Growing Up Military Overseas Meant Certain Change

I’m pleased to introduce a former WUSF colleague who grew up in a military family with three sisters and both parents serving as officers. I asked her to reflect on growing up overseas.

By Natasha Samreny

In 2001, my dad retired from the Air Force, and CENTCOM activated my mom around 9/11. We stayed in Tampa, and any dreams of returning to life overseas faded more every year.

My mom dressed us up in coordinating outfits for every major out-of-country flight. We were easier to spot in case we got separated.

I liked moving. We PCS’d (Permanent Change of Station) when one or both of my military parents were assigned or offered new jobs in another location. They decided based on their professional goals, our family’s input, and of course where the government said they were needed. But for my sisters and me, the moves ensured change and growth: traveling, making new friends and adventures in another country.

I never thought of the U.S. as home, I was young when we left for Panama. Happiness meant playing with my sisters in the tropical rains. Our tan bodies and sun-bleached hair thrived on mangos and pineapple juice. Germany was colder, and “home” changed from a two-story house-on-stilts to a modest apartment converted from old Army barracks. But we adjusted because that’s what we knew.

Two major factors eased the moves: my parents, and base living.

My mom immigrated from Ecuador as a child, learning English on the fly. My dad grew up in Pittsburgh’s mixed Hill District, where Saturday morning bakery and sandwich-shop aromas carried countries through the streets. Both educated dreamers from loving families, when they sat us down to talk about our next trip, challenges became “opportunities”. We spent holidays trekking through Europe, catching our fondest memories.  Bases overseas offer ready-made community living for American families relocating to foreign countries. We all came from somewhere else. Like kids at summer camp, our time was short, so we made the most of it.

When we returned to the States, a decade passed before I called it home. I felt like I was betraying everything I knew; if I accepted this final destination, I accepted the suffocating thought that I didn’t know how to change or start again without relocating. This was the normal I had come to expect and need from life.

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