Operation Footlocker: A Unique Family History

Operation Footlocker: A Unique Family History


By Reta Jones Nicholson

Those of us who are military brats (we actually are proud tobe called that!) have a very unique history; many of uslived overseas - or other places far away from extendedfamily - and because of that we tend to have very strongfeelings about what home and family mean. We movedfrequently, leaving friends and pets behind, and oftenstarted a new school year in yet another new school.

We brats couldn't take much of our "stuff" with us at movingtime (there was a weight allowance) so through the years wegathered items that carried great meaning to us,representing as they did homes and friends and events thatwould likely never be returned to. We lost touch with thepeople and places, but we had our memories, our portabletraditions, and we had our immediate family who had sharedthem with us.

As we grew older and started our own lives and families, wepacked our memories away with the objects that evoked them.Those of us who went into civilian life had long sincelearned that non-brats often didn't want to hear about ouruncommon lifestyle, the places we'd been, the cultures we'dexperienced...it was easier to pack that life away andassimilate (we're very good at that). We started newtraditions and had new people to share our more current (andlikely more stationary) lives and memories with.

Staying In Touch

Some brats who'd gone to high school overseas maintainedcontact with each other through their alumni groups, and ofcourse there were others who had kept in touch as well.There were MILLIONS of us brats, however, and most of us hadlost track of our friends; many of the militaryinstallations we'd lived on (and the schools we'd attended)had been closed or torn down.

 With the advent of the internet, though, military brats inlarge numbers began to remember their lives "inside theFortress" and they started looking for their childhoodfriends. We needed to connect with others who'd shared similar lives,even if lived separately or during differing eras. We beganto find each other and also found we shared traits andskills and pride and honor from growing up in the shadow ofour warrior parent's mission.

Operation Footlocker

Out of this connecting came a project, begun by two othermilitary brats and myself almost four years ago, calledOperation Footlocker. We took an old, beat-up, regulationfootlocker (a military trunk that was common in ourhouseholds) and we put into it stories and photos andobjects from our lives as military brats. We told otherbrats about it, inviting them to put their mementos in it,too.  We began shipping it to groups of brats who'd gatherto look at the contents and add their items, then they'dship it on to the next brat who was organizing a similargathering.

OpFoot, as we call it, has now criss-crossed the countryseveral times, been at dozens of events, brat reunions,military reunions, air shows, parades.... wherever it'sappearance has been requested. (So many places wanted it twoyears ago we had to birth "OpFoot Jr.", a second footlocker,to handle the demand.) It's sat in many a living room withits contents spread about.

Literally thousands of brats and their family members havepoured over the stories and objects - with many hoots ofrecognition ("I remember these!", "Omigosh, I went to schoolwith her in Turkey!", "Ugh! Shot records! Remember standingin line waiting to get stuck? And heaven help you if youever lost this little yellow record!!") and even a few tearsnow and then as you remembered faces and times and placesthat were gone forever.

Don't think for a moment, though, that we regret our livesas brats! Very few will say they hated it, and most willtell you proudly that they wouldn't trade their experiencesfor anything....and yet there is a certain amount oflonliness that came along with the lifestyle and stayed witheach of us when we moved out of it. Now, however, some ofour collective memories are packed in a footlocker on themove instead of a box on a shelf, and we're discovering ourlarger "family"....and "home" is where family is.

Resources for Military Brats

Can you pack millions of histories and mementos into asingle trunk? We're trying! Although we brats are very goodpackers, we know someday we'll run out of room - even if wehave several footlockers. Luckily, all these donated itemswill have a permanent address as a special collection in theAmerican Overseas Schools Historical Society Museum andArchives that will be built on land donated by the City ofWichita, Kansas (they want to be our Home Town!)

Formore information go to:Operation Footlocker

Register themselves and find school friends at:,br>by clicking here.

About the Author

Reta Jones Nicholson traipsed across the continent and overseas with her career-military parents, then moved 16 times in 7 years as a military wife before settling in the mid-Missouri countryside to a resounding thud. Married (26% 2B years) to a civilian, she and Nic enjoy traveling, eating, and playing with their grandchildren. Reta is an action-planning coach with an international clientele, and spends entirely too much time online instead of in the creek looking for artifacts. For more about Rita visit here.       


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