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Remember The Littlest Soldiers

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This Veterans Day finds us with heavy hearts - grieving for the dead and wounded at Fort Hood and praying for their families. How could this senseless slaughter have happened? Were there warning signs no one saw? What made the doctor turn on his fellow soldiers? We have so many questions ... but no answer can assuage our sadness.

We pray for the troops at Fort Hood. And we pray for all the troops serving our country - enduring the stress of repeated deployments to war zones with harsh weather and brutal terrain. We worry for their mental health as well as their physical safety. We ask so much of them ... how can we ever thank them?

All across the America, patriotic music is played, parades march down Main Street, speeches are given, and small flags stand silent sentry on military graves. We pause to honor generations of veterans from wars past and wars present. We are deeply grateful for their service and sacrifice.

But there are others who have also served bravely - often overlooked on Veterans Day - they are the children of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines. We call them military brats - they are the children of warriors.

There are millions of military brats today - from the tiniest tykes whose dads and moms are serving overseas in Iraq or other hot spots, as well as at military bases here in the US ... to middle-aged Baby Boomers whose dads (and a few moms in those days) fought in WW II, the Korean War, and of course, Vietnam. These military brats were drafted at birth - they had no choice about whether or not they wanted to live a military lifestyle. And they, like their warrior fathers and mothers, have paid an enormous price to protect the freedoms and privileges that most of us take for granted.

I am one of those military brats. I was born in Orange, California, on the Fourth of July - an auspicious birthday for a military brat. My mom and I sailed to Japan when I was just an infant, to join my dad who was fighting in overseas. I didn't see US soil again until I was three years old.

I spent my formative years moving from base to base -- from Texas to Montana, from California to Virginia, from Germany to Illinois, from Dover to Puerto Rico. I was at home nowhere ... and at home everywhere. I learned to make friends quickly, because I knew I would lose them quickly. We were like traveling gypsies, moving from place to place, packing and unpacking ... only to do it all over again six months or two years later.

Such a lifestyle has its advantages, of course. I was able to see the world, live in Europe, learn a foreign language at an early age, taste exotic foods and see interesting places that many people only dream of. I had exciting adventures and enjoyed wonderful experiences - all courtesy of the US government.

But there was a price I paid, too - like all military brats: loneliness, wrenching departures from beloved friends, having to change schools umpteen times, and sometimes living in places I didn't like.

The biggest price I paid, along with the other kids, was enormous anxiety. For you see, Death was always lurking around in the background, but no one ever talked about it. When you are the child of a warrior, you never know for sure when your daddy (or mommy) is going to be called to fight a battle somewhere - or might be killed in training exercises or plane crashes, even in peacetime.

My dad was a pilot in the Air Force, and I can't tell you the number of times I lay in my bed at night, overhearing my mom on the phone in the other room, as she called the control tower to ask what Major Gallagher's ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) was. I worried, What if my daddy doesn't come home? What if his plane crashes? When I was eight years old my best friend lost her daddy when his plane crashed into the side of a mountain - and it wasn't even a war. I knew if it happened to her, it could happen to me, too. It could happen to any of us military brats. We all grow up with an acute awareness of the precariousness of life - fearing that our warrior dads and moms could be killed anytime, anywhere.

So this Veterans Day, let us honor not only the brave men and women who dedicate their lives to protecting us ... let us not overlook the brave boys and girls who die a thousand little deaths waiting for their daddies and mommies to come home. Military brats serve their country, too, and they pay a price every day of their childhoods. They are the littlest soldiers - the youngest veterans. Remember them. Thank them. Hug them.