A teenager’s podcast tackles children’s challenges and experiences
The “Grace of a Military Child” podcast opens with a pleasantly spunky beat and the upbeat voice of Gracie Burgess, 19, the show’s host and founder. But behind the welcoming vibe is a story of trauma, endurance, and a great example of an American military family that has seen struggles.
While deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, Burgess’ father, Daniel, suffered a traumatic injury that led to him becoming an amputee and resulting in his medical retirement from the military.
The recovery process inspired Burgess to reach out to other military children and families, including those who supported the Burgesses during his father’s recovery.
However, not all military children need to experience something as traumatic as the death or serious injury of a loved one to experience stress as a young – and sometimes neglected – member of a military family. , Burgess said.
When her mother, Genette, first suggested that she start her podcast as a storytelling and outreach medium, Burgess resisted, insisting she didn’t like listening to her own voice.
She also has a busy schedule as a student at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Meyers, Florida. She volunteers at the college writing for the school newspaper, Eagle News, and as a teaching assistant for students with learning disabilities.
But even with all of that, Burgess said she still doesn’t feel complete without being involved in the military community, especially after what her family has been through.
Genette said Burgess often listened to podcasts to pass the time during the coronavirus pandemic and fell in love with audio storytelling, so she encouraged her to create her own centered on military kids like her.
“You don’t usually hear stories centered around military kids, but it really affects their lives and how they grow up,” Genette said.
Burgess’s younger sister Kaylee also encouraged her to start the podcast and designed the podcast logo for her.
She launched Grace of a Military Child in April 2021 to coincide with Month of the Military Child. The series now has over 50 episodes.
The podcast has over 2,000 downloads across multiple platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Pandora, and iHeartRADIO. Grace of a Military Child has a large listener base in the United States, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and India.
Burgess’ guests included military children, spouses, authors of books for families on coping when constantly on the move with the military, and leaders of military family organizations. The episodes are formatted in a minimally edited recorded conversation format and are approximately one hour long. Burgess said she thought it was important to hear full versions of everyone’s story.
“Everyone’s story is similar, but also so different,” she said in a recent Zoom interview.
The podcast also featured a nine-episode series focusing on No Greater Sacrifice, a nonprofit that provides scholarships to children of service members who were seriously injured or died while serving after 9/11. Burgess, herself a recipient of No Greater Sacrifice, interviewed other scholars and members of the organization for the series.
The podcast ultimately focuses on the resilience of military children through several stressors, Burgess said, such as transferring to a different school year after year, moving around the world and dealing with uncertainty about their next destination.
One of Burgess’ big goals for the show is to host a celebrity guest, especially basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, whose stepfather served in the U.S. military, or the pop singer Christina Aguilera, whose father was also a soldier.
Burgess has a personal connection to O’Neal. She attended the same high school he graduated from in San Antonio, Texas, and was able to be present for a special jersey retirement ceremony the school held for him, which O’Neal attended.
“Even though I didn’t get to meet him, it was an amazing experience to be in that room,” Burgess said.
She also thinks it can have a positive impression on military children knowing that such successful and high caliber people had a similar childhood experience.
From anxiety to the waves
In November 2011, just before Thanksgiving, Daniel stepped on an improvised explosive device while on a roadside bomb clearance patrol in Afghanistan. The devastating injury caused him to lose one leg on the spot and the other was partially ungloved from his ankle to his groin.
Burgess said his father’s injury was the most difficult time of his life. She was 9 years old at the time.
“I still remember exactly where I was in our house in Ohio when my mom got that phone call,” Burgess said. “She fell to her knees and started sobbing. When you’re only 9 years old, seeing your mother cry like that is scary.
Burgess said she felt both grateful that her father was still alive, but also terrified and worried for the traumatic injury he had suffered. She said it also made her realize the full extent of the dangers those serving in the Middle East at the time faced and the ugliness of war, which was humiliating but shocking.
“What you know as a child about war is really nothing,” she said.
While her father spent weeks in the hospital recovering, Burgess weakened in a different way.
“My biggest fears about what might happen to my dad came true. I struggled with anxiety,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I cried on the couch for a week in a row.”
The experience forced Burgess to act above her young age, she said, which she sees resonating among the podcast participants she interviews.
Military kids don’t capture the same memories of their hometowns, childhood bedrooms and school cliques as other young people, Burgess said.
“Even if you haven’t been through exactly what our family has been through, still moving forces you to be more mature and more independent, and that weighs on some people,” she said.
Burgess said the traumatic but educational experience allowed her to have heartfelt conversations about post-traumatic stress disorder, loss, grief, anxiety and resilience on her podcast.
A family unit
The Burgess family spent three months in a hotel room and 10 months in a Fisher House, an organization that provides lodging for military families while their loved ones are hospitalized.
Daniel said he didn’t remember much of the first few months of his recovery, but he said he could never have gotten through it without the support of his family.
“Without our bond, which only grew stronger even through the hardships, I would never have gotten out of bed,” he said in a Zoom interview with Stripes.
Genette said she felt she had to carry a lot on her shoulders watching over her husband in this condition and protecting her daughters from being traumatized by the gravity of the situation.
“As a mother, you don’t want your kids to have to see some of the things that were going on,” she said. “There were times when Daniel said, ‘I should have died.’ This can be traumatic for a 9 year old.
In addition to coordinating the appropriate times for her children to visit the hospital and maintaining a normal school routine for them, Genette said she felt outside pressure about how she should handle the situation and what she should. and should not tell his children.
Even with all the contingency and contingency plans she had in place, there is no preparation for an event like this, she said.
The family had recently seen Dolphin’s Tale, a film about a dolphin in a Florida aquarium receiving a prosthetic fin and using it as a way for Gracie and Kaylee to come to terms with and come to terms with what was happening to their father.
“You have to do what you think is right,” Genette said. “People will support you and your choices, or they won’t, but ultimately everyone gets on with their lives as this becomes your new normal, so you have to get through this together as a family. “
The podcast has also become a family project, with Daniel often helping with sound editing and Genette and Kaylee assisting in finding guests for the show.
Daniel spent his entire childhood until the age of 16 as a military child while his father served in the United States Navy.
Genette was also a military child. His father served in the Vietnam War before he was born, and throughout his middle and high school years he served in the Army Reserves.
Both said they are grateful that their daughters have more resources at their disposal than they had growing up as a military child, although there could still be more.
One improvement that Daniel said he would like to see from both his time as a military child and his daughters is more curricula in American schools, to include ones for civilian students to understand the gravity to move constantly and be able to better support their peers.
Being forced to retake classes due to inconsistent state-to-state standards and education credit requirements is another often-not-talked-about challenge that Daniel and his daughters have faced.
Daniel said that from his injury, to dealing with the invisible wound of his PTSD, to learning software to help Gracie grow his podcast, the past decade has been a learning curve and he is incredibly proud of his children.
“You can really take tragedy and struggle and turn it into success,” said Daniel, who since his recovery has also found joy as an artist, making quilts on his longarm machine.
Burgess reiterated her father’s sentiment and hopes she can be a support for all of her guests and listeners.
“Just because a traumatic experience can happen, you are still able to achieve your hopes and dreams,” she said.
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