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Nov. 11

Where Are You From? Challenges Military Families Face

For Veterans Day we are highlighting all types of stories regarding Military service members, families, and communities. This guest post is written by Tyler Anger, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.  As the son of an active duty member of the Army, Tyler grew up on military installations throughout the United States, and attended high school in Heidelberg, Germany.  He joined AmeriCorps and the Community Blueprint Initiative with the hope of mitigating the challenges and inequities faced by veterans, service members, and military families in communities across the country.  As a writer for the Blueprint, he is responsible for the Behavioral Health, Employment, and Family Strength impact areas.

It's an easy question.  In college, when I first moved away from the insular military communities in which I had grown up, I heard it all the time.  It's one of those basic canned niceties you're supposed to ask and answer without much thought, an old-fashioned hand-me-down from the days such things were a more acceptable metric of evaluation.  Say your name.  Shake hands.  So, where are you from?

            It seems silly now, but after a while I came to hate the question.  At first I simply said “All over,” which came off as awkward and evasive.  There was a subsequent period when I said “Heidelberg, Germany,” which was where I had attended high school, and for a time I enjoyed the profit of distinction this seemed to give me in classrooms and at parties.  Inevitably, though, someone would say “Oh, but your English is so good!” sending me backpedaling to square one.  I'd thought about saying New Jersey, where I lived for a remarkable three years, or Oregon, where I was born, but both rang false in some profound and meaningful way.  These days I'll say Berkeley, California, where I attended college, and this is usually sufficient to facilitate the continuation of meaningless small talk without a lengthy digression into my experience as a military child.

            The ubiquity of “Where are you from,” aside from providing for pithy self-deprecating anecdotes, points to an important truth about the military family experience.  There are certain unpleasant realities that you internalize, one of which is that you will be relocating frequently.  “Where are you from?” isn't a question we asked in my Department of Defense-run high school.  Other aspects of these internalized realities are even less pleasant, such as the slow shift into acceptance of those long months when one parent is away in some distant corner of the earth, missing your soccer games, skipping your school plays, dodging those boring parent-teacher conferences, and – you try not to think about this one – living in a war zone, in constant danger of becoming a statistic.  That's your reality, and it's one that, for all its grasping, American society still fails to understand.

            If there is an indelible fingerprint that the military experience leaves on families, it can be found there, I think, in the disconnect between the basic social implications of “Where are you from?” and the ability of a military child to answer.

            I joined AmeriCorps and the Community Blueprint in order to resolve that disconnect.    As a VISTA, I work to hone the support of and responsiveness to service members, veterans, and military families in communities across the nation.  The challenges I faced growing up with a parent in the Army shaped me into who I am today, and I am proud of my family's service to our country.  At the same time, it is my sincere hope that, through my work with the Blueprint, I will reduce and eventually eliminate those challenges for future generations.

Tyler Anger is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.  As the son of an active duty member of the Army, Tyler grew up on military installations throughout the United States, and attended high school in Heidelberg, Germany.  He joined AmeriCorps and the Community Blueprint Initiative with the hope of mitigating the challenges and inequities faced by veterans, service members, and military families in communities across the country.  As a writer for the Blueprint, he is responsible for the Behavioral Health, Employment, and Family Strength impact areas.

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