Thirty-nine countries, five continents, and over 200 plane rides have been my home for the last 17 years. I have traveled to more places in my life than most people have, and ever will, in their lifetime. I have relished in the deep southern culture of North America, scaped the grasslands of Europe, trotted the exotic and inviting streets of Asia, stepped foot in the bright golden sands of Africa, and watched the sunrise from the Sydney Opera House in Australia. My life has been a whirlwind of exciting adventures and experiences that I would not have received if I were not a military child.
At an early age I was exposed to the sobering truth of humanity. I understood that money means nothing without family, food is nothing without someone to share it with, and work is nothing without play. People who had so little were willing to offer me so much; inviting me into their homes for dinner, showing me the fields where they work, and proudly displaying their family. When I visited India I met a woman who worked in a tea field collecting tea leaves for nearly 12 hours a day. She had worked there since the age of five. Her skin was wrinkled and tanned from working in the sun all day; however, she told me she was happy. She was happy because she was able to make a difference in the world by picking tea others could enjoy. I was humbled by her. Being able to travel to India was an experience I would have never received if it weren’t for the military.
Many of my favorite trips have affected me in some way. Whether it was in Ireland where I roamed plush fields and kissed the Blarney Stone (gaining the gift of gab), or in Africa where I rode a camel up the side of an active volcano (and now fear camels), I have been so blessed to have experienced everything at such a young age.
Unlike many people, I have never grown up in one place. I wasn’t raised in a certain state - I was raised all over the world. When people ask me “where are you from,” I simply tell them “everywhere.” Many of my life lessons were learned while traveling abroad. I learned how to swim when we visited Italy, I learned how to ski when we visited Austria, and I learned how to enjoy a moment of peace when we visited Sri Lanka. My first friends did not live in the same state, or country, that I did. I have never considered myself to be a product of one place, I am a product of the military and the opportunities they have given me.
Being able to travel so much, I have developed the skill to make friends quickly and say goodbye without too much heartache. I have had to say goodbye to so many people; some I was never given the chance to because I was miles away. I have a hard time attaching myself to people, but when I do, my attachment lasts a lifetime. I never know who I have to say goodbye to or where the military is sending me, so I choose not to let too many people into my life. I have a few close friends; I can count them all with my fingers.
People tell me that I am mature for my age, but when you are a military child, you must mature quickly. My experiences around the world have shaped me into a human being who tries to be compassionate, hardworking, and willing to give the shirt of my back to someone in need. Being stationed overseas, I am given opportunities that many people are not. I realize I am very privileged. I do not take my experiences for granted and will always be grateful for the travels I have had. How many 17 year olds are able to say they traveled literally around the world? I can.
My character has been built through my experiences traveling. I have been able to have an amazing childhood and have been raised not by a single person, but by people around the world. Although the military provides me with the tools to travel and move, I have matured quickly and developed thick-skin. I have learned the values of true friendship and family, and hope that I will be able to influence people the way they have influenced me.
Sitting in front of the beautiful Taj Mahal with a bright red bindi on my forehead, I watched as the sun rose over the beautiful marble minarets. I looked at the sun and reflected on how the military has allowed me to travel and experience such beauty. I would like to say namaste, as I learned in India, to the military for giving me a life that I will always be proud of.