MONCHENGLADBACH-RHEINDAHLEN, Germany – Oh, so you live on an army base? Do you have to get up at 0600 hours and march everywhere? Do you live in a tent?
To me, and the thousands of other teenagers who live in military installations all over the world, the above questions seem inane but are also surprisingly common.
We take our lifestyles for granted and we find it very odd when people do not understand what it is like. This mainly comes down to the fact that military children are born into this way of life and only really ‘graduate’ from it once they are 18.
I am one of three children and, as most other military families do, move house every two to four years depending on where the British army posts my father. Since January 2009, I have lived in northern Germany on an installation which houses the headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) and is known as JHQ.
My parents chose to place me in the British boarding school system when I was nine years old, and this is where I first had to learn that very few people from civilian backgrounds are aware of how service children live. The questions written in the first paragraph have been addressed to me a number of times and I have to explain, that no, I do not have to do press ups if I do something wrong!
I am writing this looking out of the window of my family’s quarter, which is the name given to houses by the armed services. It has four walls and a roof. I can see the base’s rugby field and on Sunday mornings I can watch interclub matches from my bed.
I can also see the hedge which denotes the edge of the 50-meter outdoor pool where we can swim. Beyond that is the main road and the cinema which shows a selection of films a number of times a week.
In reality, JHQ resembles a small town. As well as the swimming pool and cinema, there are several supermarkets, a bowling alley, riding stables and a number of restaurants. There is also a gym, sauna, skatepark and astro hockey pitch.
In the scheme of things, we are very well off with the facilities that we have, but most bases are not too dissimilar. There is also a fire station as well as a police station.
People have asked me if someone my age gets bored during the holidays, but JHQ has three primary schools and a secondary school, as well as children who board in the UK and then come back home for the holidays, like me.
Parties are regularly thrown at people’s homes and there is also a youth club. It is easy to have friends outside the military ‘bubble’ as most of mine are, and I often have people come out and stay during the holidays.
In the case of JHQ, I do live inside barbed wire fences with vehicle checkpoints at the entrances with armed guards. But not all military families live on the base. In many cases, the family lives away from wherever their mother or father actually works.
To be perfectly honest, military children’s lives are almost identical to those with civilian parents, with a few small differences. The differences are definitely not always negatives, and even though many people I know cannot understand why I really enjoy the way I live, I do!
Patrick Hinton is a Junior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.