How We Military Brats Think and Behave

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In order to better understand the military brat mindset, puruse these exerpts from the book by Mary Edwards Wertsch, Military Brats - Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress; New York, Harmony Books, 1991. " The Fortress" is the term Ms. Wertsch uses to refer to the military establishment.

To understand the whole picture, of course you should read the book...

p 350: We are the children of warriors. And although it was initially a role not of our own choosing, it is a role perpetuated by many of us with pride. Our minds, our hearts return us time and again to the warrior path. It is an attitude, a way of being. Our souls were hammered out on the forge of discipline and dedication, of mission and service to others, of loss and sacrifice in the name of something larger than ourselves.

pp. 394-396: Strengths (and weaknesses) of military brats -

Responsibleness: Military brats take the notion of duty very seriously. They routinely give their best effort, and they do everything in their power to keep their word. (But as the daughter of an alcoholic Navy chief put it, "I just have to make sure it's not superresponsibleness." There is a danger of perfectionism, which sets one up for perceived failure, then guilt and self-condemnation. Military brats also tend to take on too much responsibility and then wear themselves out trying to do everything single-handedly.)

Excellent social skills: Military brats can get along with almost anybody except authoritarian types, and sometimes even with them. They tend to be very well suited to work involving a great deal of people contact, or where knowing how to quickly fit in socially is an asset. (But military brats protect themselves against loss of friendship, which they tend to consider inevitable, by keeping relationships shallow and short-term. And they assume anyone in authority is an authoritarian, thus creating problems for themselves in the workplace, for instance.)

Resilience (or "adaptability," "flexibility," etc.): Military brats seem to be able to cope with almost anything -- probably a combination of having moved so many times and of being, in many cases, children of alcoholics. (But military brats are so good at adapting that they can become ambivalent and lose sight of their values. It becomes unclear what they really care about, where they draw the line and take a stand.)

Loyalty: It would be hard for anyone to outshine a military brat when it comes to this virtue. (But military brats can be unbelievable suckers.)

Willingness to take risks: Military brats rarely balk at anything new or strange, and are generally able to summon whatever it takes to leap into a new and challenging situation. There is an instinctive understanding that the worst that can happen is that the effort will fail, which in itself is a gain educationally. Military brats have taken massive losses so often that they've learned they can survive them and keep on going. (But it becomes easier to leap into new situations or relationships than to stay with old ones and work through the problems. Military brats might instinctively see to it that they have plenty of change and excitement in life, but they sometimes fall short on actual accomplishment.)

Discipline: Those military brats who have internalized a sense of discipline to the point they enjoy controlling and focusing their energies can be extremely productive and efficient. (But too often, military brat discipline is dependent on external authority -- which also triggers the will to rebel -- rather than being genuine self-discipline. They may give the impression of being very self-disciplined, but in fact are quite inconsistent, and may even go haywire for a time once external authority is removed.)

Tolerance: Having had to adapt to many situations and, in some cases, cultures, military brats often learn to appreciate different points of view and the inherent value of diversity. (But military brats can become so tolerant they lose sight of their own values.)

Idealism: Military brats can be extremely dedicated to matters of principle and will go to extraordinary lengths to promote or defend them. This can give purpose and a depth of meaning to their lives. (But military brats can be self-righteous, and sometimes make others around them feel guilty and resentful. Also, it's not unheard of for a military brat to sacrifice way too much for the sake of principle -- "take that plane right into the ground." Military brats have been known to sacrifice every sort of personal happiness -- marriage, family, career, financial security -- for the sake of making a point.)

Handling crisis well: Military brats often handle emergencies with calm and competence. Others they know sense this and frequently turn to them for help. The daughter of a Marine Corps sergeant, asked to name some of the good things we learned inside the Fortress, said, "I'm very good in a crisis. The more extreme the circumstances, the more calm I get. I'm able to pull everything together at once; I know exactly the kinds of things that should be handled, and in what order. That is something I know I got from my father." (But although there isn't much of a dark side to this, it would help if military brats could learn to be better at heading off crisis in the first place. Some military brats, however, seem to thrive on crisis -- another trait common to adult children of alcoholics.)

pp. 425-426: on roots and "home" - The home that one makes in the spirit and the mind. That is the home I was looking for when I began this book. And that is the home I have found, the home I share with other military brats. Our home is not a place, but the shared experience of the Fortress and its many legacies. Our home is hardship and what we learned from it. Our home is a rich fund of values and ideals. Our home is a special quality of freedom that one can obtain only, ironically enough, inside the ironclad Fortress.

"Home" for a rooted civilian is a place to return to so that love and values and memories and a sense of continuity can be replenished. What I found is that we military brats have a home like that too, a home that we all share, that lives in each of us, that we can visit in one another.

I could not have found it without the help of the many military brats who shared their stories with me. The sharing of stories, I learned, is what roots are all about. Subtract the sharing, and what do you have? Only a bit of dry knowledge fit to be filed in a dusty folder somewhere. Real roots are about connection -- the bonding with others who share a similar lived experience -- and the recognition that who we are individually is due in large part to that lived experience.

After devoting almost five years to intensive study of military brat stories, I (Wertsch) have come to two definite conclusions:

I (Wertsch) am proud to be a military brat, and despite the high price exacted by the Fortress, I would have it no other way.

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