Military dependents find strength in change

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A map demonstrating the multiple moves the dependents had to make over the course of their childhood.

Troy Lee

The transition from high school to college can be a struggle for some students, but for military dependents, like sophomore English major Ollie Swasey, it was the easiest transition of their life.

“Making friends is easy for me,” Swasey said. “All the places I have lived and the (number of) times I have moved have allowed me to quickly decide a good fit from a bad one. I try everything and then narrow it down.”

Swasey grew up as a military dependent — someone whose parents or guardians are on active duty in the military. Depending on the rank and job of a parent, a permanent change of station (PCS) can happen within just months of settling in a new location.

Dependents must also change their schools every time they move. Between Kindergarten and high school graduation, Swasey transferred to five different schools.

“Sometimes it was just me and my younger sister,” Swasey said. “I had to make split decisions with whom to connect with since I didn’t know how long I would live in a place.”

Making friends wasn’t a priority, especially since maintaining friendships over years of travel hardly ever worked out, Swasey said.

Eight moves meant sophomore public health major JJ Braun’s family was the only constant in life.

“When I moved from California to England, it was just me, my brother and my mom,” he said.

His father, now a retired NATO operations commander and fighter pilot, received orders to move the family not just from house to house, but from culture to culture. Sports played a big role in Braun’s life as it was a way to have fun in each new home.

“In California I was into football,” he said. “But in England, they’re into soccer. So I learned to play rugby. Sports are just what I like.”

Choosing a career based on his experience with the military helped develop Braun’s interest in public health. His travels let him see how different places handle health problems.

“One time I was on a ship from Hawaii to San Diego with (Braun’s father),” Braun said. “Seeing the system of healthcare from the Navy perspective — just the perspective of travelling from place to place and how it changes — made me really think.”

Senior theatre studies major Kyle Burnett found his love of theatre in the ninth grade when living in Virginia. It acted as a constant through all the changes in his life.

“The people I was around and the exposure to the art allowed me to understand and accept myself,” Burnett said. “When we moved to West Point (New York) after my (junior year of high school), it was hard to leave but welcoming. There was always theatre somewhere.”

Living so close to New York City allowed for even greater exposure to the theatre; Burnett saw over 30 productions during his time in New York. He made it a goal to see one every week.

“I do feel being in the military as helped me adapt to different roles, like in high school,” Burnett said. “I am a chameleon. I went from ‘South Pacific,’ a classic (‘40s) musical, to ‘American Idiot,’ a newer, out-there musical.”

Burnett’s desire has carried on from his high school years, and he was recently a cast member in Kent State’s performance of ‘Kiss Me, Kate.’

A hobby doesn’t follow everywhere, however.

The car culture became a large part of the life of Akira Adams, a sophomore flight technology major, while he lived in Japan.

His father — a Green Beret — retired there, and his mother is Japanese. Adjusting back to life in America was challenging when he came to Kent State for college, Adams said.

“It was weird adapting back to American culture,” Adams said. “We visited family every three years for a couple of weeks. (I) had no idea what was happening in the local news or on the street.”

Adams saw planes whenever he went to the Kadena Air Force Base, he said.

“While in middle school, we visited the air traffic control, and I thought it was boring,” he said. “Now it’s what I want to do as a commercial pilot.”

Senior psychology major Serena Turner said she noticed ways her peers interacted with each other and their own families. Punctuality and preparedness were values instilled in her from her military family experience, she said.

“Growing up, it seemed like the non-military kids were less respectful to their parents,” Turner said.

After growing up in the military, Turner said she planned to move on from the lifestyle. Now, she is in a relationship with a marine and is preparing to re-enter the military world with him.

“Going back into the military life from knowing what it was like will really help with what I want to do,” Turner said. “I can adjust. I like moving, and I like seeing new people. I can expect what is going to happen and help out others who are new to the environment.”

The exploration of seeing new people and adjusting to something different has helped sophomore fashion merchandising major Lauren LeMay.

During her time living in Stuttgart, Germany,  she was exposed to some of the fashion capitals of the world.

“I’ve been to London, Paris and Milan,” LeMay said. “Paris is my favorite, and I am able to add the things I learned into my interest of the business part of the industry. Seeing and understanding the cultures in fashion have been very helpful.”

Prior to Kent State, LeMay went to college in North Carolina, where her family currently lives.

“This is the third school in two years for me,” LeMay said. “I like traveling, (and) I like seeing new places every year, but now I need to just stay in one.”

The transition into college was easier with the knowledge of how it feels to move away and step outside comfort zones, LeMay said.

“Meeting friends is easier due to my experiences,” LeMay said, “Keeping the friends is something that doesn’t always work out due to the moving. Knowing it’s going to be for longer than what (dependents) are used (to and) having a person there would be great.”

Dependents do not always have direct contact with other dependents when they begin college, which could be helpful when dealing with the relatively new experience of staying in the same place, Lemay said.

Several years ago, students founded an organization for those involved in military families said Dawn Plug, Assistant Director of the Center for Adult and Veterans Services.

“Typically, there is interest in the beginning of a student’s college career, but it fades away as they start to get more involved in their major and the organizations around that major,” Plug said.

As a senior, Turner found ways to make friends and engage in what she enjoys. Because she is in a sorority, she has ideas similar to those common with sororities and would like to implement them in the military organization.

“If we had a sorority or fraternity type system with bigs and smalls, that would be nice,” Turner said. “The discussions it has started helped me transition into these college years.”

Troy Lee is the military reporter, contact him at [email protected]