Fourth Estate/John Dressel

Students at Mason share their unique experiences and challenges as military and veteran children, “brats”


“Where are you from?”

For most, this is a simple question. But for military children, the query is anything but: It is often met with hesitation or a second thought, and their response turns the simple conversation into a complicated explanation of their adventurous life.

Mason is known as a military friendly institution, with about 4,000 military-related students who range from being active duty, veterans, spouses or dependents. The university has programs and services for military affiliated students available through the Military, Veterans and Families Initiative which focuses on giving back to those who give all to their nation.

With their unique and worldly experiences, these students bring perspectives and knowledge into the classroom and contribute greatly to the learning and social environment at Mason.

“We want our students to know we recognize their sacrifices and are thankful for their perspective and contributions to our Mason community,” said Director of Military Services Jennifer Connors.

While active duty and veteran student viewpoints are more widely shared, military and veteran children have unique challenges and experiences due to the service of their parents.

Children in families of service members are often referred to as military brats. According to the Department of Defense, the term “brat” is attributed to the British Army and originally stood for British Regiment Attached Traveler, the term was used to describe families who were able to travel abroad with a soldier. Eventually, this term became a title military brats are proud to hold today.

“As a military brat, I don’t want to be called a military child because I’m not a child, I am a brat,” said junior Genevieve Ducharme. “We worked, this is our title, this is what we get and it means something to us.”

When Ducharme was growing up, her family was stationed in states like Virginia, Massachusetts, California, Washington as well as overseas in Australia and the Netherlands. Her dad, a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, is now getting ready to retire. She describes her life as a military brat as having certain commitments and expectations she must follow through with consistently.

“As an officer’s daughter, you have certain expectations on how you’re going to carry yourself, who you’re going to be, and you need to present yourself in a certain manner,”  said Ducharme. “You’re taught from a young age to have a lot of discipline, and to be courteous and respectful of others. It is a really big thing.”

Sophomore Joe Kimball is the son of a U.S. Coast Guard officer who retired after serving for over 20 years. Like most, Kimball’s role as a military brat growing up was taxing and difficult.

“One of the biggest things for me is that it was difficult to make friends, and even more difficult to lose them,” said Kimball, speaking of often moving away. “It hurt a lot to lose my friends, especially at a younger age when you have minimal contact. It felt devastating.”

One of the most common challenges that military brats face throughout their lives is having to move a lot. According to the U.S. Department of Defense military brats move every two to three years on average, but this number can vary depending on their parents’ assignment. Constantly having to pick up and move to different places comes with leaving friendships and familiar environments, and the adjustment to a new life can be difficult. 

“If you see someone sitting by themselves or hear something about them being a military kid, just talk to them. Everyone wants to feel that they belong, especially military kids.” said Kimball.

There are also very rewarding aspects to being a military brat. These include opportunities to travel, to see other cultures and to be a part of a tight-knit community.

“You get experiences that people kill to have,” said Ducharme. “When you live somewhere different, you learn how people from different nations interact. Being able to experience cultures is really interesting.”

Senior Elijah Dawson has two parents who are both U.S. Navy veterans. He also comes from an extended family where military service runs in the bloodline. Being able to live through the lifestyle of the military his whole life has influenced him to join the U.S. Air Force after he graduates from Mason.

“The experiences are actually what inspired my later decision in life. I do want to join the military at some point.” said Dawson. 

These Mason students and military brats across the country live a lifestyle that only a small percentage of people experience. They come from a community that is resilient and adaptive. This is the unique life of a military brat.