How Each Military Location Shaped Me

A few weeks ago, my dad sent a picture to me of his front lawn in all its glorious greenness. My family is stationed in Vegas right now, so we don’t see too much green. I saw the picture and my heart literally ached.

We texted back and forth and then we had this exchange.

For some reason, what my dad said really got to me. He gets my emotional side and how things in our life shape and form us into our unique selves. He knows that I find great meaning in being from Kansas and that it is important for me to be proud of where I’m from.

As I’ve moved about the country as a military spouse, when people tell me that they are from a certain area, I look at them and am like, “Yep, that fits. You “look” like a California person or an Alabama person.” I never say it in a mean way, I just think that there are “looks” to every part of the country and some people just fit the look of where they are from. So, years ago, I asked my husband if I look like a Kansas girl.

A Kansas girl in her K-State gear.

“In some ways, yes; in some ways, no.”

“What the heck does that mean?”

“I don’t know, but you have a strength and simpleness about you that I think comes from growing up in Kansas, but then you also are just you and to me you don’t really fit a “look” to any one place.” Hmmm….

My dad’s text got me thinking about my home state and how it shaped me into the person I am today. Kansas is simple. Often times, people find it boring because there are no mountains, no ocean, no major attractions (unless you count the world’s biggest ball of twine). But, there is a profound goodness and beauty in its simplicity. There’s nothing like a Kansas summer thunderstorm or the way the air smells when football and fall arrive. Your soul is grounded when everywhere you look are the fertile farmlands that help sustain a nation. I remember one time when my husband and I visited New York City and, one night, after a long day of sight-seeing, my husband and I were laying in bed in our teeny-tiny hotel room. It was probably midnight and still the city was alive and lights were shining through the window, sirens were going, and cars were honking. I said to my husband, “You know where I crave to be right now?”

He said, “Colony, Kansas?”

“Yes! How did you know?” I answered back in a shocked voice.

“Because that’s where I want to be, too.”

Colony is the tiny town my grandparents are from. It’s extremely small, there are very few businesses, and even a few gravel roads still. It’s country all the way, but it is serene like nothing else. Life is simple and slow there, but at that moment in crazy New York, my heart craved that small country Kansas town.

Colony, Kansas. My oldest picking tomatoes with her great-grandpa.

After thinking about Kansas, I started thinking about the other places I’ve lived as a military spouse. I sat and thought about what each location has forged in me. It was kinda fun to think about what characteristic each place has added to who I am. I think it’s interesting that places “give” us something. Is it the nature of the place or the people who make it up? Probably a little of both. And why do we come to “look” like we are from a certain area of the United States?

Ohio: I think Dayton, Ohio taught me independence. It was our first duty station and I had never been away from family. I was over-whelmed, but I learned that I can branch out and survive. Learning how to make new friends, learning a new town, investing in a new community, all made me very independent. In Ohio, I learned to trust in my abilities when I’m out of my comfort zone.

Old base housing in Ohio.

Florida: Panama City taught me to adapt. Ohio was still very much like Kansas, but when we moved to Florida, everything was different: The weather, the geography, the people, the food, and the language. It was the first time I really experienced that people truly do live differently in different parts of our country. You don’t see it as much when you are vacationing, because you are focused so much on fun and family. But, when you have to integrate into a place, it really makes you see the differences. I had to see many things in a new light and I learned to adapt as a Midwest gal to living more like a southern person.

The Emerald Coast

California: Let’s be clear, I didn’t live in some cool place in California. No, I lived in the middle of the very hot, very windy Mojave Desert at Edwards AFB. It was extremely isolated. California taught me appreciation. I was miles and miles from town and I lived in a very bleak environment. I came to appreciate so much during my time there. You never really know how grateful you are for something until it is removed from your life. At Edwards, our lives were stripped bare, yet, if you wanted to be happy there, you had to appreciate what you did have. I learned that friends, family, faith, and community are what ultimately matter. You can live anywhere if you have those things going for you. Edwards gave me a new outlook on life.

That ain’t a backdrop, folks. That’s how it truly looks.

Virginia: Charlottesville gave me a longing in my heart. There is something very special about the East Coast and moving there stirred in me a desire and longing to know our country’s history. Living there added this richness that I’d never experienced before. Each new, quaint town I would go into made me yearn for times long past. It’s hard to explain, but there is something about the East Coast, in certain parts, that is very inviting, warm, and like coming home.

Soaking up the green at Thomas Jefferson’s vineyard.

Nevada: Vegas has given me a resilient spirit. I’m not in love with living here by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m digging deep and making the best of it. It has taught me to fight through discomfort and impatience and I can tell it’s making me stronger mentally. It has also taught me that stuff and things are not important. I’m surrounded by materialism and it seems very empty.

Date night on the Strip.

Kansas gave me my roots. It gave me a strength and simplicity that will always endure. Yet, each place I’ve now lived as a military spouse has left its mark, too. Each place has gifted me with something new and each gift has added to who I am. I wonder if at the end of this military journey, if I will “look” like a military spouse. I guess time will tell.

So, what about you? What has your location added to your life?






  1. Anni H. says:

    Hawaii is where I re-embraced my faith. The islands brought me back to Catholicism. D.C. taught me I can embrace a deployment and survive, but that I operate best when my husband is with our family.

    And, GA has taught me that I really dread going back to D.C.! ??

    • Amy Thomas says:

      I wish we could sit down over coffee–I’d love to hear all about your stories! And, yes, deployments have a way of teaching us so many things. Patience I think is a big one for me.

  2. Dawn says:

    You already know most of my experiences. Except North Dakota and Colorado, and California in the Santa Ynez Valley!?

  3. lesliesholly says:

    I like this a lot! I’ve lived in the same city my entire life except for college (in D.C.) and my first year of marriage (Alexandria,Virginia). When I’ve been away and cross the Tennessee line, I feel like I just breathe better or something! I feel exposed in flat places and like hills around me. 🙂 I admire people like you who are so adaptable.

    • Amy Thomas says:

      Thanks! Trust me, it took a long time to learn to adapt. There is something to be said for living in the same place you whole life. It grounds you and gives you roots.

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