What is an Army Brat?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The demands of a military career often extend to a soldier's family. It is not unusual for an Army officer or career soldier to receive relocation orders several times while on active duty, and this constant upheaval has created generations of children who have literally grown up all over the United States or even the world. A person who has been raised in such an environment often refers to himself or herself as an Army brat. He or she has often experienced both the highs and lows of a military family's life in flux.

Constant family upheaval due to military service has created generations of children who have grown up all over the United States or the larger world.
Constant family upheaval due to military service has created generations of children who have grown up all over the United States or the larger world.

One of the major problems faced by an Army brat is receiving a consistent early education. A child may be enrolled in a local public kindergarten program near the military post, but suddenly be moved whenever a parent's transfer orders force a relocation. Depending on the local school system, the child may have to re-enroll in a different program or wait until the next first grade classes open. This process may continue throughout the child's entire youth, creating the possibility of duplicating grades or losing credits for graduation.

Army brats may have trouble fitting in with peers.
Army brats may have trouble fitting in with peers.

Someone who grows up this way also faces a number of social challenges during his or her formative years. He or she may become less motivated to form friendships with peers, knowing that any relationship could be short-lived. An Army brat may also feel like the perennial "new kid in town," going through the same cycle of curiosity, acceptance and abandonment in every new school setting. This sense of being a perpetual outsider can seriously affect a child's worldview as he or she becomes an adult. It is not unusual for a former Army brat to appear stand-offish or secretive as an adult, since these defensive skills may have served them well as children.

There are some positive elements of being an Army brat as well. Few children ever have such an opportunity to travel across the United States or the world. Being an Army brat is often the same as being the child of a religious missionary or political diplomat. They all have the opportunity to meet famous people or become involved in some aspect of their parents' work. The children of soldiers often mature much faster than their peers, since they have had to learn how to live independently at a younger age. They may also have a very developed sense of personal discipline and the ability to adapt quickly to change.

Army brats may feel abandoned by parents who are constantly serving overseas.
Army brats may feel abandoned by parents who are constantly serving overseas.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


I am an army brat and have lived in over three countries and seven states. Honestly, living in the world I do, you have to think more about who your parents are first, then make decisions most of the time. For instance, in the civilian world, if a child were to to get in a fight at school, the parent or guardian would typically get called to handle the situation. In the military world, if a child were to be in a fight, the parent would not always be called first. Instead, the parent's chain of command would know first. With that, you can put your parent's job, promotion and reputation in jeopardy. Then, depending on your mom or dad's rank, you are expected to act, talk and dress a certain way. In my case, both my parents are higher ranking, so therefore I have to make sure I look decent before leaving my home. Also, military kids have to be aware that everyone knows what you are doing at all times. The people in military communities are typically very close, (so that "random guy" who saw you smoking or whatever, probably knows your mom and will tell.)

On a positive note though, I believe that I have been raised in a much better home than some of my civilian friends. I moved to Florida and I couldn't believe the language some people were using towards their parents! I think typically that military brats are raised to a "higher "standard and are expected to be more respectful. I find making friends on a base is much easier than in the civilian world. Of course there are going to be "cliques,” but on a base, it seems to me that we don't care as much about how someone looks or talks before running up and introducing ourselves, as opposed to the civilian world where people seem to judge before actually meeting someone.

Traveling, making friends and learning new things are fantastic parts of our way of life. The two things I hate that civilians do is ask me where I'm from, then give me "that face" when I tell them I have no hometown. Then, when I tell them that my parent is deployed, they say "That must be so hard." And because I live without either of my parents (dual military), I always get the "I could never live without my parents" spiel. Of course I don't get upset because these questions are out of pure curiosity. But when you hear it every day, it can sometimes take a little toll on a person because they are constantly being reminded that their parent(s) are not there.

But we brats take pride in the being called brats! It's who we are and what we do. It's more a compliment than anything to us.


I feel that most army brats who tended to move about every three years were a bit cold. Cold in that they do not fully open themselves to others. They seem to have a division to how far others can "enter". When asked where they are from, most would indicate they do not have a place they are from because they always move around, and instead reply with the state they are currently living.


@Agni3 - I think with all people that your situation in life really dictates how you handle others and your own issues. For Suzy, the army brat, it seems like she was isolating another to take the attention away from herself. It really sounds like she was just a stereotypical bully to me.

I have a good friend who was raised an army brat and she was really bright and friendly. She was kind to those around her and her experience in third world nations really made her more sensitive to those that were less fortunate. I wouldn't let one experience taint your opinion of army brats too much.


I have worked with children who are considered army brats and have found that they really are a lot more mature than other students their age. Often these kids are very opinionated and with their extended exposure to foreign countries are far worldlier than their peers. This can be a great thing in the classroom as they have a lot of experience to share.

One problem I have noticed though with army brats is that they tend to come across as bit contentious to their peers. I have had to step in on an argument or two when army brats have called another student out on their less than enlightened opinions.


