My great-grandfather served in WWI. My paternal grandfather graduated from West Point and served two tours in Vietnam. My maternal grandfather earned his citizenship as a paratrooper. My great-uncle smuggled East Germans across the border in the trunk of his car. Both my parents used ROTC to pay for college. My dad flew helicopters into Soviet airspace, immortalizing forever the Beastie Boy's song "Brass Monkey" in my memory since it was one of their code words. Rarest of all is my mom, who served 21 years on active, guard, and reserve duty, all while raising two kids and being immensely successful in the civilian world.
Each of them took an Enlistment Oath. Each of them dared to take the oath. For that, I'm grateful. Thank you.
In my family, Army colors run deep. My family are the reason I can automatically make friends with anyone using USAA. They are the reason I still get goose bumps during any patriotic song. They are the reason I will always cheer for Army. They are the reason I'm grateful anytime I see a uniformed service member.
This Veterans Day, like every Veterans Day and its counterpart Memorial Day, has me thinking of my family and all the veterans out there. Has me thinking of the incredible sacrifices each veteran makes and the wonderful example they set.
Yet each Veterans and Memorial Day, I'm reminded that no matter how many connections I have to the military, I only have so much claim over it. This Veterans Day I was reminded that, for me, living in a military family comes with a complicated history. One I'm still trying to unpack.
For a five-year-old, old Army uniforms were the coolest dress up clothes. I cherished postcards from Army bases and a teddy bear dressed in PT gear that could stand up and salute. Yet I hated the two-week training trips that took my mom away and necessitated these mementos.
I loved scaring my teenage friends with second-hand stories about grenade training and rifle practice. Yet I hated the rules and restrictions my military-minded parents enforced when I was a teenager.
I love West Point and always have. My grandfather placed me on the admissions mailing list when I was in 5th grade. I practiced for the fitness tests in my living room. I went on a date with a guy just because he attended West Point. Yet I wasn't willing to make the commitment and go there myself.
I cry during USAA commercials. My heart soars when I see strangers wearing the classic heathered grey t-shirts with ARMY in block capital letters. I smile at and want to say something to uniformed service members, but rarely have the guts to. Yet I didn't choose the military life for myself.
This Veterans Day I was reminded that living in a military family comes with a complicated history. One I haven't felt very close to in recent years.
Something about moving to California distanced me from the military. In San Francisco, it's practically taboo. When I mention the military (or Texas, for that matter), most people here think I'm talking about gun-toting lunatics.
My mom retired from the Army over 10 years ago, and has no active affiliations with the military. For the first time in over 3 generations, neither my maternal nor paternal extended families have any members serving in the military. We talk about how fewer and fewer Americans have connections to the military, how most citizens no longer know anyone in the armed forces, how Americans are more removed from the military than ever. Yet my family is becoming those Americans, right along with everyone else.
What do we do about this? What can we do?
Someday, do I teach my kids the value of military members, even if they can't imagine their grandparents as helicopter pilots or Lieutenant Colonels? Do I teach them to never let a flag touch the ground, to always smile and thank service members? Do I pass on the legacy of USAA and teach them what a privilege it is? Do I show them an Army-Navy game and tell them stories of their great-grandfather stealing the Navy goat before a game?
Can our family military history live on a just that - history?
Is that enough? What more can we do?