Some things just come naturally. Some people sing beautifully with no training, others are gifted athletes.
For Anja Young, a military brat, acting the part of a military brat is second nature when she’s on stage as Katie, a character created especially for The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour. Introduced in 2011, Katie has helped thousands of military children learn to cope with the frequent moves that military life entails. To date, the USO has taken the tour to hundreds of locations at home and abroad, reaching more than 500,000 military family members.
Young was born on Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, where her father, Wilbert Young, who served 26 years in the Air Force before retiring, was stationed at the time. By age 6, she began to realize what being a military child meant.
“I was excited about moving to another place, but sad that I would be moving away from extended family,” she said, adding her parents made great efforts to help their children make the transition with each new move. “They always tried to make the move feel like a new, exciting adventure.
“They did this by researching our new location and coming up with a list of family things we could do that were unique to the area.”
The planning helped them bond as a family and gave them something to look forward to.
As she got older, Young turned to the arts as a way to help her handle the changes that inevitably come with an often cross-country move.
“I have always used dance and acting as a way of coping with the frequent changes that being a military kid can bring,” she said. “Also, social media helped me keep in touch with friends in different places.”
When she grew up and left home, everything changed again. She said it was very different not to be living on a military base where no one bats an eye when you tell them you’ve moved a dozen times.
“They find it hard to believe that I do not know where I’m from,” she said, adding that being a brat has paid long-term dividends, too. “I know being a military brat is the reason I am open-minded, able to connect with new people, [have] the confidence to travel the world and am never afraid of relocating.”
Young does admit, after having been part of The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour in 2014, being a military kid would have been a lot easier for her if she’d had a role model like Katie while she was growing up.
“It highlights the fact that kids have something to say about the unique challenges they are facing as a military kid an [lets them know] that they are not alone,” she said.
Amazingly, Young gets to play a character that feels like a Muppet version of herself. Not only have she and Katie faced some of the same challenges, they like the same things—both love to sing and dance!
And seeing the impact she has on her youngest fans is heartwarming.
“It never gets old watching the children connect with Katie. She truly touches the hearts of kids and parents alike,” Young said, offering that Katie gets lot of feedback from the children as well—feedback that shows the impact the tour has had on its audiences.
“Katie has heard things like, ‘It’s OK, Katie,’ ‘I’ll be your friend, Katie,’ … ‘I just moved here too, Katie,’ … ‘Katie, I’m going to miss you, girl.’”
Combining her personal and professional experience, Young said her best advice for today’s military children is to “enjoy every base your family gets stationed at and all the many friends you come across.” Don’t forget to take lots of photos and write lots of letters to the friends you’ve already made.
“Hold on to the all the good memories that this lifestyle brings,” Young said.
She said “back in the day” no one really asked military kids about what they were feeling. Adults told children that “this is just the life we live,” and things would be OK.
“Now, military children have The Sesame Street/USO show that opens up the lines of communication that allows children to express their emotions,” Young said. “I am truly thankful for being able to be part of this show. As a military kid, this experience means everything to me.”
As 2015 ramps up, The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families will head overseas to help even more children cope with the unique lifestyle that comes with being a military child. The tour will launch in May and run through October after traveling to 11 countries.
Samantha L. Quigley is the editor in chief of ON★PATROL.