Military servicemen and servicewomen give so much for their country: their time, their effort, even their lives. They do their duty, even if that means going away from their families on deployment. Their families understand the importance of what their loved ones must do, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for anyone.
Fairmont junior Rylee Smith knows what it’s like to live in a military family. Her mom used to be a lab tech in the military, working in the hospital, and her dad, Tim Smith, is in the Air Force. Her dad has been deployed twice in the past two years; both times he went to Afghanistan, once for a year, the other time for about five months, so Smith understands what it’s like to have her family separated by active duty.
“I’m always scared when my dad goes away,” Smith said. “You don’t hear from him often. I get scared that something will happen to him, that someone’s going to call and say, ‘Your dad’s hurt’ or that he’s in the hospital.”
However, just because her dad is deployed doesn’t mean their family life is put on hold. When Smith’s dad was deployed over the holidays, her family took videos of the festivities and sent them to him, so that he could feel like he was part of the celebration. He, in return, sent videos back to his family, so they could see how he was doing and at least feel as if they were spending the holidays together.
“It’s the next best thing,” Smith said. It didn’t replace her father, but at least they still got to see each other, just in a round-about way. They also called each other, though conversations usually lasted for only 20 minutes, and sometimes the family didn’t get to hear from him for two or three weeks.
Though deployment is a challenge, it’s not the only thing that military families go through. Sometimes life in the military can be very lonely. “Living in the military is very hard,” Smith said. “We have to move around every two or three years, so when you move, you kind of tend to stick to yourself.”
She added that it makes it harder to find friends, because she hasn’t grown up with a circle that has been with her since childhood. However, she still finds that being in the military makes her family closer together, since they rely on each other during the moves.
One thing Smith does enjoy about the military is the school system on base. Most military schools are DODD schools (Department of Defense Dependents), meaning that they all have the same curriculum, no matter what base a student is at. Smith went to a DODD school in Germany for a few years while her dad was stationed there.
“The classes were a little bit ahead there,” she said, “especially English and math. When you’re overseas, our books are kind of old, so we have to try and figure out where we are in the States, so we’re not behind. The teachers would rather us be ahead than behind.” DODD schools also help students whose parents are deployed and try to reassure them. “Teachers are a lot more supportive when your parent is gone [deployed]. They try to help you through it. It’s a lot different.”
Transitioning back to a public school in the States was very hard, especially when her dad was deployed again. “I was older, and my dad had told me that he wasn’t going to be deployed anymore, so I got over that fear. But then he said, ‘Oh, I do have to go,’ some time later, so all that fear came back,” she said. “It was tough.”
This experience was made even more difficult by the fact that she didn’t have her older brother to lean on. In the past, her family had banded together and supported each other. But this time her brother was away at college, and her mom couldn’t get out of bed because of surgery, so Smith had to do most of the shopping and other things that her parents usually did.
“That experience helped me to gain new respect for everything my parents do because of the things that I did in their place,” Smith said. “I never would have thought that at 16 I would have to this … it was hard.”
Despite the hard life of being in the military and moving around, Smith has kept friends from Germany and other places she has lived. “I have two friends that I email with,” she said, “Not all of them are still in Germany, but the one nice thing about military kids is that we have this bond that other kids don’t really have; you haven’t grown up together, but you understand how it is to move schools and be the new kid all the time. So when we do make friends, we tend to keep that friendship going as long as we can. It’s nice.”
Most everyone at military schools, such as the one Smith went to in Germany, understands the hard life of a military family. Smith likes that about the armed forces, how everyone understands and tries to help each other.
“They believe it takes a village to raise a kid, so everyone is always there,” she said. “Everyone is always watching out for you.”