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How One Army Family Raises 6 Globetrotting Military Kids

 Maj. Patrick Vankirk and his family. (Courtesy of Patrick Vankirk)
Maj. Patrick Vankirk and his family. (Courtesy of Patrick Vankirk)

Distinct brown food packages lay scattered across a round table, ready to be devoured by a family of eight.

These provisions, known to service members as the meal, ready-to-eat, may evoke feelings of nostalgia or disdain, but MREs are a fun tradition for the Vankirks.

The mastermind behind this unusual dining experience, Maj. Patrick Vankirk, knows his job can weigh on his wife, Theresa, and their six kids - so he brings home jalapeno cheese to spice up Army life.

Angelina Vankirk, 6, smiles while taking a bite of a meal, ready-to-eat cracker with peanut butter during her Family’s MRE night near Fort Drum, New York. (Courtesy of Patrick Vankirk)
Angelina Vankirk, 6, smiles while taking a bite of a meal, ready-to-eat cracker with peanut butter during her Family’s MRE night near Fort Drum, New York. (Courtesy of Patrick Vankirk)

Every April, children who endure the challenges of having a parent in the military are recognized for their unique experiences and sacrifices during Month of the Military Child.

Patrick, the human resources officer of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, and his family are no strangers to the Army's twists. His 20 year career has taken the Vankirks to a series of unique duty stations across three countries and six states.

"In some sense I think (the kids) are a little more open and accepting of other people, and they've seen differences in culture," Theresa said.

The kids range in age from three to 14, and were all born in different locations except for the twins.

Michael, the oldest Vankirk kid, said the biggest thing he has learned from life as a military child is being flexible.

"If anything out of order happens you just roll with it," Michael added.

This Family has made memories "holding up" the Leaning Tower of Pisa and lying on the floor of an Italian museum to see the painted ceiling, but they have also had to make adjustments.

Five of the six Vankirk children lay on the Caserta Palace museum’s floor. (Courtesy of Patrick Vankirk)
Five of the six Vankirk children lay on the Caserta Palace museum’s floor. (Courtesy of Patrick Vankirk)

"One of the biggest (challenges) I think is the friendships," Theresa said.

The youngest Vankirks, twins Angelina and Isabella, 6, and Jude, 3, may not understand, but the older kids have had to learn to say goodbye.

Elizabeth, 10, said it can be hard to leave her friends, but she gets excited to meet new people. Her 12 year-old brother, James, agreed and said he sometimes looks forward to moving.

Patrick keeps everyone's eyes on the future with his vision of "the final house."

"That's been my dream for many years, to be done ... with moving," Patrick added. "Going (away), I've missed out on parts of their lives that I'll never get back."

While the finish line is close, the Vankirks still have one more obstacle to overcome as Patrick heads to Turkey for a year on his own.

"I think he is sort of the heart of the Family ... he's the goofy one," Theresa said of her husband. "When he's not here, there are times when I have to try to be a little (goofier) which is a little difficult for me."

Theresa's strategy for getting the kids through times without Patrick is maintaining order.

"We need to have things to look forward to," Theresa said. "I like the routine. For me it's make sure everything is ready for school, they're out the door on time, schedules and all that."

If the kids get sad, Theresa finds different ways to refocus their attention in order to stay busy.

"When I start crying because (I miss dad), mom (says) alright dry those dishes right now," Elizabeth said, laughing. "You have to get to work and not cry!"

Maj. Patrick Vankirk sits with his wife Theresa, and their six children near Fort Drum, New York (U.S. Army/Paige Behringer)
Maj. Patrick Vankirk sits with his wife Theresa, and their six children near Fort Drum, New York (U.S. Army/Paige Behringer)

Patrick thinks his children's experiences across the world will make them more resilient adults.

Theresa hopes the kids understand the example she and Patrick set for them, and recognize the sacrifices made together as a Family.

"I think most importantly in my mind is that sense of helping others," Theresa added. "I hope that they think of the Family as more of a (unit). It doesn't matter where we were, it was us as a unit."

In the meantime, the Vankirks can look forward to their unique tradition when Patrick returns, although James said his dad always eats steak on MRE night.

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