago from the tropical setting of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, has been a difficult one. And, according to Lexi, leaving friends and extended family behind every few years has changed the way they view life. “We don’t say ‘goodbye,’ we say ‘see you later.’”
Their mom, Sara, said that the simple attitude adjustment for the girls has been important. “We talk about it being a small Air Force and we always run into people again. So we always taught the kids to say, ‘see you later,’ to show that leaving friends behind isn’t a permanent thing.”
The transition has been especially hard on Lexi, who had used sports to help her handle the move from Nevada to Guam and now to Germany. She built a reputation as an exceptional athlete and was an important part of two championship soccer and cross-country teams.
“You have to understand that change is going to happen throughout your life, and military kids are forced to find out about those changes from a very young age,” said Lexi. “Once you find something that’s going to keep you strong, you stick with it. Mine was sports. It happened very naturally and also boosted my confidence and helped me move on from focusing on what I left behind to what I could gain from the move.”
Like Lexi, Jack Clavenna is a high school student who finds that the constant moving as part of an Air Force family has a definite impact on teenage life. “One of the biggest struggles of being a military brat, at least to me, has been moving. Each time I leave, it’s a struggle with me and my friends trying to stay, and my parents saying ‘it’s time to go.’ Each time my siblings and I move, we lose the opportunity to live in one place we’ve grown to love.” Clavenna added that, on the flip side, “we get to experience new places and meet new people who change us, and we hope to do the same back. I truly believe that certain things are special because we let them go, but never forget. I truly am proud to be a military brat.”
Brent Taylor is a 19-year-old student at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School, who spent his entire life as the son of an intelligence officer, moving every two or three years to a different state or country. For Taylor, the life of a military brat outweighs the pitfalls.
“I have lived in 10 different states, as well as three years at Ramstein AB in Germany. I was born in Fairbanks, Alaska; then moved to Germany for three years. After Germany, we PCS’d to D.C. for a year, then spent a year in Alabama, two at Shaw AFB in South Carolina, two at Randolph AFB in San Antonio, two at Beale AFB near Sacramento, Calif., two at Hickam AFB on Oahu, Hawaii, three at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nev., and one at Fort Meade, Md.
“I have travelled all over Europe and throughout the United States, thanks to my father’s job in the Air Force. In fact, my best memories as a military brat are experiencing the countless cultures, traveling to different countries, and seeing new people. The hardest part of being a military child has to be the process of saying ‘goodbye’ to friends and making new ones. But it was a challenge I was willing to make for my father’s career. I knew it was important to him, so it was important to me.”
Lexi believes that military children have extra burdens beyond the stress of moving every few years, such as a parent who deploys or the isolation of being in strange surroundings. “Us teenagers, we’re stupid and we don’t always think of the consequences of things in a way adults do. So sometimes you have to be the friend who asks if this is a smart idea. I’ve had friends who have done that for me as well.
“Military kids have to be a lot stronger than people think they are. It’s not just the active duty member who has responsibility and has to deal with being in the military. Kids have to be in the military too, in a sense. We have to be responsible for our actions and the actions of our friends, and we have to be ready to move and give up everything. It’s pretty much the same as the parent, except we’re also going through the pains of being an adolescent and don’t have a choice in the matter.”
Lexi’s story isn’t unique among military children. Fellow senior George Hyde has moved 11 times during his lifetime. Terri Leigh Obermiller, one of Lexi’s soccer teammates has moved eight times, and plans one more trip back to the U.S. before heading to college in Texas. Bobby Ramirez has also fielded double-digit moves since he was two weeks old and said kids don’t always take the news well.
“When my parents told us we were moving to Germany, my two little sisters cried,” said Ramirez. “I think a lot of my friendships have been built over the years to only last two or three years. After that you really don’t worry about it because you move. But I think I’m closer to friends here in Germany because everyone here is a DODDS kid. We understand each other and can be there for each other when our parents deploy. Everyone’s been through the same thing.”
