The fourth month of the year is often known for April Fools’ Day, Easter, World Autism Awareness Day, Earth Day, and Arbour Day. April is also designated as the Month of the Military Child. Like a dandelion, these children are uprooted and flourish wherever military orders dictate. We can’t think of a better analogy to demonstrate the resilience of our nation’s military children. This month Niche Homes is featuring two military families stationed up the road at Hill Air Force Base (AFB) and recognizing the amazing military children who bloom amongst the Air Force community.
The McLaughlin Family
The McLaughlin children, Evan (6) and Avery (3), come from a long line of military service with their great grandfathers serving in the Armed Forces. While their mother, Megan, calls Louisiana home, and their father calls Minnesota home, Evan and Avery have found home wherever the Air Force sends them. Evan and Avery are preparing for their third Air Force move later in the summer, this time across the pond to England. On what some may view as yet another big life transition, the McLaughlin kids view it as quite the opposite, it’s an adventure! “We know Evan and Avery are looking to us for how to react and will feed off of that, so we try to maintain a positive outlook throughout the entire relocation process” says Megan.
Their father, Lieutenant Colonel Ian “Dingo” McLaughlin’s flying career began at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina flying the F-15E Strike Eagle. He took his new bride Megan overseas to the Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath, UK. Three years later, they landed at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho where Ian deployed for a second time to the Middle East for six months. Their son Evan was 15 months old at the time. A consistent routine, video messages, planning events to look forward to, countdown calendars until Daddy’s return, and more video chats made time away from his Daddy easier. Megan recalls another dad sweetly stepping in when he could for “dude time” with Evan.
Balancing Family, Career and Country
In 2016, the jet transition from the F-15E to the F-35A Lightning II sent the McLaughlin family packing to Eglin AFB, Florida for over two years, followed by their assignment to the Air Force’s first combat capable F-35A base in the US, Hill AFB. Ian was sent on his third deployment to the Middle East for six months, only this time their daughter Avery made leaving home a little harder. Megan faced juggling her work as a physical therapist, being away from her own family, and balancing the disciplinary and emotional needs of their two young children all while still trying to fill the shoes of “mom” and “dad” for months at a time. During this deployment, she will never forget when Evan couldn’t fathom “Why isn’t my Dad at my birthday party?”
Service Before Self
While moving is said to be one of the most stressful life events we endure during our lifetimes, Ian and Megan both believe the military lifestyle has provided their family a unique opportunity to experience the world from a different perspective and to instill an important life lesson of service before self. Evan wonders if the people at the next overseas assignment will, “speak English over there?” Evan and Avery are eagerly getting their passports lined up and are so excited to wear their new wellies and join the local football team. It’s time for a new adventure!
The Wood Family
Florida native Bonnie Wood met her husband at the ripe age of 19 as he was finishing up his studies at the Air Force Academy. By the time Bonnie completed her nursing degree, she had attended six different colleges due to the hectic military lifestyle. Bonnie continues to keep her nursing license active, but her primary role is as the mother of three military children, Grace (15), Samuel (13), & Noah (9). It is quickly apparent to see just why.
Around the World and Back Again
Upon completing Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF) in Georgia, the Woods spent approximately a year at Luke AFB near Phoenix, AZ at the B Course in route to their father’s first operational assignment as an F-16 Viper pilot at Cannon AFB. After New Mexico, the Woods followed on to an overseas tour to Aviano Air Base, Italy. Colonel Josh “Dog” Wood has since then transitioned off to the F-35s and most recently the A-10 Warthog, taking his family quite literally all over the world. A command assignment at the 422 Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, NV was a favorite for Bonnie because, “the people in the squadron made a good assignment unexpectedly exceptional.” Meanwhile, their daughter, Grace, would say Florida was her favorite place to be stationed. Why? The beach and it was the closest they have ever been to family, approximately 150 miles away. This summer’s PCS season brings another move for The Wood Family to Osan Air Base, South Korea. This will be Grace’s 10th move and 3rd overseas assignment.
Staying Positive, Being Flexible, and Setting Realistic Expectations
As individuals, Josh and Bonnie have always had a mentality of “love where you live” and a “strong sense of service.” These mindsets help set the tone for their family and keep them rooted no matter where they go. Before each relocation, Bonnie will research schools, activities for the kids, utilize the military spouse’s network, and pinpoint unique experiences each duty station has to offer so that the family can maximize their time during their one to four year assignment. The Wood’s experience has taught them that it is vital to give their children things to look forward, set realistic expectations, and be flexible. Hiking and skiing at Snowbasin have been favorites while stationed at Hill AFB.
Raising Global Children
Each move brings about both social and educational challenges for the Wood kids. Logistically, transferring schools across the county, sometimes mid-school year, with different curriculums gets complicated based on state-to-state requirements that need to be met. Extracurricular activities have led to multiple virtual cheerleading tryouts for Grace. On top of acclimating to a completely new home, new friends, new time zone, Bonnie has witnessed her kids having to “work harder because they aren’t sure what it is going to be like where we are moving next.” Ultimately, the Woods believe this has helped their military children mature quickly, establish a strong work ethic, an opportunity to reinvent themselves at each new assignment, experience other cultures, and have friends all over the world.
Serving the Greater Good
In their role of a military child, Grace, Samuel, and Noah feel that leaving their friends is the hardest part. Within the military community their son Samuel has been able to form “instant friendships that have an unspoken kinship.” Many fighter pilots work 12- to 14-hour workdays, and some leadership roles require you to consistently be on call. Other military children understand and empathize what it is to have a parent not only do a dangerous job, but miss simple day-to-day events like soccer games, cross county meets, or dinner because duty calls. It is at these times Bonnie and the Wood kids lean on their wonderful military family for love and support. “Now that the kids are older, gone are the days of international travel with two small kids and being pregnant,” laughs Bonnie, “but the challenges of solo-parenting remain. My husband loves his job. We love to serve the greater good. And we know the benefits and positive life experiences most certainly outweigh any challenges that lie ahead.”
Author and Realtor Kerry Harding is the proud military wife of Colonel Jeffrey “Banger” Harding. Her family has made nine moves over the last fifteen years with the U.S. Air Force. From the rice fields of Northern Japan to the Emerald Coast of Florida, Kerry has mastered the art of moving and finding community. As a Realtor with Military Relocation Professional (MRP) certification, she is also trained to mitigate the stresses of service members’ permanent change of station. Kerry would love to talk with you about moving to Utah or PCSING to Hill AFB.