04 DandelionWhy the heck would Joe upload a picture of a dandelion weed for his Facebook profile photo? It struck me as odd.

Joe was a popular jock with a perpetual smile. But he also has a brain that earned him an ROTC scholarship to Arizona State University. After his stint as an Army officer, Joe returned to ASU as its principal systems analyst.

Again, I asked myself, why would a tough jock put a dandelion flower on his Facebook page. Then I saw others pop up on my high school alumni page, just like they do in my yard.

Slap to the forehead! It’s April and the dandelion is the symbol of children of military parents — often referred to as military brats; a derogatory term worn as a badge of honor.

Joe and I were brats. We are among 15 million Americans who at one time were children of military parents. We all have some of the same things in common. We were newcomers, outsiders, sometimes outcasts, but most of all we were adaptable. When people from a nonmilitary background asked us where we were from, we often paused before answering because the answer could be from nowhere to everywhere.

It was our way of life and I accepted it without a second thought. I thought going to nine schools in 12 years was normal. I never realized that this was a bad thing. Ignorance can be bliss.

I asked Joe via email what he thought was so great and not so great about us being military brats. His response: “The best part of our life as brats was that we were exposed to a more diverse group of people … not only in the countries we lived in, but the kids that became our friends.” He went on to say the exposure made us more accepting and understanding of the differences and similarities we have.

The worst part, he wrote, was moving away from our friends. While there would be new ones, “leaving the others was really tough.”

I posted the same question on my Wurzburg American High School Alumni Facebook page. Answers varied but the theme was consistent.

Exposure to new cultures and diverse people who would become friends was the most common positive response. The most mentioned downside was leaving new friends.

One person said every time he had a steady girlfriend, either his or her father would get orders to move.

I didn’t know him personally, but I knew many others whose steady heartthrobs left because a parent received orders. Not having “officially” ended their relationship, they usually became conflicted about forming new relationships. In the end, chances were they’d never see each other again.

Today, there are almost 2 million school-aged children of military parents. The Army at more than 911,000 makes up the largest portion, followed by the Air Force at about 430,000, Navy at about 300,000 and Marines at 120,000.

In 1986, then-Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, citing the frequent moves and separations military children face, designated April the month of the military child. It apparently caught on, and military installations across the U.S. and overseas celebrate the day. 

The military also ramped up family support programs for the children.

Purple is this military children month’s official color, representing a combination of the colors from all services. And, according to Brats Inc., several years ago an online debate resulted in an official flower: the dandelion. It’s a weed, blown to the four corners of the world, hard to kill, and one that can thrive anywhere in any climate.

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