Cherie Avila, Museum Storyteller
I grew up in a military family. Both of my older brothers attended a military school for part of their schooling. Upon graduation, all three of us kids served in the military. Although I only served for four years, both of my brothers retired from the military. Most of my high school years were in Korea. When I was a senior year in high school, my dad was transferred stateside. I spent my senior year in Maryland longing to be back with my friends in Korea. When it was time for college, I applied to one university. The one university that I knew a friend from Korea was attending. When I left the Army and chose the civilian career of a teacher, I did not initially realize the uniqueness of being an Army Brat. Over the years I have told friends about being raised in a military family, moving every few years, living in different countries and many states, and attending school in Korea. I couldn’t tell if my civilian friends didn’t believe me, or my story was just so different from their experience that they couldn’t relate. Either way, I often thought of my other “brat” friends and how I would like to reconnect with them.
As my own children started school and I was considering which schools they would attend, I began to think of my own school experience and what has happened to my classmates from Korea. I knew very little about social media at the time and had no idea where to begin to find them. One day I noticed that the public library was going to be showing the documentary, Brats: Our Journey Home. I went to the library, sat in a dark room with a handful of others, and the documentary began. It was about ten minutes into the documentary that I started bawling. I was crying and was not sure why this film was having such an emotional impact on me. At one point in the documentary, I saw the sign in front of my old high school in Korea, I realized why I was so moved. I said to myself, “Oh my gosh! It was real.” It existed. This school that I had been talking about for 30 years actually existed. My memories were real. The documentary validated my experience and my memories of my experience.
As members of military families, we are in a subculture of America that few others experience. Living on a military base is similar to a small town where everybody knows everybody, but unlike a small town, we rarely get the opportunity to go “home.” What does home even mean to military kids? For the few of us that do get the opportunity to return to where we attended school, all the people are different, so it is not the same. There may be some buildings that are recognizable, but it is never the same, and to me does not feel like “home”. Soon after I saw the documentary, a friend asked me to join Facebook to see a photo of her new puppies. Once I joined Facebook, I began searching for friends from my high school in Korea. Once we connected, and began sharing photos and stories, it was if no time had passed. I felt more at home, than I had in a long time. In fact, one friend from high school and I were living in the same town for six years and had no idea the other was living there.
I believe that it is through our stories that we make connections with other members of military families, often finding similarities with which we can relate. Although we may share some similar experiences, there is no one stereotypical military family. Being a part of a military family, we all have very different stories, but once we share our stories we can begin to relate, to make connections, and perhaps find that sense of home you may be longing for. I believe it is through storytelling that we find the common thread that binds us together. The Museum of American Military Families can be that venue for thread-finding, but it does require you to be willing to share your story. I ask you to be brave and share a story from your life in a military family. You can start by visiting the the museum’s Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/MuseumoftheAmericanMilitaryFamily . You can scroll on the side of this webpage and find a blog or podcast that reminds you of an event or episode you would be willing to share.
Together, let’s make 2021 the year of connections and start by telling your story.
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