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  • Britt Myers

A No-Star Family

Updated: May 15

As April comes to a close, so does our celebration of Month of the Military Child, a month-long nod to military-connected children, youth, and teens. Each child has a unique perspective or experience that paints the picture of life within a military family. Today, I’m honored to share my own. 

A young Brittany Myers pictured with her military parents.

My earliest memories are of camouflage and combat boots. 

I still remember the smell of Kiwi shoe polish and the steady rhythm of a bristled brush moving back and forth across the toe of a boot. Long after my dad’s military career was over, he would sit on our couch, buffing and shining his shoes, a habit so ingrained in him that it was impossible to break.

I was born into a military family and spent the early years of my life near Siegelsbach, Germany, in a tiny second-floor apartment of a half-timbered house. 

My mom (194th Military Police Company) and dad (556th Military Police Company, K-9) were active-duty Army and worked long hours on base, so my brother and I gleefully spent our time in the care of the Paszlovszkis, the kind-hearted family who occupied the ground floor of the home. We were firmly established as a Blue Star family. We knew where we belonged.

John and Sylvia Zion stand at a border sign in Germany.

Unfortunately, when I neared my fourth birthday, the strain of competing schedules and work stress took its toll, and my parents decided to divorce. There was no question that my mom would stay on active duty – it was the only career path she had ever considered. 

And while my dad is one of the most patriotic and service-driven people I know, he carefully examined the realities of life as a single parent in the military, took a deep breath, and quietly walked away from the first thing that had given him purpose. Mercifully, the second thing was his kids, and we were right beside him.

In the years that followed, my dad, brother, and I settled into life in rural Ohio, with my dad carrying over his Army training to become a civilian police officer. Meanwhile, my mom deployed to Somalia with the 984th Military Police Company, then Cuba with the same unit, and later served as a Drill Sergeant at Fort McClellan, Alabama. 

Sylvia Zion at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

The next time I saw her, I was 23 years old. 

Though we had the support of many close family members and friends, it was an undoubtedly bizarre and disorienting time. 

I felt like I was still part of a military family. Our house was strewn with reminders of the Army—camo hats perched on our kitchen table, dog tags dangling from a dresser, and photos of grinning service members pinned to our walls. 

We even carried the American flag out to the front yard each morning, carefully unfolding it and ceremonially hoisting it up the pole before marching back out at night to take it down and fold it again. I had to be one of the only first graders at South Elementary who knew about proper flag etiquette. 

But while the military was all around me, I no longer knew where I belonged. 

It was strange to feel a sense of pride for my mom and her accomplishments—of which there were many—while simultaneously reconciling the fact that I was so removed from them. 

Each year, my school created a “Hall of Heroes” to honor and acknowledge the service of our military members. I dutifully provided a photo of my mom to add to the wall. But on Mother’s Day, my hands were empty. 

So, since I couldn’t wear my mom’s service like a badge of honor, I wore it like a mark of shame. 

She was willing to sacrifice everything in service to her country, and that included her relationship with her children. It led to an emotional tug of war where I felt firmly planted between pride and despair. It’s not all that different from the feelings my nephew described when his dad was on a 9-month deployment. He was overwhelmingly proud of his father’s service, but grappled with the impact his absence created. 

My feelings were exacerbated by the fact that there was no group of kids my age to empathize with, no organization in rural Ohio that could help me find a place to fit in, no resources to say, “You’re not alone.”

My dad was certainly not going to fly a blue star flag in our yard for his ex-wife and co-parent we hadn’t seen in two decades. 

I had a veteran father whose memories of the military were all around us. But it was like having a former standout athlete as a parent – trophies lining the shelves, photos of high school championships, stories of the big game or hard-nosed coach – that felt like living with a past that didn’t align with the present. My brother and I felt diassociated from it, and because we also lost our mom, we struggled not to resent it. 

Still, in many ways, I was fortunate. My family separated from military life before I even hit grade school. Imagine how much harder it would be to spend your formative years on military installations across the country, relocating to a new city and school every couple of years, only to have your parents later separate and pluck you from the only life you knew to something completely foreign. 

Gone are the guarded gate and I.D. check. You will no longer hear the sounds of reveille and retreat, signaling the start and end of the duty day. Even seemingly simple aspects of base life can be markedly different on the outside.

After a close family friend divorced his wife, she and their three kids relocated to our community from Fort Carson, Colorado. My dad suggested we take them to a movie to get their mind off things and have some fun, but as the theater lights dimmed and the film began to play, the youngest daughter turned to me and whispered, “Why aren’t we standing for the National Anthem?” 

When it’s all you’ve ever known, anything else is disorienting. 

We know the stats can be bleak. Military divorce rates are more than two times as high as that of civilians, and I understand my experience isn’t unique. So what happens to the millions of families and children with similar stories? What happens when your parents separate and the clearcut military family label doesn’t stick anymore? 

Today, there are Blue Star families, White Star families, and Gold Star families. I lost a parent to military service, but there was no star for me to stand behind. I was a military family with an asterisk: a No-Star family. 

My point is not to take away from the pride of military service. Despite our mom’s absence and the profound impact it had on us, we developed deep and positive attachments to the military. Both of my siblings later joined the Army on active duty, and I dedicated much of my professional career to non-profit organizations that support veterans and military families. Eventually, we found our place again.

Nowadays, if you spend even a minute on the internet, you’ll find so many beautiful and compelling stories about the children, youth, and teens who embody the resiliency of a military family. I celebrate those kids and families, too – every single time. 

But in the moments after I scroll through social media or read an inspirational story, I pause and think about those kids like me, military-connected but apart, still waiting for a place to belong. 

I’m hoping we all find that star we can stand behind.

At Mission Roll Call, our aim is to give a voice to veterans, their families, and supporters. We know there are many shared experiences in the military and many unique challenges; this is just one of them. Share your stories and perspectives with MRC so we can help guide policymakers and government leaders and ensure every voice is heard.

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