Military families are resilient but still need transition support

Learn more about Casey Rodriguez.
Casey Rodriguez
Program Manager, Leadership Programs
George W. Bush Institute
military family reunion

Casey Rodriguez is a proud military child of two United States Marines. During their service, they lived in California; Okinawa, Japan; Virginia; and places in between.  Her story speaks to military family culture and the unique challenges they face.

Being a military child often meant moving every two to three years, losing your “home” and friends, and sometimes even having to say goodbye to your parent or parents for a period of time. That was certainly true for me as a child of two Marines.

I remember not knowing where my dad was stationed on a deployment or when we’d be able to talk to him on the phone. He missed birthdays, sports games, and special events.

It was awkward and lonely being the only kid without a parent on some occasions – like when you’d score a goal in your soccer game, look up, and your parents weren’t in the stands. But you got through it because you knew your dad was doing something important for everyone, even if you didn’t fully understand it or like it at that moment.

It’s not all about your parents being gone. It’s also navigating the ins and outs of different school systems when you move and adjusting to a completely new environment. Not everything is made the same and not everyone understands what you are going through. Transitioning from school to school would have been easier with a dedicated advisor to help my family navigate the new education system and understand the best course and educational options.

There was always a curriculum gap when moving from state to state, even in Department of Defense schools. It was even worse overseas. There was no handbook to guide you through the transition, so sometimes you missed out on opportunities for advanced courses, especially if you arrived in the middle of the school year because of military orders or fell behind in subjects in which the previous duty station struggled to provide a quality education.

School districts with a high concentration of military children receive federal funding that could be used for mentors and advisors. Those districts should ensure that military families have access to someone familiar with military duty station transitions and the state’s standards and requirements along with the district’s resources and opportunities. Access to a dedicated resource like this at each duty station would have been invaluable and likely would have shifted outcomes for my sister and me. It also would have made moving a little bit easier for all of us instead of putting that responsibility on my parents who already had a lot on their plates during each move.

As if our transitions were not already hard enough, sometimes members of our new communities lacked the awareness of the experience of military families. In certain states, some classmates and teachers were outspoken against the military. A teacher of mine went as far as to question why we even needed the Armed Forces while there were several military children in the room, tone deaf to just how much we had given up for us to be there at that very moment.

Eventually, you find the light in the darkness when you find friends who understand you and your family and settle into your new home. You find the community that understands that military families face unique challenges and lean into those going through the same experience.

One thing is sure:  Our family was made for this. We are tightly knit because we were the only ones we ever had in new places and were always there for each other no matter what. We accepted the military as our second family and the camaraderie it brought us. It was “once a Marine, always a Marine” for all of us, and, soon enough, we had an extended family across the country. Our home became a feeling of belonging instead of a single place.

Now I realize that being a military child made me into the person I am today. It exposed me to diverse people and cultures that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to experience. I became adaptable and resilient. I take risks and consistently push myself beyond my comfort zone, and that led me to attend college in a different state without knowing a single person. Finally, it gave me a purpose, always wanting to give back and help people in any way that I can, which has led me to where I am today, advocating for veterans and military families.

It’s never just one person that serves; it’s the whole family. In our house, we celebrate the Marine Corps birthday as a family because it’s a reminder that we all gave a piece of ourselves to the service. We children were making a difference and giving back to our country, too, even if we didn’t know it back then.

Today, there are 1.6 million military children who are making a difference alongside their parents in uniform. They need the resources to make it through their service and thrive.