I absolutely appreciate all that our soldiers do for us, so please don’t get me wrong in what I’m about to say.

My freshman year of college, we had a girl show up who introduced herself like this, “I’m Suzy. I’m an army brat.” Now her real name wasn’t Suzy, of course, but you get the point. At the time, I had no clue what army brat even meant, but I soon formed a probably skewed opinion.

You see, this lady did indeed turn out to be much more of a brat than she was army. She was hateful to everyone and everything, and completely felt authorized to degrade people on a regular basis.

Those poor freshmen who were on scholarship in a very expensive, very private school could not pass her scrutiny easily since our clothes were usually not name brand. And if they were they were almost certainly paired with something that wasn’t. She had no qualms about pointing this out, either. To everyone. All of the time. Very loudly.

Now, this is my only real hands-on experience with an army brat, but here’s hoping they aren’t all like that. Surely, they can’t be.


I’m not precisely sure why these kids are called ‘brats’ though. It seems like they have a very interesting life, and I’m of a mind that if any child has good parents they are going to be okay wherever they end up.

All kinds of people relocate all of the time, and take their children with them. These kids just do it more. I feel really sorry for them in that they have to watch at least one of their parents deployed at times, but if they can learn to handle this lifestyle well, they can handle anything.

I find that many of our children today are overly sheltered, and when they get out in the real world they have no clue what to do. These guys are not coddled, and that can be hugely positive for them in adulthood.


I lived in South Korea for a year and had several friends there who were teachers at Amercian military schools. My impression of the students was that they generally faced the same issues as kids the world over.

In my opinion the real issues with army brats start when they get to their teens. It wasn't unusual to see them out and about in the entertainment area at weekends.

Most teenagers are going to experiment with alcohol. Doing that in a foreign country, where they are cocooned in an environment likened to a 'mini America' most of the time, makes the scope for problems much wider.


@Latte31 - I agree with you and I have to say that another aspect of the army brat's life that is hard is the fact that a parent might be deployed for extended periods of time. I don’t know how you would get used to that.

It must be incredibly hard for children of these military members to be able to adjust to living with one parent for months at a time especially if they are serving in a combat zone.

I really have a lot of respect for military families and realize that they often pay more than their fair share in keeping us safe. Their sacrifices and their children’s sacrifices are huge when you think about it which is why to me members of the military should always be saluted for their selfless service. Sometimes they have children born that they don’t get to see for a year or two because of their deployment.


@Cafe41 - I agree with you because when kids get to middle school and high school making and having friendships becomes paramount to their happiness. So if a child moves around a lot they may not be able to make these lasting friendships that are so important for a child’s development.

I wanted to add that at my children’s school there are not a lot of army brats but there are a lot of kids of diplomats and these children usually stay in the area for a period of three years and then relocate to another part of the world.

Some of them don’t even know the language when they start school here which must make it even harder for them than an army brat’s kid. I think that this traveling lifestyle is better for adults than for children.

I know that children to get exposed to a lot of different cultures and may even pick up a language or two, but it must be incredible stressful for the child to have to constantly be making new friends and hope that they fit in somewhere. Most kids just want to be kids and play with others, but other children are not always so accepting especially if they see that you are different.


@StrawCake - I think that adjusting to a military brat lifestyle really depends on the child. Some kids grow up with a sense of confidence in social matters and can really be in involved in any situation or live anywhere and adjust.

I don’t think that the same could be said for other people. Some people need more stability and can become shy or withdrawn if they are constantly moving and have to start all over again.

My parents were not in the military, but I moved a lot as a kid and I can tell you that it was not easy for me to adjust. It made it hard for me to develop long term friendships because every time I was comfortable, I was yanked into another new area with all new people.

In fact, my happiest time as a child was when I stayed in the same school for four straight years. I loved it because I was able to make friends and have a chance to develop long term relationships with them. For me, having a familiar setting made me feel more comfortable which is why I was able to make friends.

I think that an air force brat for example has to live a really challenging life, and based on my experiences it is not one that I envy.


@sunnySkys - I have a friend like that too except she was a "diplomats brat." Her parents worked for the government and were employed at US embassies in different countries. By the time my friend was 14 she was an international traveler! She had lived in Japan as well as India.

My friend was a very sociable person as well but there were a few drawback to the lifestyle, at least for her. She always felt like she had no hometown. Also, her parents continued their work into her high school years, so after freshmen year she moved overseas again. She was really sad to leave the states again but she did end up coming back here for college.


My best friend from high school was an Army brat. However, instead of creating social challenges for her, the lifestyle made her one of the most sociable people I know. She can literally talk to anyone and make friends anywhere!

She also got to live in a lot of interesting places, one such place being Panama. I know to this day she's really glad she got the opportunity to experience living there. I'm just glad her Dad retired when they moved to my state! She got to spend all of high school in the same place and went to college here as well.

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