Growing up, I always envied the families that were able to live out their lives in one town or city and establish deep connections in their communities. As a military child, I didn’t get that privilege since I had already lived in two different states and a whole other country by the age of 5.
Living in Baumholder, a small town located in the Birkenfeld district of Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, was a completely different experience from living in the United States, especially as a child. Luckily, I was surrounded by children who all spoke English because we lived on a military base.
During my time in Baumholder, I attended a school populated mostly by other military children from the base, which made communicating with them much easier. It wasn’t until traveling off base that I discovered that there wasn’t much of a language barrier between us and the German families around us. My mother, Laurie Sheats, said a majority of the Europeans (French and German) spoke English.
While stationed in Baumholder from 1997-2000, my sister and I were both still very young. I was 4 years old and my sister was still too young to walk. However, our ages didn’t stop my parents from seizing opportunities presented to our family. We traveled to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a small town in Germany that held a family resort where guests could go to ski and snow luge during the winter.
My family also took a trip to Paris, France while we were there and although I was young, I remember the spectacle that was the Eiffel Tower. We even were able to visit some of the country’s amusement parks. We went to Europa Park, Holiday Park and even Walygator Parc, better known as Smurfland.
Trips like these made me realize how bittersweet being a military kid is. I was lucky enough to experience so many things but whenever my father got the news that we would be stationed somewhere else, it was hard to say goodbye to the relationships I had established.
When we left Germany the first time to come back to California, I don’t think it affected me too badly because I was still so young. But when I was in fifth grade living in Ft. Irwin, California, an isolated military base near Barstow, the toll of constantly moving around really hit me. I was just about to start middle school with all my friends when my dad told us that we were going to be moving overseas again. As difficult as it was to leave, I understood what was happening and knew that we had to go.
“I think it was kind of challenging for the kids too, because they had to leave friends and make new friends,” my father Christopher Sheats said. “They handled it well I think, they were really good kids.”
There were also times when my dad would actually leave before us and it was just my mother, sister and I on our own until we met him at our new home.
We spent our second time in Europe stationed in Mannheim, Germany from 2004-2007. During that time, I experienced more of the country than I ever imagined I would. With my sister and I much older and actually able to carry our own luggage, we traveled to Austria, Switzerland, Rome, Majorca, Amsterdam and several other countries that we hadn’t visited last time. However, traveling Europe wasn’t without its obstacles.
As I grew older, I began to learn about the safety precautions necessary to travel off of the military base.
“Anytime a soldier traveled in Europe, they had to go to a travel safety briefing,” my mother said. “They had to do a form to let their command know that they were traveling and what countries they were going to. That way, they knew where they were and if there was a threat, they weren’t allowed to go to those countries.”
During our stay in Mannheim, the Middle East was still in turmoil, so security measures had been heightened by the military in terms of getting on and off bases. Our first time in Europe, all the bases were considered open which meant that people could enter and exit as they please, but when we got back, the bases had all been closed, meaning no one could get on the military base without a government-issued license, and visitors had to be checked in by the visitor center.
We were fortunate to return to our previous station in Ft. Irwin. It was even more fortunate as I started my freshman year of high school when we returned and finished all four years since my father retired two months later on July 1, 2011.
I always wondered why my dad chose to join the military at age 18 and what his favorite part about being apart of it was. In all the time we were traveling the world, my dad would always push me toward wanting something more than military life, but once he retired, he opened up.
“(My favorite part was) knowing that I was doing something important, doing something that meant something, doing something that made a difference to everybody, and to myself and to my family, and just having the sense of pride of serving my country,” Christopher Sheats said.
After hearing my dad talk about his choice to join the military, it really put things in perspective because he made a lot of sacrifices that I didn’t know about at the time. It’s only more recently that I’ve started to really appreciate all the wonderful things that I was able to experience as a child, things I couldn’t have even dreamed of at the time. Looking back on it all, I wouldn’t change a single thing.