By Danielle DeSimone and USO Staff
We’ve all had that moment before walking into a room of people we don’t know – the trepidation, the worry about who we’ll talk to, or the worry that we’ll have no one to talk to at all. Lucky for us, we now have the age and wisdom to take a deep breath, steady ourselves and confidently walk through the door.
It was a different story two years ago for Easton Elliott, an American first-grader on his very first day of in-person school, stationed with his family in Iwakuni, Japan. When asked what he felt like starting a new school, Easton’s response was an understandable one: “Well, kind of nervous at first.”
“We homeschooled for kindergarten because of COVID,” explained Easton’s mom, April. “So, when he started first grade, he was thrown into a whole new routine and school.”
Easton is just one of 1.6 million American children with a military parent. With military families moving every two to three years on average, that moment of uneasiness before walking into yet another new classroom may become a familiar one for Easton. Along with Japan, at the young age of eight, Easton has also already lived in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Today, as a wise third grader and a frequent visitor to the USO Iwakuni Center, Easton has found a close group of friends to pall around with.
“The USO is such a great outlet and has such fun events to keep the energy going in Iwakuni,“ April said. "Easton loves to meet his friends for events like Pokémon night, and it helps pass the time when his dad is away.”
Easton’s dad, Travis, is a member of the U.S. Marine Corps and travels frequently.
April also utilizes the USO, attending several events each month, serving as a USO Volunteer and bringing Easton and his sister along to kid-centered activities in the Center.
Easton explained that playing Pokémon (where he meets up with his friends), participating in bingo nights and competing at trivia are his favorite activities for kids at the USO Center. Trivia is especially a favorite, as it allows the participating kids’ individual interests to be highlighted - and as Easton will proudly tell you, he recently placed second at the latest trivia activity.
Challenges for School-Age Military Children
Easton has grown into a sweet and funny kid who loves Iwakuni Intermediate School, located on Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni. He benefits from attending a Department of Defense Education Activity school with other children from military families, where everyone shares a familiar bond and understanding of the challenges of life as a military brat.
“It’s easy to fit in because all the people [at school] are very nice,” Easton said.
But that isn’t always the case. More than 90% of military children attend civilian-operated public schools. This can be challenging, as not all civilian communities are equipped to provide the additional support that many military children need.
In the 2023 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey, only 52% of active-duty family respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that the school their child attends understands the unique challenges military families face.
One of the major obstacles faced by military children who move to a new school is making and maintaining friendships, with the added challenges of working their way into well-established social groups.
Keeping Busy When Dad’s Away
Friendships and other personal connections — such as relationships with teachers, caregivers and coaches — are essential to happiness and fulfillment, perhaps even more so for a child with a military parent who travels frequently for duty. Stability in other areas of their lives when a parent is away can be incredibly important.
Easton said the most difficult part of being a military child is when “Dad has to go … and that we don’t see him for a while.”
When Easton was younger, his father Travis often went away for training for three months at a time. Today, the trips aren’t as long, but are still frequent.
“Since moving here to Iwakuni, Travis is gone a lot with all three squadrons he has been stationed with,” April said. “Sometimes they were as short as a week, but other times up to a few months.”
So, April, Easton and his older sister, take advantage of their current location in Japan and travel often to break up the time while Travis is away.
“We go on adventures the whole time,” Easton said. The family has traveled everywhere from within Japan, South Korea and Thailand, to Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.
Does he have a favorite adventure so far?
“That’s a hard one. I’ve got too many to count.”
And another highlight of military life for Easton? The jets, of course.
“My favorite thing is to see the jets up close in the hangers. We get to see all the jets flying, and we get to go in the hangers and watch all the jets take off.”
Wherever Easton Goes, the USO is There
For the people who serve, their family members serve alongside them in their own ways. For military children, that means leaving friends behind, starting over at a new school every few years, joining different sports teams, learning to cope with their parent’s absence during trainings or deployments— and much more —throughout their childhoods.
USO Centers welcome the youngest members of the military community home — almost anywhere in the world — every time they walk through the doors. They can expect familiar American snacks, activities just for them and a chance to meet other military children who understand what it’s like to always be “the new kid.”
As the USO, we’re with Easton at every duty station, showing him and his family that they can always count on the USO to be by their sides.
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