Saturday, April 3, 2010

Living the American Dream Abroad - By Braylee Gilbert, Age 12

Eleven of the past 12 years of my life have been spent overseas. I have lived in places many dream of visiting. For me, this is the only life I've ever known. I was born into of a military family.

I am the youngest of three children. I have two older brothers. I was born in Yokosuka, Japan, while my dad was deployed, because the President wanted a two carrier presence in the Persian Gulf. We met when I was three months old. The next day I was baptized in the ship's engineering bell. He was only home for thirty days and was gone again for another five months. I didn't know it at the time but this was going to be business as usual for my family.

In 2000, I experienced my first Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move to Guam. My mom said that I would ask to “go home”. Now I know home is whereever the Navy sends us. Guam offered me the opportunity to learn how to swim and snorkel the Marianas Trench. It was like swimming in an aquarium, the fish were so beautiful and the water crystal clear. I attended my first school, Southern Christian Academy and earned my first academic award. I was three when the awful tragedy of 9/11 occurred, but I didn't understand what was happening. I just remember being scared and waking up to my dad not being home. My dad's shore duty was cut short and he was reassigned only 22 months into his tour. It was here I also discovered the pain of saying good-bye. I was now old enough to understand we were moving again and my dad was going back to sea.

In 2002, I was living in Sasebo, Japan. It was a big change for me. I would attend Kurinomi Yochien, Japanese Kindergarten. I was the only person in my class that didn't speak Japanese and didn't have black hair. Over the next two years I would become fluent in Japanese; learn the piano; play soccer, baseball, and basketball; and be the youngest person on my swim team. It was here I won my first biathlon. Eating with chopsticks was preferred over forks. Seaweed, rice, yakisoba noodles and curry would become my favorite foods. I learned to respect the Asian culture, accept that people are different and one culture is not better than another. It was here my dad was sent to Malaysia to help with Tsunami Relief. I was sad because he was supposed to coach my basketball team. I know what he was doing was important and would positively impact many lives. They needed him more than we did.

In 2005 my older brother, Brandon, graduated from high school and once again we were moving, this time to Jacksonville, Florida. We were so happy to be going stateside because it meant shore duty. However, only ten days from arriving back to the states, my dad found out he had to report to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for a nine month Individual Augment (IA). I remember crying because we were supposed to be together as a family after three years of forward deployed life. My mom said it was still shore duty, just a different shore. The next year would be one of the most difficult for my whole family. It was a year of adjustments with my brother, Brandon, going to college, and me not having any friends, changing schools and celebrating the holidays without my dad. I was worried having moved to a new house that Santa wouldn't find me. I shouldn't have worried. The night of my holiday concert; in the rain, my brothers put lights on the house, just for me. They saved my Christmas.

By now I was beginning to understand what being a military family is all about. We depend on each other to make things work. We start to want things more for each other than for ourselves. We become pretty good at keeping things normal when this life is anything but normal. However, we are strong and totally committed to each other.

Exactly one year from arriving in Jacksonville we were once again on the move. But not before making my First Holy Communion. I was so happy my dad made it back for my big day and even prouder when he agreed to wear his dress white uniform. Not being in a DoDDS school, his presence in uniform was quite impressive.

The summer of 2006, my family was headed to Europe. While here, I've had the opportunity to travel and experience a completely new culture - just another chapter in the adventures of a military child. While here, I discovered my hidden talent of running, competing in the base to base 7.2 mile run in 1: 11. I learned a lot about myself that day. This past fall, I made the Middle School Flag Team. I broke my arm the day before homecoming. I performed the high school half time, one handed, determined not to miss my brother's big day.

The older I get, the more I am able to appreciate what a gift I have as a military dependent.

My dad going away means we can live in a world where we have choices. I've learned to accept things I cannot change and make the best of what I have. Life is not about having the best, it's about doing the best with what you have. We've endured separations that have changed our lives forever. We have developed relationships with other military families and have become extended families, supporting each other in good times and bad. We shop at the same stores and stand for the national anthem before watching a movie. We have a strong sense of community and despite all we lack on a small base in Sicily, I wouldn't change a thing.

Growing up abroad means I benefit from the cultural diversity of having friends from all over. We have one common bond; we are here to support our service member and each other. We are growing up in a safe and loving environment. What we lack in commercial luxuries, common place in the states, like malls and fast food, we make up personally with the ability to overcome adversity and adaptability. Even now as I write this I don't think I will appreciate what I have experienced until I am much older. Living abroad has made me the person I am today. It's not a glamorous life and by no means easy. When it's good it's awesome! When things are out of our control ... well, not so much.

I am Braylee Gilbert, Navy daughter, growing up abroad and proud ambassador to the United States.

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Julie Rahm

Mindset means everything. And no one knows this better than Julie Rahm, aka America's Mindset Mechanic. A former naval physicist, Julie applies physics to the energy of human thought and the results thoughts create. As a military daughter, spouse and mother-in-law she has experienced the challenges of deployment separations, frequent moves and telecommuting careers while remaining happy and achieving her dreams. With her passion and people-loving style, Julie has provided the metaphorical tools for thousands of people to bridge the gap between their thoughts and their lives. Julie Rahm, M.S., is a certified Frame of Mind Coach who has appeared on numerous television and radio broadcasts, including The Phil Knight Show and ABC affiliates. She hosts The Mindset Mechanic LIVE on Saturdays and Sundays on FM107.1 WTKF and AM1240 WJNC in Eastern NC. Her weekly column The Mindset Mechanic appears in The Pamlico News. She has been quoted in numerous newspapers, and on the web at and Julie is an inspirational keynote speaker conveying life lessons through a blend of intuitive success strategies, enlightened wisdom, humor and fun. She is the Champion of Military Kids around the World. Julie's latest book is Volume I of Military Kids Speak.

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