Things You Can Only Understand if You Grew Up in the Military


The men and women of the US Armed Forces deserve a lot of appreciation. They fight for our freedom. We give them free breakfast at Denny’s once a year and the occasional free drink at the airport. Everyone is happy.
OK, maybe not EVERYONE. Like that little kid who's moved from North Carolina to Germany to California to Tacoma before he’s even reached middle school. Because while serving in the military is an honorable profession for mom or dad, you gotta admit that it's a weird world for a kid to grow up in.

How weird? We asked a bunch of folks who spent their childhoods on military bases and found these 15 things that only the children of those who served can truly understand.


You have no hometown

Unless someone wants to hear your life story about being born in Germany, living in four states and then another country, all before graduating high school somewhere in Georgia, “Where are you from?” might not be the best way to start a conversation.

But people think you’re from California. Or the South.

You either never lived anywhere long enough to pick up an accent or -- thanks to the disproportionally large number of service members from the South -- you sound like you’re from Alabama, despite spending your formative years in Japan.


The PX is the world’s cheapest, worst-stocked JC Penney

Sure, you could get a pair of decent jeans for $10, assuming the five pairs they had in stock hadn’t been swooped up by kids who got there before you.

The first shopping mall you saw... Blew. Your. Mind.

And after years of hurrying to the Base Exchange to snag the last pair of those Wranglers, the rush of having 100 different stores AND a California Pizza Kitchen was like discovering the internet.


“Friends” are people you know for two to three years, tops

You know the buddy you’re riding your bike with to the PX today will probably be living halfway across the world next year. Since elementary school, the idea of being friends with ANYONE makes you a little uncomfortable.

But... you are terrifyingly good at making them

The idea of friendship might make you uncomfortable, but when you grow up knowing your “BFF” is moving to Germany in six months, you’re perpetually open to meeting new people. And you can’t understand why other people are so insular. Which is good because…

You can’t live in one place too long

The nomadic lifestyle is hard to break, and it’s cost you at least one job and one relationship as a result.

FLICKR/Official U.S. Navy Page

The sound of a trumpet makes you stop and stand up

The second Taps came on, it didn’t matter if you were holding a half-melted ice cream cone, you froze. And it still blows your mind that they keep serving hot dogs during the national anthem at baseball games.

Your pop culture knowledge lagged way behind

If your family was stationed overseas before the days of satellite TV and streaming video, you didn’t find out who killed Laura Palmer until 1993.

You didn’t realize anyone actually voted for Democrats

Your parents and their friends were all Republicans. Every car you saw off-base had a “Bush/Cheney” (or "Regan/Bush"!) sticker on it. And all “they” wanted to do was shut down your base and put everyone out of a job.

FLICKR/The U.S. Navy

You take diversity for granted

To paraphrase Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann in Full Metal Jacket: “There are no colors in my Marine Corps. You’re all equally worthless.” And since the military is probably the greatest example of the American melting pot, your school classes were made up of kids of every race and religion, not to mention from every geographic region of the country. Living anywhere that isn’t as diverse still feels a little bland.

Grocery stores still seem overpriced

Because the commissary sold food without a markup, you didn't realize what concepts like “making a profit” and “sales tax” can do to the price of a can of Fun Dip.

Your first job was bagging groceries at said commissary

And if it wasn’t your job, you had at least three friends who worked there.

FLICKR/California National Guard

You don’t dare drive 5mph over the speed limit

MPs are nice because there aren’t a lot (or any) on-base crack houses and meth labs to bust. But a lack of criminals also means that the military police don’t have a lot to do other than hassle you for going 22mph.

There’s still a part of you that expects "The Star-Spangled Banner" to be played before a movie

Somehow the preview for Ride Along 2 just doesn’t make your eyes well up the way they used to in the old base theater.

And now... want to know the best US military base towns to be stationed in? We ranked the top 10, right here.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Matt Meltzer didn't grow up in the military, but did serve in the United States Marine Corps and spent many an afternoon waiting behind indecisive military brats on line at the PX. Yon can follow him @mmeltrez.