A little bit about me.
I grew up as a military brat and spent my formative teen years overseas at a US military base in Japan. English-language American entertainment consisted of a single TV channel of re-runs and a single AM radio station provided by the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) over the Far East Network (FEN) in Japan.
This was during the crazy Reagan years, and anybody associated with the military was constantly reminded of the threat of world-ending war. The TV and radio stations were non-commercial, so instead of advertisements, the commercial and station identification breaks were filled with military stuff. Mostly they were operational security (OPSEC) and readiness reminders. “Loose lips sink ships” is the OPSEC message, and I had that drilled into me as a teen every stinking time I watched TV. Here’s a recent example of an OPSEC commercial that was filmed where I grew up so you’ll have an idea of the propaganda.
Because of my dad’s specific job (which I really shouldn’t talk about, but it involved Top Secret stuff, submachine guns, and the military police didn’t mess with me because they wanted no part with anything involving my dad’s office), I grew up maybe a little more paranoid than your typical American military brat. Even as a teen, I deliberately took different routes to school to avoid kidnappings by commie spies. I was personally never in any real physical danger, but there were occasional car bombings and rocket attacks against American military personnel and their families in Japan during my time there. It’s only recently that I even stopped thinking about taking different routes to work and watching for possible bad guys — this stuff gets very ingrained.
Besides the security stuff, you grow up knowing all of the military jargon. Who else knows what an FOD Walk is as a ten year old kid? Our dads didn’t go on business trips, they were “TDY.” My best friend didn’t move, they went “PCS.” The football game starts at 1800 hours. We got our groceries at the commissary and bought our clothes from the BX (Base Exchange). Yes, we really talked that way as teenagers.
There was some segregation based not on race or economic class, but military rank. My dad was an officer, so most of my friends were officers’ kids. It worked out that way because I lived on the part of the base where the officers were housed, and my recreational opportunities were limited (somewhat) to officer facilities — I could go to the O (“Officers”) Club swimming pool, the O Club restaurant, and the O Club pub. I don’t know if we were specifically prohibited from visiting the NCO facilities (probably not), but I remember the distinct impression that we weren’t welcome there.
My friend’s dad wasn’t “Mr Smith” — he was “Colonel Smith.” And we all understood we didn’t talk about our dads’ (and they were all dads then) jobs, because, after all, loose lips sink ships.
Every morning, I knew it was time to get up for school when the big C5 cargo planes started spinning up their jet turbines. Here’s more military jargon painted on every hangar entrance: “Jet noise is the sound of freedom.” I’ve mentioned before about riding my bike as a teen next to an Air National Guard fighter jet on the taxiway, or the time I was bowled over on my bike when a C5 pilot throttled his jet for takeoff when I was right behind him.
I rode the most awesome public transportation ever for my medical appointment with the Ear Nose Throat specialist at the US Navy hospital at Yokosuka: that was a Navy helicopter that shuttled people a couple of times daily between Yokota and Yokosuka. That’s a 3 hour trip over 50 miles by road — I think it took us about 20 minutes by air, and you could see the submarine berths from the air.
We had school competitions like any other American school. To compete against other American military schools in the Tokyo region, we usually took a bus, but regional events might take place in other countries — we’d board a big, windowless military cargo jet for a band festival, football game, or cross country meet in Okinawa, the Philippines, or Korea.
Every work day ended with the US National Anthem and Taps played over the base outdoor loudspeakers. Everybody is expected to stop, just like the call to prayer if you’ve ever been to a Muslim city. If you’re in a car, you stop driving. If you’re out walking or bicycling, you stop and salute (if in uniform) or place your hand on your heart.
On the TV station, every broadcast day ended with the Star Spangled Banner and, in Japan, the Japanese national anthem.
To keep this post on-topic for the theme of this blog (bicycles), here’s a bicycle safety PSA produced at Misawa Air Base in the mid 80s. It’s pretty painful to watch, but it gives you an idea of the production values we were subjected to at the time.
When I came back to the States for college, the things that freaked me out the most:
- 55 MPH on the freeways was INSANE! Most Japanese ‘highways’ have a speed limit of maybe 30 MPH. The toll highways went all the way up to 48 MPH when I lived there, and speeding laws were strictly enforced.
- No free healthcare! For active duty military and their dependents, you don’t need to worry about health care and dental — it’s all taken care of.
Are there any other military brats who know this lifestyle?