Veteran’s Day is one of my favorite holidays of the year.
It’s a day that is important to myself & my family, a day to remember & appreciate the numerous men and women who have fought to defend our freedom.
A day like today is important in the wake of a particularly divisive election. After scrolling down my Facebook timeline, wrought with angry Americans’ proclamations to make the move to Canada, I can’t help but reflect on my days spent in a military family, being part of a community filled with pride in & dedication to the country we live in.
No matter the political party in office, this community works tirelessly to protect us. I’m grateful every day to have played a small part in the military community, and to have had the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself. Growing up in that environment taught me more than I realized, upon reflection, about life in general.
This post really isn’t about my life so much as it is a small sampling of the kind of lives military men/women & their families live for the sake of the people of the United States ( whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or unassociated ).
An overview of my childhood, so you know where I’m coming from:
I was born on Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, FL & lived on base for the first few years of my life.
My Dad, a fighter pilot in the US Air Force, was stationed at Tyndall upon entering the military out of college. My parents met in college ( at Texas A&M University, because Gig ‘Em ), and later got married & had me, which resulted in my Mom leaving Texas behind at 21 years old to start our little family on the coast of Florida.
My mom was younger than I am now when she had me, and she dealt with the enormous pressure that goes along with being a young adult, married to a fighter pilot, & parenting a teeny human, mostly on her own.
Back then, my Dad, AKA: the “Phantom,” was learning to fly his first jet, the F-15, which is considered one of the most incredible air combat planes in history ( & my favorite! ). I guess you could say he’s kind of a badass.
When I was 3, we moved to Destin, Florida, where my Dad was stationed at Eglin Air Force base, the base where my little sister, Riley, was born. During our time in Destin, he was sent to Saudi Arabia for Operation Southern Watch, and after that to Turkey for Operation Northern Watch.
We first lived in a small-town Destin neighborhood & then in a condo on the beach in Sand Destin.
We spent mornings at the local breakfast shack, eating butter & cheese grits, watching the dolphins jump on the horizon before school. In the late afternoons, we would hear the roaring of plane engines & look off the balcony to see my dad buzzing ( flying low, fast, & with after-burner on ) our building.
When I was 6, we moved back to Panama City, FL. I was at school in Panama City when tragedy struck on 9/11. My Dad was sent back to Saudi Arabia. This deployment was the first that I remember in full.
He was supposed to be gone for 100 days ( but they always stay longer than predicted ), so before he left, he set out two tupperware containers, one for my little sister & one for myself, filled with 100 Flintstones multivitamins each ( do y’all REMEMBER these?? ). It was our way of counting the days until he came back.
This was the first deployment that I remember having gymnastics meets, family birthdays, & holidays without him. We connected via e-mail often, and he’d send us selfies ( with an actual digital camera, LOL ) & videos in the cockpit over Saudi.
After Panama City part II, we were supposed to move overseas, but my Dad decided to switch jets to the F-16 ( a really cool bomb-dropping fighter jet… though I will always be partial to the F-15’s air combat capabilities ), which allowed us to move to Houston, Texas, returning to both of my parents’ home state ( and the state I claim as my home ). He joined the Texas Air National Guard in Houston when I was 9.
Our time in Houston brought my Dad two more deployments to Iraq for Desert Storm II & Operation Iraqi Freedom. For these deployments, he was stationed in Balad.
Again, my Dad missed a number of notable moments. I never had the opportunity to attend your typical Dad-Daughter dance and I specifically remember attending my school’s Dads & Donuts with a friend’s Dad & with my Uncle the next year ( who is now also a fighter pilot! ).
He was in Iraq for the first part of my mother’s ( mostly bed-ridden ) pregnancy with my little brother, Brooks, who was born 3 years after we moved to Texas. This meant my 12-year-old self & Riley’s 9-year-old self had to get our shit together at an early age, learning to take care of the household in the ways we could. Mostly, we were terrified of what would happen if my Dad heard we weren’t being helpful, cooperative, & responsible.
We’d hear stories of the Balad base taking mortar fire, to which my Dad responded, “yes, but when we hear the mortar sirens, you just duck under something like your bed,” because, yeah, no big.
In Houston, when he wasn’t overseas, my Dad sat “alert,” which means he would live on base a few days a week, ready to hop in a plane at any time of day or night to protect the southern border from unidentified planes & whatnot. We spent a lot of time on base when he sat alert, mostly playing in the flight simulator room ( which is a room with an actual plane cockpit, & a screen to simulate flying…. I was freaking terrible at fake flying, BTW ).
After 14 years of commitment to the military, when I was 14 years old, my Dad decided to leave the Air Force to pursue other ( safer ) things. His departure from the military was a huge turning point in my life, as he was around much more after that. We moved to Fort Worth, TX a year or so prior to him officially leaving the military, & started a completely different lifestyle.
Upon reflection, my time as a United States military brat, though I was young, taught me more about life than I initially realized. During a conversation on the phone with my father today, he told me that, moving forward in life, I will notice that it taught me so much more than I realize even now.
The Most Important Things Growing Up in a Military Family Taught Me About Life:
1. Respect is about what you do.
In the military, everyone is paid for shit, to be frank. No one is living the lavish lifestyle of excess and opulence. Currency in this setting is based on respect. Respect isn’t tied to fortune, fame, or beauty. Respect about hard work, effort, & showing up every day for your country, your family, and your comrades. The Air Force is a competitive environment, where they push each other to improve on a daily basis, and this is how respect is earned.
