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Military Brats: An Unhyphenated American childhood

Christopher Harris

The more that I think about it, the more I recognize that I was raised to be an Unhyphenated American, long before I ever thought about calling myself one, let alone running an organization dedicated to promoting those principles. You see, I’m a BRAT…a Military (Air Force) Brat, that is. As such, I belong to one of the most tight knit fraternities on earth. I can go anywhere in the world, and when I meet a fellow Brat, I’ve usually make a new friend…because we all have similar experiences that only we can appreciate.  Experiences like…going to movies on a military base.

I’ll never forget this experience. It was June-July 1988. My (immediate) family and I were back in Detroit (we were stationed and lived in Germany), visiting our relatives. I went with my cousins to see one of the greatest comedies ever made, “COMING TO AMERICA”, staring Eddie Murphy. As all good Military Brats do, especially those raised overseas, I stood up in preparation for a time honored tradition to take place before the movie began.

After a moment (it seemed like an eternity), I realized that I was the only person in this huge theater…who was still standing up!! I looked over at my cousins, and they are looking at me like I’m crazy. Trust me, at that moment, I felt like the worlds biggest moron. So I played it off by stretching, and then sitting down, as I realized, and thought to myself, “Dude…they aren’t going to play the National Anthem before the movie begins?!?! Yo!! Whassup with that?!?!?”

I’ve shared this story many times over the years with fellow Brats, and we all get a good laugh out of it. And every single time that I watch all or part of “COMING TO AMERICA”, which like everyone else, I have probably watched 50 million times, I have that flashback to that moment when I realized just how different my childhood was from that of my cousins in Detroit and South Carolina.

You see, even though I never forgot that I was Black, and we did celebrate things like “Black History Month”, my “Blackness” didn’t define me back then. I was infinitely more defined by being a Military Brat, and by being the son of Special Agent Harris, than I ever was by being “Black”. Now, like kids, and human beings in general, are prone to do, we did sometimes break up into little sub-groups. Sometimes it was based off of race/ethnicity, and sometimes it was based off of what branch of the military your father/sponsor belonged to (Air Force Brats are the best). But all in all, race/ethnicity was rarely ever the deciding factor.

There was a point in time, when I had graduated from High School, moved from Germany, and left that world of Military Brats, and became just a civilian, and quite frankly, it sucked. I became a lot more racially/ethnically focused, and as a result, I became a lot more bitter, a lot more angry, and quite frankly, a much worse person. To be honest, because of a few bad experiences, and the fact that I had started hanging out with, and listening to, too many Marxist, I wasn’t that fond of America, and especially White people in general.  I would have to say that not only was the time from ages 18-23 one of the worst times in my life…but I was probably the worst person I had ever been in my life. The shame is, even though I wasn’t really happy with who I was, and where I was going in my life…I was probably at the cockiest point in my life.

Fast forward to today, almost two decades later (jeez, I’m getting old), and I am happy to say that I have regained much of the child-like (as opposed to childish, because there is a difference) love for, and faith in America in general. Even though I can’t and won’t forget that I am “Black”, I am once again, not defined by my “Blackness”, nor am I confined by it. Today, as a 42 year old man, I identify primarily as an American…an Unhyphenated American. Most importantly, I am set free by my Christian Faith. Now, I only wish we could start playing the National Anthem before movies begin. That would not only bring back fond childhood memories, but I think it could go a long way towards helping everyone start thinking, walking, and talking like Unhyphenated Americans.

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  1. Leslie Brown

    AWESOME piece and video says a fellow “military brat”!

  2. DigitalPublius

    Well done!

  3. Angela Meyer

    Great article. I too have had the same experience at the movie theater…

  4. Bruce Bright

    I think every brat has had the movie experience! Nice article. A few years ago I was at a gathering of brats that attended Wiesbaden H.S.. We were a “mixed” group and had a discussion very reminiscent of your article. Coming back to the “world” was culture shock for many.

  5. Julie Langley

    Great article. I remember standing for the Star Spangled Banner as well. It also makes me want to go out and buy myself a movie theater just so I can play the National Anthem before each show.

  6. Laura Marbut Marino

    Thank you for your thoughts and who you’ve become again. I’m an Army brat, an Air Force retiree, and an American Rice Cracker (in other words, an “Other”, according to forms) and only had five years of my life as a full-fledged, non-Card carrying civilian from 23 to 28 years old. Those years didn’t suck, but we moved to Memphis and holy cow! Life here was and still is culture shock. I got hated by blacks and whites for being an Other. I still get hated on because of Pearl Harbor and I wasn’t even born till 10-years later. Too, my Christianity helps a lot with just praying for the ignorance of people. Keep up the good work, sir, and may the Force be with yo

  7. T Kogut

    Looks like a 526th TFS patch on your helmet. If so…my old squadron from Ramstein. Salute!

    • Christopher Harris

      That is precisely what it is. That picture is from the summer of 1983.

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