Greg Hatch is a retired Army sergeant major who is in his seventh year as the principal of Ramstein High School, a part of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system. As both a school administrator and as a parent who spent half of his career overseas, he sees both the pros and cons of life as a military child.
With a 30 percent transition rate of students PCSing with their military parent or parents in and out of his high school, Hatch sees the good and the bad, but feels that there are definitely more pros than con.
“We do everything we can to give our students an American-style educational experience. We don’t have all of the resources, but we do a pretty good job of replicating what we can. In areas like our sports and academic programs, students actually stand a better chance of making a team. There are more opportunities to participate; consequently more kids take advantage of them.”
Hatch feels that in many cases, military children have an advantage over their stateside counterparts. “How many kids get to have their prom on a river cruise? Or have an AP literature class in London to see where Shakespeare was born? Or go to Berlin or Rome for your AP history class? I think being over here presents a lot of opportunities for students to see and experience things they normally wouldn’t get to do back in the states.”
But for all of the trauma of moving, leaving old friends behind and making new ones elsewhere, the most difficult part of being a military child is the deployment of a parent or parents. Jessica Smart is a 16-year-old 11th grader whose dad has been deployed on several occasions. She said that the sacrifices her dad made have, in a way, defined who she is.
“Our Airmen are heroes, and I’m honored to call my dad my hero,” said Smart. “When we wave as our daddies walk off to those planes, a part of us leaves as well. Being a military brat has made me who I am today. I may hate it at times, and wish I didn’t have to deal with the pain, but the fact is that my daddy makes sacrifices and I have to as well.”
Smart said that deployments of loved ones are by far the single biggest part separating military kids from other children. “People forget that we don’t have our moms and dads home for birthdays, Christmas and summer vacation like they do. The hardest part of being a military child is waving goodbye to my dad and not knowing if I will be able to welcome him back home.”
But Smart said that while deployments may be the dark side of life as a military child, homecomings bring emotions few kids outside of the military will ever experience. “My best memory is from sixth grade when my dad returned from being away for six months. As I got out of the car there was my dad kneeling with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. The feelings I had that day were repeated just a few weeks ago when my dad returned from another deployment. Those feelings cannot be duplicated – they’re one of a kind.”
Faith, a 12-year-old sixth grader, and daughter of a career Air Force officer, sees life through her experiences and looks at her dad’s deployment as just one of many parts of an exciting life.
“My family and I move about every two years and I have lived in six different places. I was born in Germany, then I moved to Mississippi, then Tampa and Fort Walton Beach, Fla., South Carolina and now Alaska. We have been on vacation to Alaska, Germany, Florida and Hawaii. I did a lot of cool things like swim with the dolphins, feed sharks, swim with stingrays and go to a water park. My dad and I have ‘dada days,’ when my dad and I do cool things together like go skiing, ride ATVs, go to the zoo – anything really. My best dada day ever was when we were in Orlando and we went behind the scenes to an aquarium called ‘Discovery Cove.’ I swam with the dolphins! I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up, so it was amazing for me.
“The hardest part of being a military child is when your parent is deployed. It is hard not to see my dad for up to two years. Even though he was gone, I was still able to keep in touch with him by email and phone calls. The best feeling is when he comes home. My dad has been deployed five times and, whenever it was time for him to come home, I would make a colorful banner that said ‘welcome home dada.’ To me, it’s the best feeling in the world when he returns. Being in a military family, to me, is a big adventure and fun experience.”
Probably the best example of what deployment means for a military child comes from Chloe, a young fourth-grader in Hawaii, whose dad is an Air Force master sergeant. “I have travelled to Germany, France, Luxemburg, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Holland, Spain, Gibraltar and Hawaii. The hardest part is when my daddy deploys, but I know he is helping people. He has deployed a lot and I am always happy when he comes back. We sing the Sponge Bob song on the phone while he is away, and we sing it together when he comes home.”
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