Military kids at Hillsdale

Military Kids at Hillsdale College

Written by Katarzyna Ignatik

Many of us remember our dads coming home from work in a suit and tie. Junior Elizabeth Turner remembers her father coming home at the end of the day in camouflage and combat boots.

Elizabeth’s father serves in the army, and Elizabeth is one of several Hillsdale students who have grown up shaped by their experiences of a loved one in the military. Students like Elizabeth Turner and junior Joshua Brooks have had parents on active duty. Students like sisters Allison and Carrie Bieganek have fathers who have served as army chaplains. And students like freshman Natalie Glitz have almost an entire intimate and extended family in the military.

“I even had an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War,” Natalie said. “I’m not military myself, but my family gives me bragging rights.”

Hillsdale students from military families agree that the childhood moves associated with a military lifestyle have helped them adjust to the life-changing move to college. Unlike some freshmen, these students have had to start life in a new place before.

Junior Joshua Brooks has moved ten times in his lifetime, though never out of the country. His father serves as an air force co-pilot and engineer.

“My upbringing was difficult in some ways, though endearing and special in other ways,” Joshua said. “My father would come home in his fighter jet helmet, and as a kid I would think of Star Wars, and I thought it was just the coolest thing ever. My dad’s always been a hero to me.”

Elizabeth lived overseas for nine years and has been to fifteen different countries, notably Germany and South Korea, where two of the largest American military posts are.

“The school’s on post; the grocery store’s on post; the clothing store’s on post; the movie theater’s on post,” Elizabeth said. “You can go off post and experience the culture but then come back to an American environment.”

Sophomore Carrie Bieganek and senior Allison Bieganek have lived overseas and experienced long absences from their father during deployments. As an army chaplain, he was often in demand for counseling, officiating at weddings and funerals, and running military chapels—supplying chapel facilities with everything, as Allison said, “from communion cups to toilet paper.”

Allison paralleled the constant turnover of students at college to the relocations of military life, saying, “Tight bonds form fast in the college community…and you know it’s only temporary, but you make the most of it.”

However, college certainly presents a different experience from living on post. Military children still have a hard time leaving family, who are usually closer because of the moves they undergo together. In college, military children are also surrounded by students who have lived dissimilar lifestyles.

“Among military kids there’s an understanding,” Carrie said. “We’ve all moved a lot and have parents in the military. Here, that’s not normal, and you have to explain.”

Carrie’s sister Allison agreed that being away from the military takes some adjustment.

“What’s usual for us is unusual for people here. Little things, like having to stop at tank crossings and having drills on what to do in case of terrorist attacks. For us, barbed wire and guns are normal,” she said and shrugged.

“I grew up living very militarily, with a kind of ‘suck-it-up,’ ‘you’re-not-down-till-you’re-dead’ mentality,” Natalie said. “I was strict with myself and held to very high standards, which will help me everywhere in life…. My room is always neat, clean, and functional—my mom was a flight nurse, so I obviously learned how to make beds.”

Joshua also credited his upbringing with a military father and extended family as fostering “adaptability, a good work ethic, patriotism, and adoration of the Christian God.” He said that all of these qualities shape his experience at college.

Upon being asked how best to appreciate our men and women in the military, Hillsdale’s military children affirmed a belief in small gestures, like thanking someone who has evidently served, as Elizabeth suggested.

“Many people take the military for granted,” Natalie added. “Just be aware of the military and what it’s doing for all of us.”

Joshua stressed politeness and respect. “We have a saying: ‘All gave some, some gave all.’ Every serviceman has made sacrifices in different ways.” Joshua said to be mindful of what military families have to endure as well.

“People often assume that being in a military family is either all good or all bad,” Allison said. “But people should realize that it’s both. It’s our life, and it’s all we know.”

Katarzyna IgnatikKatarzyna Ignatik is an English major in the class of 2020. She spends her time doing homework (of course), binge-reading, binge-writing, singing, and laughing at everything and anything. Talk to her about Tolkien, the 50s, or abstract philosophical concepts, and she’ll be perfectly happy.