How life as a military child paved one Army “brat’s” road to success

Carrie McLeroy, Soldiers
Michaela Coplen has been an Army "brat" for every one of her 18 years. She's found that being involved with school and extracurricular activities has helped her deal with the transience associated with a military lifestyle. (Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers)

Michaela Coplen has been an Army “brat” for every one of her 18 years. She’s found that being involved with school and extracurricular activities has helped her deal with the transience associated with a military lifestyle. (Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers)

“… You hate your mom for leaving you alone and you hate yourself for hating her. So you blame the Army that has pulled you around like a marionette since before you were born. Your path was chosen for you, and you are helpless to change it. You can either adapt to this life, or end it.”

Although Michaela Coplen was 16 when she wrote those words, taken from her award-winning memoir “Fourteen Months on the Home Front,” she was a 10-year-old girl in an Army family — her mom deployed a world away — when she felt them.

For 18 years, Michaela, a senior at Carlisle High School in Carlisle, Penn., has lived the Army life, not as a Soldier, but as a military child. Her parents met at West Point. She was born at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Her dad Rick is a retired lieutenant colonel and professor at the U.S. Army War College. Her mom, Col. Lorelei Coplen, is the USAWC’s operations officer. And her sister Jacqueline is a member of Alleghany College’s Army ROTC, with aspirations to enter the Judge Advocate General Corps. It doesn’t get much “greener” than that.

By the time Michaela started high school, the Coplen family had moved 11 or 12 times. To a civilian family, that’s unfathomable – to a military family, it’s the norm.

“The hardest part about being a military kid is the moving,” Michaela said, and the separation from family when they’re deployed. “We don’t get to establish roots. We have to compensate for that by finding a different way to promote our own personal stability.”

As a military kid, “You have to develop mental toughness at an early age – self discipline and focus. You don’t want to be another thing your parents have to deal with.”

She experienced the transience and felt the solitude it could bring. To combat the toughest parts of being in an Army family, Michaela got involved in everything she could, from

The 2013 National Student Poets (from left: Michaela Coplen; Sojourner Ahebee, Nathan Cummings, Louis Lafair, and Aline Dolinh) pose with First Lady Michelle Obama in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Sept. 20, 2013. (Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The 2013 National Student Poets (from left: Michaela Coplen; Sojourner Ahebee, Nathan Cummings, Louis Lafair, and Aline Dolinh) pose with First Lady Michelle Obama in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Sept. 20, 2013. (Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)

school to sports and other extracurricular activities. Today, she’s a standout high school soccer player, active in theater, a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish National Honor Society and the Model UN, and editor in chief of her school’s literary anthology, “The Barbaric YAWP (Young Adult Writers and Poets).”

In typical Army speak, she explained: “I determine my own COA.” One “course of action” she discovered to help her sort through her feelings and experiences was writing. Her memoir and poetry have earned her national acclaim. Michaela is one of five poetry ambassadors for the National Student Poets Program.

When asked if her life as an “Army brat” has contributed to her success as a poet Michaela answered simply, “My poetry comes from me, and a lot of me comes from that.” The pieces she writes keep her connected to the people and places she’s had to leave behind over the years, becoming “something I could hold on to – a physical manifestation of those experiences.”

So what tips does a gifted, talented, successful teen like Michaela have for her fellow military kids? Here are her top 10:

  1. Find your passion. Search for something you love doing and working for, whether it’s science, soccer, sketching, or anything in between. Try anything and everything you can until you find it.
  2. Pursue your passion. No matter where you move, join teams, take classes, and work to improve yourself in your chosen areas. Not only will you keep busy and keep your mind off of other things, you’ll gain some valuable skills and experiences along the way!
  3. Use the resources available to you. There are all kinds of organizations and websites designed to provide programming and a community of support for military children. All you have to do is spend a minute or two searching online and you will find them.
  4. Be open to new experiences and people. You’ll never know whether you like a certain activity until you try it! Don’t deny a new opportunity just because you’ve never done it before, or a new person just because you don’t know them yet.
  5. Furthermore, be the one to make connections with people. Introduce yourself to those you don’t know in your school and your community — strike up a conversation. It’s likely that they want to do the same, and they’ll be grateful that you had the courage to reach out first.
  6. Participate in community service. You make great friends with those you are working with and you’ll feel immediately connected with the community you serve by actively making a difference in it.
  7. Talk to your teachers and ask them for help if you need it. Sometimes the courses you take at one school might be different from the ones at your new school — you could be ahead of or behind your new peers (or both!). Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns and get assistance to get on track at your new school. Your teachers will be happy to help.
  8. Hold on to the memories of where you’ve been, even after you’ve left. Take pictures, write poems, and keep in contact with the friends you’ve left behind. It might be hard at first, but it’s absolutely worth it.
  9. Be proud of yourself. You are a military child — you’ve experienced more ups and downs already than most people will in their entire lives. You’ve moved, met new people, said goodbye, said hello, experienced the separation of deployments, and survived it all. You have a distinct voice and a unique story to share — so share it!
  10. Hug your parents and relatives in the military. Let them know how much they mean to you and how much you appreciate their sacrifice.