First Days as a “Civilian”

It was June 2nd, 1979. I was 14 years old and no longer a military brat, I was a civilian.

Sure, I still had my ID card that enabled me to go to any local PX and the like. We, however, didn’t have a local army base, let alone a local PX. In the years ahead of me I would visit several military bases, I even returned to the old places we stayed in back in Germany. But for now, my old life had ended, and a new chapter was just beginning.

Dad left the military the month before. I left my DoD school for the last time, saying good bye to all my friends there. I never saw them again—this was long before emails or Facebook.

Yes, I wrote my friend a few times, he left Bad Kissingen a short time after me, ended up in Kentucky. Letters flowed between us for a year or so, Gary wrote that he was smoking hash with some other kids. Then nothing, no more letters. Silence now for thirty years.

We arrived at our new home in Dads hometown of Pissville. It took us two days to get here from Germany, long hours traveling across the ocean and driving into the backwoods. All we had with us was a few suitcases, the rest of the furniture and clothing, almost everything, followed us by ship, and it wouldn’t get there until well past summer. I still had a few things I got back at Rhein Main, a couple of comics, a couple of sodas, some bits and pieces I found or stole during our trip ‘home’.

Our new home was a detached house, and we would no longer be living in an apartment. Instead of young families and kids around us as back home in Germany, we instead had two old couples living either side of us, a old woman across from us.

For the first time ever I had a bedroom to myself—I wouldn’t be sharing with my brother. Of course there wasn’t a bed, I slept on the floor in a old army sleeping bag for the first weeks there. I had a chair in my room and a built in desk against the wall.

I placed my few items on the desk, my BSA pocket knife, my watch, a few comics and some leaflets I kept from our travel. On the walls I hung two posters which came in a German music magazine I had brought with me, Debbie Harry went on one wall, James Dean on the other. It was quiet at night, and dark. There wasn’t much traffic and no security lights to shine into the skies at night.

That late summer I saw my first Northern Lights, it was so dark. No military tracked vehicles rumbled up or down the streets. I began to miss these little things that were a constant background to my life for the past 14 years.

That summer I was enrolled into my new school, about two weeks before vacation time. I had wanted to go after summer, but had to go before the vacation began, an ackward time for sure. The new kid, that was me. Whereas in the DoD schools a new kid usually fitted in fairly quickly, here it wasn’t so easy.

I was the only new comer. It was a civilian school, the town was 100% civilian. I don’t think a soldier had passed through it since the Civil War. The Principal, a fat older man in his twilight years, looked at my report cards from Germany and that was it.

Next I was sent to my new class. I have forgotten much about it, but I remember the next four years were very unhappy for me. I have forgotten to forget the pain I went through. Sure, I made friends but they did not compare to the dear freinds I had in earlier, happier days in Kansas or Germany.

Anyhow, these fiendships didn’t survive past school. It was Jerkville High School, God I hope that you know how much I hated you all. I guess it was my fault really, I did have some issues to deal with, both in relation to the school and with real problems at home.

I would day dream about Germany, my old life there, my friends left behind. I missed the military but couldn’t join because of medical problems in childhood. I would draw maps at home, of the places we went, places of adventure. I still have some of them, that is why I can still remember much of the things we did as kids. Sure, I had some fun now as well, we would go out shooting or camping. But the people here didn’t know about the world, worse, they didn’t care.

They would rather sit around doing dope or drinking beer. When the Iranian hostages came back they stopped off in Frankfurt and were treated in the military hospital there. I was so excited to see and hear of the place where I was myself a patient only a couple of years before.

Did it trigger any interest in my new ‘friends’? No, none. The teachers at my new school, unlike the DoDDs ones I had before, had been in the school forever. Hell, they probably were students there themselves. They had no real interest in their subjects at all.

Still, I graduated high school. So many people talk fondly of their high school years as being the best days of their lives. It wasn’t in my case. I will never go back to that place, never as long as I live. My best school days were in the DoDDS. All this high school prepared you for was to be a homemaker or a fisherman, neither of which interested me much!

The first few weeks in our new ‘home’ I would explore the locality. There was nothing here at all, just a phonebox down the street and a USPS box next to the street. The nearest store was a mile away, the nearest town eight miles away. My new school was also eight miles away, so I had to take the school bus there and back.

Once or twice I missed the bus, on purpose, and had to walk back. There were fields and woods nearby and a bit further down from us was the Atlantic ocean with a deserted, dead beach. I would wander down there, alone, many times. The woods I explored, mostly alone, as my new friends weren’t that interested in going there, they were usually too busy watching martial arts videos or playing computer games in the local diner. I did come across a couple of old Indian sites, I guessed at the time, but they didn’t interest anyone else but me.

I had been in the BSA in Germany, there wasn’t even a local BSA group here. It seemed that I ended up at the very end of civilization. I spent much of my time listening to British pop music, this was back in 1979 – 1983, and I avidly took in the New Romantic movement coming out of England.

I knew that my future wouldn’t be here in Pissville. I had seen too much, done too much as a brat to be satisfied with my life. Something had to change.