To this day, my Dad has a sign from one of his old squadrons over his office door that says Did He Learn More Than You Today? reminding him ( & the rest of the Sartain clan ) to stay hungry, accept challenge, and improve. Always. That’s something to respect.
2. You can do anything you want, if you set your mind to it.
Watching my very human ( but kind of robot-ish ) father be able to get in a plane & fly faster than the speed of sound opened my eyes to possibility as far back as I can remember. It’s truly an amazing thing, and when you grow up in a world where your Dad is fighting the bad guys, flying thousands of feet above ground, you start to believe that you could also do something amazing.
To me, the things I’d like to accomplish in my lifetime don’t seem crazy or far-fetched after that experience. I can do anything I want in the world, because I watched my Dad literally fly.
3. Intensity & passion fuel everything.
As a fighter pilot, the job controls your life and the lives of your family. The job could take your life in a nano-second if you’re off your game, or if you’re particularly unlucky. As a result, the men & women filling these positions are beyond intensely passionate about flying, & intensely passionate about protecting each other & the country they are defending ( as runs true for all members of the armed forces ).
For many people, their job is a thing they do to be able to live the life they want. They consider work a sacrifice to be able to live a normal life, existing outside of work.
Fighter pilots sacrifice living a normal life to be a fighter pilot. They ( & they’re families ) give up a number of things for the job, because their passion for the job is so intense.
That idea has been an incredible driving force in my life, inspiring me to pursue what I want to do more than anything else in the world. I’ve found something that makes me NEVER want to stop working. I constantly sacrifice normal-life things for my work, because I am too intensely passionate about it to NOT do so. It doesn’t feel like work, it feels like LIFE.
Thanks for that inspiration, Dad.
4. Adaptability it key. Good people are everywhere.
Throughout my younger years, we moved from place to place, being planted around many different types of people. We moved through a number of socio-economic levels, lived in the city, in the suburbs, and on the beach.
The people were different everywhere, clearly. With my recent move to Los Angeles, I’m going through another big change in environment.
I am forever grateful to have had the chance to experience being around many different types of people. I am so lucky to say I have friends in many different places. Though I didn’t always love the idea of moving, I was always able to find good people where we ended up, and I think that holds true in general.
We left friends, and we found many more. Over & over again. You can find good people anywhere. You just have to look.
My Dad & my Uncle.
5. Nothing is permanent.
My moving around ingrained in me the idea that nothing is permanent.
When was faced with middle- & high-school girl drama ( and even in college ), I used this little lesson. Picking up and leaving a number of environments made me realize how big the world is, and how much what’s happening directly around me isn’t a permanent reality. So, when I was given a lot of trouble socially, I would remember that it would soon be over, because it had to end.
There’s a hope in knowing that nothing is permanent. Troubles will leave you eventually.
At the same time, this is a sad realization. Knowing that nothing is permanent, recently, has taught me to sit back and take note of the moments in which I am happiest, and learn to truly appreciate and fully experience those moments.
6. Be a part of something larger than yourself.
Whether its a team, a group of friends, a family, a work organization, a non-profit etc., it pays to be a part of something larger than yourself. It’s so important to use your abilities to impact people in a positive way, however that manifests itself for you.
For my family, that meant being a part of the United States Military. We lived, we moved, and we sacrificed for a purpose. It was the for the good of a nation. It’s the most important thing I’ve been a part of in my life to date.
Hopefully, there are plenty of these types of experiences in my future.
7. Lastly, & most importantly, stay humble.
I think most members of our military, especially within the fighter pilot community, realize that their time in the armed forces was about showing up for their fellow soldiers & for their country. It wasn’t about notoriety, fame, or receiving “Thank You For Your Service” on a daily basis.
My Dad might kill me for writing this: you know when you’re at a college or professional sporting event, and they ask all members of the armed forces, current & former, to stand so the audience can acknowledge, applaud, & publicly thank them for their service?
I have never once seen my Dad stand to be acknowledged, applauded, & thanked. I mean, I’ve sat through SO MANY of those moments with my Dad right next to me. That experience, sitting next to man who spent years upon years defending our country, refusing to collect acknowledgment, taught me a great deal about staying humble.
I’d imagine he does this because his time in the military is about his purpose, his fellow soldiers, and his country, more than it is about himself.
I don’t think anything negative of those who do stand to show their pride for serving during those moments, of course! But, my Dad’s very intentional choice to not take celebratory credit for his time in the military speaks volumes to me.
I guess this goes along with being a part of something larger than yourself, really. You aren’t a star, shining alone & brighter than everyone else, no matter what you do. You are, however, a part of a larger whole to which you are an asset. This lesson inspires me to show up, constantly progress, & remember there is a larger purpose to my life than satisfying only myself.
I know this was a long one, guys, but days like today get me thinking like crazy.
Hopefully, everyone here in American can use this day to be proud of our country. Be proud of the members of our military, who are ready & willing to put their lives on the line for us.
Know in your heart that there are people out there fighting for you, regardless of who the president is.
There will always be improvements to be made within today’s America, but this day is something to celebrate.
I, personally, am so happy to be an American.
“Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world. A veteran doesn’t have that problem.” – Ronald Reagan
Talk soon. xx