Military child to AF leader

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Holly Mansfield
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
As a self-proclaimed "military brat", Brig. Gen. Patrick Higby was engulfed in the Air Force culture long before he put on the uniform.

From his cradle in a small village in western Germany to the position of the 81st Training Wing commander, Higby has learned the value of being a military child and the resources available to others who have grown up in the military life.

"I was born in an Air Force hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany, and delivered by an Air Force doctor," said Higby. "My dad was assigned to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters which was at Lindsey Air Station at the time. USAFE headquarters then moved to Ramstein in the early 1970s so we moved closer to Ramstein. We left the little town of Schlangenbad and headed south for Mehlbach, and I started going to Kaiserslautern Elementary School.

"We moved again to get a little closer to the base, so I ended up going to Ramstein Elementary School from fourth grade through ninth grade," he continued. "When I was in tenth grade, there was no Ramstein High School yet, so we were bussed over the Kaiserslautern High School. My dad was a civil engineer and actually helped build Ramstein High School. I started going to Ramstein High School in eleventh grade and ended up graduating from there."

For 18 years, Higby grew up in Cold War Germany surrounded by two cultures very different from each other. Embracing the advantages of being a military child growing up in a country that was time zones away from most Americans, Higby dove into the European culture while still using the resources provided to him by the military.

"The best part about being a military child was being exposed to other cultures," said Higby. "I was born into a European culture. Being able to travel around Western Europe as an eleventh-generation American who had never actually been to the U.S. was a really good experience."

Higby and his family were able to use different support systems like the base exchange, commissary, fitness centers, rod and gun clubs, and Defense Department schools to make living in a different country easier.

"When I was growing up, the BX and the commissary were really good deals," said Higby. "The cost of living in Germany is pretty high, and we were always thinking about the exchange rate. The biggest benefit of having those resources was getting U.S. prices on base even when the dollar was weak. That was a huge help for us."

As a military child, Higby would spend time at different establishments run by the Services Squadron on base. During his high school years, Higby and his friends quickly claimed different spots on base ranging from Chicken Every Sundae, a popular restaurant, to different NATO-themed mini-BXs.

"We used those resources all of the time," remembered Higby. "Even just to have a school for the American kids to attend was imperative for our military families living overseas."

After graduating from Ramstein High School, Higby faced a new challenge . . . college. This challenge would take him from his home by Ramstein AB to Georgia Tech in Atlanta.  

"The biggest challenge of being a military child for me was being in the U.S. for the first time for my freshman year of college," said Higby. "I was exposed to some American culture as part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community, the largest concentration of Americans outside the U.S., but being in Atlanta took a little getting used to. In Germany, we didn't have door knobs on interior doors, so it took me a while to figure out how to open my dorm room door with an armful of grocery bags. I also recall longing for German beer, bread, chocolate, and the Autobahn. I was definitely perplexed by driving in the U.S.; although 55 mph was the standard U.S. highway speed limit, I somehow felt safer driving that speed in downtown Paris or going double to triple that on the Autobahn." 

After graduating from college, Higby was commissioned into the Air Force and started his family. Now that he has children of his own, he is able to show them how to use the military resources available to them like he did when he was a child.

"In the military, especially for younger couples with children, it's incredibly tough to balance things," said Higby. "There aren't always affordable options for them to choose from. Having the child development centers and youth centers available for after school programs and sports is huge. My children's favorite thing to do here at Keesler is fishing or shrimping off of the back dock. They also just completed soccer through our youth program."

Due to relentless cutbacks in funding, some programs for children are being curtailed. As a parent involved in his children's activities, Higby encourages parents to volunteer to help with these programs to mitigate the budget cuts.

"We can't always afford to pay for referees or coaches for the youth sports programs, but there are plenty of parents who are willing to volunteer to coach or help out with different things like a soccer team," said Higby. "Likewise, maybe we can get parents to volunteer for a work detail to maintain the field. It's a little unfair to ask that, because the whole reason to have those programs is to take care of those very busy military parents. Now I'm asking for them to do a little more, but learning to balance work and personal needs is essential to giving our kids what they need."

Programs like the Little Dragons Running Club have been possible because of parent volunteers. Founded and run by Lt. Col. James Coughlin, 85th Engineering Installation Squadron commander, the club inspires children to be fit and live a healthier lifestyle. According to Higby, the Coughlins are a great example of busy parents with seven kids who also manage to volunteer for the good of the children and community.

"Military brats have a reputation for being more resilient, and I think that is true," said Higby. "My sense is that when children are younger, they don't mind moving as much, but when you have more serious relationships that makes moving really tough. I've known a lot of parents who try to strike a balance between where the Air Force is sending them and how that affects their children.

"I'm always encouraged when I see people struggling with that decision, because it tells me that their family, children and development are very important to them," he continued. "It's not just about the job or career. Having children in the military is not easy, but those who make it through end up being better citizens because of it and being exposed to different cultures, not just throughout the U.S., but around the world. It's a phenomenal chance that most kids don't get. Hopefully our military brats understand and take advantage of the opportunities they are offered. And yes, I'm proud to be called a military brat!"