‘It’s all about military work’: UWO students of military parents learned to adapt and be resilient

Two University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students have faced unique challenges as children of a service member and are telling their stories as part of this month’s Military Child Appreciation Month.

“We as veterans can’t do what we do in the military without the support of people at home: the communities, the families who are waiting for us to come back,” said Aaron Kloss, coordinator of the UW Oshkosh Veterans Resource Center, who noted that more awareness of the struggles and challenges children face is needed. He said there are an estimated 200 to 250 children of service members in UWO.

Purple up! For military children’s day It’s Friday, April 15. People are encouraged to wear purple to show their support.

Constant movements part of military life

UWO student Haley Olson is working toward a degree in social work so she can help military veterans and their families.

Olson, a junior who was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, said she considered serving in the military, as did her father, grandfather, great-grandfather and several uncles. Asthma and an allergy to wheat put a limit to her ideas of serving her, but she vows to stay a part of it.

“The call to serve runs deep in my family and I am no exception,” he said. “I just chose another path.”

Her father served 32 years in the Army, retiring as a colonel when she was in high school. Her parents decided to make Wisconsin her home, as it would allow her to finish high school in one place: Sparta.

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“I grew up always moving and having to deal with new experiences in the process,” he said. “I have lived at 11 addresses so far in my life due to my family moving from one place to another.”

He remembers that his father was absent a lot, getting up early and working until late at night. He, too, was gone for weeks or months at a time, so the responsibilities of raising the children and running the household would fall to his mother.

Olson has a twin brother and they trusted each other growing up.

“Sometimes I found that my father’s departure left me with some resentment and sadness as it happened,” she said, “because I missed him and wanted him around for celebrations like my birthday.”

When their family moved, Olson and his brother would lose all of their friends. The brothers became even closer as they would not know anyone else.

“There’s a kind of lifestyle that comes with being the son of a parent who’s in the military because everything revolves around the job of being in the military,” he said.

The moves affected Olson’s education. She said that there were some subjects that she missed when moving to a new school if they had already passed that lesson or subject.

Despite the challenges, Olson said she wouldn’t change them because they allowed her to see a variety of cultures, meet new people, adjust and be more independent. She believes that living in a dorm was easier as she was introduced to new experiences and environments since she was little.

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“I have a lot of pride because my family served,” she said, adding that she will be forever connected to the military.

UWO nursing student forced to grow up fast

Corrie Gifford, a senior at Menomonie in the College of Nursing, said her stepfather, a petroleum supply specialist in the Army, served three tours of duty before being medically discharged with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. (PTSD).

Gifford said he remembered being 10 or 11 years old and his mother making a lot of Skype calls and texts when his stepfather was on duty.

“I know it was hard for my mom because that year for Christmas she didn’t even want to put up the tree because our family was separated,” she recalled. “So my sister and I decorated the tree ourselves. I feel like when one of the parents leaves, the older child has to step up, because being a single parent is hard.”

When her stepfather returned, it would be difficult for things to go back to normal. She got so used to taking care of her sister and taking on more of the housework that when he came back, she scolded her for excluding her stepfather from her child-rearing and other chores. His mother had also gotten used to asking him to do things.

“I know that when veterans come back, there is a program for transitioning to civilian life, but I think there should be additional resources for families as well,” Gifford said.

The aspiring nurse said she believes she does more homework than typical students, especially with her stepfather’s diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

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“There are days when you’re walking on eggshells … or you have to call your mom at home from work so she can talk to him because you can’t,” Gifford said, adding that there are a lot of things that change with parents. military. “I know I didn’t realize how different my upbringing was until I started talking about my life in high school and college.”

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