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  1. The most jarring revelation for me was the decided lack of discipline that I encountered at the high school I attended my junior and senior year.  After spending my entire childhood on Army bases, I had grown accustomed to the way teachers and adminstrators dealt with habiltual problem children.  No, they didn’t call the parents first…they called their parent’s company commanders first.  Worst day of my life was when I was suspended and the school called my dad’s CO.  I can still hear the sound of his boots falling on the tile floor of our house as he came down the hallway.  I’ve never been so utterly frightened in all of my life.  Contrast that to the way kids talked back to their teachers at the school I went to here Stateside…and how little the teachers did to try to correct the behavior.  It was appalling.  Other kids just couldn’t grasp the concept of respect and (relative) order in the classroom, nor of the personal responsibility and professional reflection that a child could have on a parent’s career.

  2. I haven’t experienced that transition and probably won’t, but I did spend a year at a civilian school,and it was the worst school of the 6or 7 I’ve been to.

    P.S. I was in Wurzburg for 4.5 years then in Kansas for 3.

  3. I went “civilian” when I was 13 in 1972. It was a culture shock then and I have yet to feel at home in the civilian world. One of the things that floored me was to find out that the kids on my street didn’t have a regular, every day at 6pm time to sit down to supper with the rest of their family. Another thing was the way kids talked back to teachers and parents. On the school bus it was not unusual for kids to smoke cigerettes and pot. Many times the bus driver would stop the bus and make us all get out and walk the rest of the way to school. I had no idea where I was so I just had to follow other kids and hope that they were actually headed to school. I too feel angry that civilians don’t seem to have any interest in the war and the sacrifices being made for them. I loved living on base in Baumholder. I think of it as home…at least as much as I can imagine what “home” might feel like.

  4. Wow!!!  I can so relate Alex S.  Thank you for sharing…It’s nice to see someone else who understands.  I was 15 when my dad retired.  I was born and raised until then in the military life…MAJOR shock to go into civilian life.  I am 43 now and still feel like the square peg in the round hole most of the time. <3


  5. Believe me, Baumholder hasn’t changed a single bit, just as foggy and wet as it’s always been. Though the number of soldiers may have been reduced to about 1/20 of what it used to be. Very empty :L

  6. My dad retired from the Army in 1967. He was assigned to Ft Hayes in Columbus, Ohio when he retired. Up until that point I was an Army brat. We spent almost 8 years in Germany….1957 to 1961 in Bamberg, and 1963 to 1966 in Ansbach. We had bought a house inColumbus, Ohio in 1961 because that is where my folks intended to retire. Went to 2 years of grade school at a non military school and made friends. We then went back to Germany…..but I knew were would be coming back, and I would attend the same school system for Jr. high and high school. Our house in Columbus was close to Louckebourne AFB… even though I was in a non military school, we were still able to enjoy the comforts of the air base…PX, commissary, NCO club and pool, etc, etc. Also…, about 25% of the kids in school were were AirForce brats. I made some friends in 1961 to 1970 when I graduated HS… that I still have today, even though we live far apart.

    I would not trade my youth as an Army brat for anything. The military was a great life style and I was able to see the world as a child and young man.

    If anyone was in Bamberg or Ansbach during the same time periods, drop me an email at:

    Mike M.

  7. I can so relate. I went to first grade in a civilian school in a small town where everyone knew each other and I did not feel welcomed. I look back and feel sorry for that little 6 year old. We were there while my father was stationed in Okinawa for a year. We joined him at the end of the school year, in Japan. We were there from 1960-64. Then I went to Do schools at Westover AFB, MA. We lived on base too so I didn’t have any civilian friends. From there we left for Ja pan again, this time for Johnson AFB, Tokyo. 1968-1971.
    We came back stateside for my senior year and there wasn’t a DoD school. The Air Force Brats had to attend the local civilian schools.
    I was in for a culture shock and a depression that I could never shake off even after therapy in my thirties. I asked to graduate in January since they didn’t have many courses I could take. The principle looked at me like I had 3 eyes. I thought I could start college early. This same HS has this program they started 36 years later. In this school the military kids stuck together because no one liked us and they let us know it. There were only two teachers that tried. An old English teacher who love Shakespeare and an Art teacher.
    I believe that military kids who have served with their father…you know what I mean…for a long time overseas, or attended DoD school for a long time, should be able to attend DoD schools stateside or private schools paid for by the military. The DoD schools overseas and stateside are taught at a college level and to put a student it a civilian school really isn’t a fair sacrifice on their part above the sacrifice they already gave. Their education shouldn’t suffer or be held back as their father serves.
    After leaving home and giving up the military ID it’s an adjustment of a living style, feeling and sense of living with security with someone always having your back evendors if you don’t know them.
    I’m 64 as of yesterday and I’m filled with a yearning that can never be satisfied. A wanting. I drove my folks to Patrick AFB, Florida so they could do a monthly run to the commissary and a stop at the PX so I could look around. As I approached the gates, I almost started bawling but kept it to myself as is the custom. I felt like I was home. The fatigues were a different color and, of course, I liked the olive green I grew up with.
    You aren’t alone in your feelings and for some of us, they lingered on.

  8. Marlilynn, your not alone in your feelings! I’m a Johnson/Yakota Brat as we were stationed at Yokota from ‘55 to late ‘59 then back to Travis where Dad finally retired. I think being a Military Brat instills a bug in our lives that is part Nomadic! I always loved traveling and couldn’t stand being in a job inside and is the reason I became a traveling Salesmen! Always going here and there! Did that for 27 years but always willing for a new adventure in life! Just Re-Retured after opening a home Business so ready for more adventure if it comes my way!
    Keep the memories! Rick

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