Sunday, November 11, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: The Children of Active Duty

Today is Veteran's Day.

I'm an Air Force brat. All my bionotes start off like that. It's central to my sense of identity. So -

Why, when I sit here thinking about stories that connect those two things - the service brat identity, the holiday to honor service, do I come up blank?

I think it's because we didn't live on base. Okay, not quite true - we did in Alaska, which we left when I was six. But we stayed in my folks' hometown in Iowa during my dad's tour in 'Nam, and lived in town at our other stations. When I talk to other grown service brats (of which I meet no shortage, living in a major military city like San Antonio), I can tell that I missed out on a big chunk of the subculture by not living on base; a floating community of shared assumptions, conflicts, securities, fears, and structures. The caste systems in my schools had nothing to do with the serving parent's rank and had no built-in accommodations to the reality of frequent reassignments. I never had the same rulebook as the kids around me.

I'm not complaining about this. My parents had reasons to keep us out of that subculture every bit as good as the reasons other military parents raised their kids in it. If this is the origin of my tendency to stand forever on the fringes of multiple subcultures instead of immersing myself in them, so be it. If I trade a sense of belonging for flexibility, why, other people are trading flexibility for their sense of belonging, and that's fair.

But it does mean I can't write stories that reflect the world a large number of children in this world live in, and present that world to their non-military peers, even though I share an identity with them. And somebody really should.

What Service means to a service brat is that parents aren't in charge, the Service is. It means that Dad - or, with increasing frequency, Mom, or both - often isn't there; but that's nobody's fault. Authority is both larger and less personal for a service brat child than a civilian one; rebellion is a much more fraught emotion, with much larger implications, because you're not just rebelling against your parents or some vague Establishment. You're rebelling against the entire structure of the universe you live in.

I never rebelled. Never. My brother did and it was A Huge Problem. My sister, who was always the smartest of us, did a kind of end run around it. An on-base high school full of kids exercising those options must be a pressure cooker, even in peace time.

And when is it ever peace time anymore?

I know someone should write about this. All members of minorities need to be able to find their reflections in the fiction offered to them, and literature is the best, easiest introduction to minority viewpoints for mainstream readers. But I also know I can't. Somewhere out there is the service brat who can.

Please, get on it!

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