There’s a commercial that used to play all the time on the Armed Forces Network that we were able to watch while the ship was underway. Basically, a male sailor (it might have been a soldier, but I can’t remember) walks into the base bar and sits down next to a female servicemember. In an effort to strike up a conversation, he asks, “So, where are you from?”

She replies with a string of questions. “Do you mean where was I born, or where do I live now?” “Do you mean where was I stationed last?” “Maybe you mean where have I spent the most time?” I don’t remember what the commercial was for, but it did a really good job of encapsulating what it means to be in the military.

When people ask me where I’m from, I almost always say North Dakota. I do this mostly because I enjoy seeing the look of disbelief on their face and then hearing, “Wow! I think you’re the first person that I’ve ever met from there.” In reality, I don’t feel any strong pull towards NoDak. I grew up there, and I still have quite a bit of family around. While it’s nice to visit every once in a while, I have no plans to live there in the future. Now, exchange the question “Where are your from?” with “Where is your home?” I can’t answer that one as easily.

Since leaving for boot camp when I was 18, I’ve lived all over the country. I spent 10 weeks in Great Lakes, IL for boot camp. I was then station in Charleston, SC for about 3 years. After that, I lived in Lawrence, KS for 4 years (this is where I got married). Then, we moved to Virginia and lived in the Tidewater area for 4 years (this is where our daughter was born). Next, we spent 2 years in Monterey, CA (this is where our son was born). Now, we’ve lived in San Diego, CA for a little over a year. That’s 6 different cities in 5 different states in just under 14 years. During that time, I’ve lived in 11 or 12 different houses/apartments/barracks to the best of my recollection.

As I analyze that list for a place that I would call home, nothing jumps out. I lived in Kansas and Virginia for the longest periods of time, but neither one is where I really want to be. Monterey was great, but we were only there for a couple years. I love San Diego, but once again, we’ve been here such a short period of time. For administrative purposes, my home of record is my wife’s parents’ house in Kansas City, but that’s just because they’ve had the most consistent address of our immediate family (they also have my 1975 Chevy Camaro held hostage in their shed). I’ve never actually lived there except while visiting.

At least for this sailor, home is where my family is. It can be a house, apartment, or cardboard box. It can be on either coast or anywhere in between. As long as my family is there, that’s my home. I can’t necessarily point to it on a map, but I know where it is.

Just remember, the next time you ask a sailor, soldier, marine, or airman where they’re from, be prepared to get more answer than you’re actually looking for.

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