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Retired colonel's daughter reflects on military life

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- (Editor's note: This article is adapted from comments Ms. Kelly Kirsteatter made at her father's retirement ceremony. Col. Gary Kirsteatter served as chief of the combat support division at the Aerospace Expeditionary Force Center, Langley Air Force Base, Va., before retiring after 27 years of service. Ms. Kirsteatter is the deputy director of the child development center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.)

Children of military families, AKA brats, know the one question in life that's probably the hardest to answer. It's not, "What's for dinner?" or "What am I going to do today?" It's "Where are you from?"

For most people, the answer comes right out, no hesitation, no thought required, just a simple "Florida" or "California." But for us brats, it takes time and thought to decide how to answer it.

My answer is usually something like, "I grew up in an Air Force family, so I've lived many places." The asker, who's trying to help me figure out where I'm from, says, "Well then, where were you born?" I answer Nebraska but must explain that I only lived there for three months of my life, so how could I be from there?

Next comes, "Well, were did you graduate from high school?" I say Panama, which normally gets a response of "Oh, Panama City, Fla.?" To which I must reply, "No, Panama, the country." I can't really be from there either, because I'm not Panamanian.

Next comes, "Where did you graduate from college?" I tell them Florida, but I was only there for four years, so that doesn't really constitute being from there either. In fact, I've never lived anywhere longer than four years.

A seemingly simple question requires quite a lengthy response from me. And they don't hear about the places in between that I had the wonderful opportunity to experience. Maybe I'm from one of those states.

For instance, maybe I'm from Delaware, where I spent the first four years of my life, where I learned that my dad was an Air Force pilot and his office was in the sky. My mom says every time I saw a plane I would say, "There goes Daddy's office!"

Or maybe I'm from Illinois where I learned to ride my bike -- with my dad holding on to my belt, of course. Then again, maybe I'm from Alabama, where I lost my first tooth, or it could be Virginia, where I was able to pick the color of my room in our new house. I picked sunshine yellow, and my dad painted my yellow room so that it was waiting for me when I arrived. Living a military life was the best thing that could have happened to me. I have moved 11 times and experienced seven different states, two different countries, and I won't even count how many different schools. I was given the opportunity to experience the world and meet many people.

I learned to make friends, say good-bye, keep memories and appreciate differences. I learned the importance of family -- when you move to a new place, they're all you've got!

Mom and Dad were always positive when it came to moving. The fun, new, exciting things were always emphasized, like a new house, new school, new friends, and, of course, a new room color! Their upbeat attitude shaped the way I felt about moving. It made me look forward to my next challenge rather than dreading the fact that we were once again leaving.

All of my moving experiences made me who I am. I consider myself to be an outgoing person, someone who can adapt quickly. I had to become these things.

These are the traits that I carry today and will need in the future as I begin to start my own Air Force family. You see, I liked it so much that I chose to do it all over again!

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