Growing Up Military
by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ashley Maldonado-Suarez
April 23, 2019
A bright yellow dandelion bends and dances in the breeze on a warm, spring afternoon.
Suddenly, it’s plucked from the ground by a small hand. The hand of a child.
After gleefully running toward their parents, bestows their treasure upon them.
Smiling at the sweet gesture, the uniformed parents thank their little one.
Simply a weed to many, the true significance of the dandelion is known to few.
Just as the dandelion seeds float on a breeze and bloom wherever they land, military children display the same resilience and tenacity to thrive in any environment.
Military children all over the world, like dandelions, are able to thrive in any environment. Due to the resilient nature of the dandelion, it has become the symbol of the military child. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Ashley Maldonado)
As a child raised in the military myself, I would know.
My father joined the Air Force at 19 years old. Right after he graduated basic training, he married my mother.
Then in 1985, they were sent to his first duty station, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.
This was where my parents had my sister in 1990, then me in 1993.
In 1995, after 10 years at Seymour Johnson and two years after I was born, my parents finally received orders.
We uprooted ourselves and moved to Travis Air Force Base, California.
Once there, we moved into base housing right around the corner from the elementary school.
My mother started an in-home daycare for children around my sister’s and my age groups about a year after we got settled in.
My sister and I saw our mother’s new career as an opportunity to make new friends, and we did just that.
During daycare, my mother would take all six of us on field trips to amusement parks, strawberry fields, pumpkin patches, San Francisco, California, and many more places.
She always came up with activities and trips for us that were fun as well as educational.
Because I was so young, I only have very few memories of our years at Travis, but the memories I do have are wonderful ones full of fun and love.
After spending six years there, we said goodbye to our close friends and travelled across the country and the Atlantic Ocean to Aviano Air Base, Italy.
This time, my parents decided we would live off base and immerse our family within the Italian culture.
We lived in billeting for approximately three weeks before we were able to meet our soon-to-be landlords and tour the house that would soon be our home for the next three and a half years.
During those few years, my family and I travelled all over Italy and to eight different countries.
My parents never missed an opportunity to take my sister and me somewhere new and full of culture and history.
My family and I traveled all over Paris, Rome, London and Naples. Greece, Austria and Spain are just a few of the places we visited.
Not only did we experience and see what very few Americans do, but we also gained lifelong friends even after we moved.
This time, I found it difficult for me to leave my friends and school behind, but I knew we still had to go and I would start the process of placing shallow roots all over again.
In 2002, we arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
It was here, my parents bought their first home 30 minutes away from the base.
I had never had trouble making friends, and this place was no different, but this time I made friends easily at school because I was the new girl “from Italy.”
A year hadn’t even passed before my father came home from work and told us he got orders again.
A couple weeks before moving day, my father went on a temporary duty assignment to New Mexico, leaving my mother to finish the process of packing and selling the house.
In the midst of all the chaos of moving, my parents stayed true to the promise they made to me a year prior and allowed me to adopt my first dog, Drake.
My mother’s brother came down to help my mother, sister and I drive to pick up my father from his TDY, so we could continue our move by driving all the way across the country to Hurlburt Field Air Force Base, Florida.
After much debate and trying to hate it, I gave in and loved the area.
A couple years later, my father retired from the Air Force and we lived happily in Navarre, Florida.
Of course, life goes on and I no longer live at home.
I am often asked if I liked growing up in the military or what I thought of it. My answer will always be the same.
I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I may not have had the opportunity to be raised near other family members, like aunts, uncles, cousins or grandparents, but I was given the opportunity to travel and see the world.
I was able to experience other cultures. I tried authentic food from many different countries and made friends and lasting memories everywhere I went.
I will never regret growing up in the military.
Instead, I joined the Air Force, just as my father did before me.
In 2015, I was coincidentally assigned to the same first duty station my father was assigned to when he joined in 1986, truly allowing me to follow in his footsteps.
Now, my husband and I are raising our son while both of us are active duty Air Force members. It is a challenge, but one I am prepared to handle thanks to the lessons of resilience I learned while I was raised in the world’s greatest military.