The Huffs have lived on military bases across the nation and abroad. "It really makes us well-rounded," said Stephanie, second from left. (Brent Drinkut / Journal & Courier)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — By the time she turned 11, Emily Huff had attended five schools and lived in seven cities.
What may seem like an endless stream of stressful transitions to civilians has been an adventure for Emily, a military child.
The month of April is dedicated to children such as Emily and her two sisters, who serve the country behind the scenes.
The Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, in cooperation with Indiana Operation Military Kids, spearheaded the local Month of the Military Child campaign to raise awareness about these hidden service members.
“Our focus is on celebrating and acknowledging the good things they get out of being military kids,” Christy Flynn, outreach specialist for the Military Family Research Institute, told the Journal & Courier.
Sometimes the silver lining can be difficult to find if a child is separated from a parent for a year or spends his or her formative years traveling across national and international borders to support mom or dad at the next station.
Emily and her two sisters Stephanie, 17, and Sarah, 21, are grateful for the rare opportunities they’ve received as military children.
The Huffs have been stationed in Maryland, Rhode Island, Florida and several places in Italy and Hawaii.
“It’s always something different,” said Emily, who attends Klondike Elementary School. “Seeing different places and trying new foods.”
“We get to see things most people haven’t gotten to see,” said Stephanie, who is a junior at Harrison High School. “It really makes us well-rounded.”
After living on military bases overseas and across the U.S., the humble Hoosier lifestyle was a slight culture shock.
“At first, we didn’t know what to do. We kept thinking ‘What do you want?’” Mike Huff, the girls’ father, laughed. “People are so nice here.”
Emily and Stephanie, who spent most of their time living among fellow military kids, were suddenly surrounded by children who lived in the same home from birth.
Sarah experienced the same thing at Florida State University.
“When you live in the same town your whole life, you see your friends grow up and that’s the weirdest thing for me,” she said. “I like talking to my friends now about their childhood or seeing their baby photos to piece together their story because I wasn’t there for the first half.”
Despite the perceived glamour of an upbringing filled with transcontinental conquests, the downside is the impact on the ability to make attachments.
“It’s hard,” said Sarah, who is studying geology. “I’m good at forming quick relationships, though they aren’t necessarily as deep.”
But the regular state and continental shifts haven’t stopped her from maintaining a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend, Ryan, who is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.
While it never seems to get easier being away from loved ones, especially for military families, the saving grace is technology.
With Skype and social media, Stephanie is able to stay in touch with old friends, Sarah is able to stay in touch with her boyfriend, and military families who face deployments can stay in touch with soldiers.
It wasn’t like that when Mike Huff, now a Navy commander, first deployed to Japan in 1999 and then Bahrain in 2000.
“Nowadays you’ve got email, and even Skype, so you can see your kids on a daily basis,” Mike Huff said. “Twenty years ago you couldn’t do any of that; it was just letters.”
Sarah was 9 when Mike Huff went to Japan and 10 when he went to Bahrain.
“I was young enough I didn’t exactly know what was happening,” Sarah said. “I knew I had to wait and if something bad happened I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Fortunately for Sarah, she and her family were living on a base in Hawaii and had a strong support system.
This is not the case in places such as Indiana, where there is no active military installation, and military children — more than 21,000 in the state — can be the only ones in school with a parent in the service.
“Those kids are more hidden,” Flynn said. “If the communities military kids live in are aware of that, then they can build a support system around them.
“If teachers are aware and friends’ parents are aware, then maybe they can help out by taking the kids to a sporting event or just staying engaged,” Flynn said.
To make the call to action more clear, the Departments of Defense and Agriculture, along with the Military Family Research Institute, created a list suggesting ways for nonfamily members to help military children.
“If you are a day-care provider or a school that serves military kids ... if you are a first responder or if you are a religion-based organization,” Flynn said, “the series gives you concrete specific ideas to do that.”
There are four listed on the Military One website, and several more will be posted soon, said Mike Marn, director of communications for Military Family Research Institute.
As for the Huffs, perhaps what keeps them together is not only their love for their own family unit, but the respect they have for those they’ve met along the way.
“I joke with all of my friends that one day hopefully we will all be together in one place,” said Michelle Huff, the girls’ mother.