Brat Life

By Mike Traylor

During my life there have been a lot of changes. I grew up an Air Force Brat, moving from base to base. My life was not unique, as every other kid I knew growing up, was just the same as I was. When asked where I am from is probably the hardest question that I get asked, much like many other brats, it’s not just one place. I rattle off a list and always end it with, but my family is from Louisiana, usually trying to explain why I have a Saints shirt or hat on.

I moved eight times before I was 16 years old. I went to three different elementary schools, three different middle schools and almost had to change high schools junior year, but I insisted on getting a waiver and driving. Change was nothing new to me and was not a big scary ordeal to be dealt with. It was common place and normal. The only constant was my family. Mom, Dad and my two brothers, Tony and Butch. Tony enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1984 and Butch worked for AAFES as a mechanic. Everything we did revolved around the military. My Grandfather, whom I referred to as “Paw Paw,” was a retired Army Major, who was the base Civil Engineer on Fort Polk after he retired. A double dipper as some would say. Mom was an Army Brat and understood the life of a brat.

Dad didn’t yell, he was just speaking in a tone loud enough for all of us to clearly understand his meaning. If you didn’t get out of bed, Dad would always threaten to get a metal trashcan lid and bang it over your head. My haircuts and appearance always had to be within AFR 35-10 and I knew the standard from a young age. Dad used colorful language, which I can’t repeat in mixed company. We learned discipline and how to take care of ourselves. My parents did not want us to become dependent on anyone for anything. All three boys could cook, clean, sew, iron, work on cars, field strip guns, and fish. Much to my wife’s chagrin, we never learned to be “handy” around the house. That was just a phone call to CE so it wasn’t anything we ever had to deal with. We had rules to follow and as long as we were within the rules life was great. We earned our rewards, we worked for it. Hard work got the best rewards from Dad. We got to go on the flight line with him and watch the planes come and go. I even hopped in a fire truck or two with him on runs. We went of fishing trips, where he would almost always fall in the water. We watched football and he always had our back. When I screwed the pooch as he would call it, I would always call Dad first, and still do. We were taught from an early age to blow things up in a loud, profane, military fashion. Guns, web gear, Alice packs, E-tools, and mummy bags were common place. Our camping gear Dad had somehow “acquired” from base supply.

Dad may have held the rank, but we all knew who held the higher authority in the house. Mom wouldn’t really fuss at us. She did not like to raise her voice at us, we would be told to do something, and we would do it or else. The else usually entailed her chewing a gigantic hole in our father’s behind, who in turn would come to us. You see there was a chain of command at home too. Much like any other organization, it rolled down hill, hitting all of us along the way. When Dad was gone, Mom had her hands full, with three boys, two Saint Bernard’s much of the time, and our love of all things combat. We loved to combat each other more than anything and were usually in a physical altercation with each other growing up. We had very thick emergency room files. They would be over stupid stuff, like the last can of chili, or the clicker. I was much younger, so I didn’t get into a lot of these fights at first, but I got my licks in. Mom would quickly make the next house a home, unpacking all of our stuff we acquired for years, a 9 piece wall unit and paintings from Spain, mixed with a southwest motif we gathered from our times in the deserts. A box of curtains to fit any window possible. She always made us feel at home no matter where we were. Just don’t try to interrupt her reading her book, she wasn’t going to hear you anyway.

I had a childhood of adventures and trips, I got to live in Spain for four years, however I was very young, but I remember quite a bit. We moved to Tucson and I got to float down Mountain Rivers, visit Tombstone, and old Tucson where John Wayne filmed movies. Somehow that was magical, to be in the same place the Duke had once been. I saw the Alamo, the Grand Canyon, and The Painted Desert, played in snow, deserts, forests and swamps. I fished mountain streams, creeks, huge lakes and little ponds. I crossed every single mountain range in this country, all before I was 16 years old.

The scariest change for me was when Dad came home and told me he was retiring, he was after all a Chief Master Sergeant with over 28 years in. That meant we would be moving off base and we would not be PCS-ing anywhere. I had only lived off a base for 10 months in my entire life before, which was only until base housing opened up. How do you live without Youth Centers, Shoppettes, and Gate Guards? What am I going to do without hearing or seeing a jet taking off? I already had to have a fan in my room because I was so used to the Flight line noise on George, I couldn’t sleep without it. They warmed up the F-4G’s engines every night at 2200 hours, and we lived near the flight line. However, with an F-4 you don’t need to be near the flight line to hear it.

I cherish my childhood more than most people will ever realize. To me hearing that someone was born and raised in the same town their entire life doesn’t compute. I feel bad they never got to experience the things that I got to do. That is the worry I have with my own children, I want them to see the things I did and do what got to do. We just moved, so I guess I will let my wife settle in again before I try to pack us up again.

 

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