April is the Month of the Military Child, a time when we honor the youngest members of military families for the sacrifices they make every day. This is especially important to the American Red Cross because of our commitment to help members of the military, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to the challenges of military service.
To learn more about what military children experience and the important role they play in the military community, we spoke to Service to Armed Forces (SAF) Regional Manager and Air Force veteran Antoinette Williams about her own life experiences.
1. What was your military loved one’s job in the military?
My father, Arthur Newman Hicks Jr. (Poppy), was in the U.S. Air Force Security Forces and served two tours as a Military Training Instructor at Air Force Basic training.
2. Tell me about your time as a child growing up in a military family.
My experience as a military child was slightly different from most. My older sister was diagnosed with autism when she was very young. As a result, my father was “permanently” assigned to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Unlike most military children I can call a single city, San Antonio, Texas, home as I lived in the same house from age two to 19 until I left to join the Air Force. However, because we did live in close proximity to the base most of our neighbors were military, and every few years a Permanent Change of Station move forced me to say goodbye to friends that I had made.
One thing I experienced like my other “military brat” friends was having a parent deploy. When I was six years old, my father was sent to South Korea on a short tour. I recall feeling so extremely sad because Poppy was gone but I remember my mother filling in the blanks and keeping me and my sisters in line and on track. I also remember the members of my dad’s squadron and other military spouses helping to cut our grass, change the oil in the car and babysit. At a young age I was able to see just how the military community took care of its own.
3. Did your father’s call to serve his country in the U.S. Air Force influence you? If so, how?
As a little girl I saw Poppy in full drill instructor mode on several occasions. He was my HERO. I always thought that I would be accomplished if I grew up to be like him. I remember asking him one day why he wasn’t training girls. His response was “That’s just the way it is…maybe you’ll grow up and change that.” It stayed with me my entire life. I have several reasons for joining the Air Force but that is the most profound.
4. What role do you think military children play in the armed forces community?
Children are a constant reminder of “normal.” They provide a visual reminder of why service is so important. It is easy for a military member’s focus to shift to the issues of the day. No matter your beliefs or interests EVERYONE wants their children to be safe and to have the opportunity to grow into the adults they chose to be. A child’s resiliency during periods of change or stress helps remind adults that they too are strong and that we need to do whatever we can to provide them with the love, comfort and support to thrive.
5. Tell me how you see your role at the American Red Cross making an impact in your community.
In my role as SAF Regional Director, I have the privilege of continuing to serve my country by supporting our heroes. I know what they are experiencing and am able to offer services to them without them having to ask. In some cases, I am able to arrive with answers to questions they didn’t know they had and provide the support they didn’t know they needed yet. It is an absolute honor to be in the position I am in.
6. What would your military parent say about your work with the Red Cross?
My father was VERY proud of his military service. You would rarely see him in public without his “Air Force Retiree” hat on. My father passed away a few weeks before I began my career with the Red Cross. He never even knew that I had applied for the position. After attending an outreach event with me, my husband (also a retired Airman who knew my father for more than 20 years) told me that he was sure my dad would be proud of the work that I am doing to support our service members.
7. How do you continue to share the call to serve with your children – how do you pass along what your parents taught you?
My children had the opportunity to move with my husband and me several times. While we were overseas, community was the backbone of everyday life. We spent many hours in service to others both on and off base. It is what they grew up with…it’s what they know.