By Joan Dixon
In many important ways, life hasn’t changed much for the Mills children since their brief stint participating in military spouse, Claire Corriveau’s documentary Children of Soldiers.
They continue to live apart from their soldier dad, Warrant Officer Scott Mills and Madeline Mills, their eldest daughter, has left the nest to pursue her dreams, which has led her to have something in common with her dad.
After his return from Afghanistan, their dad spent the year (2009-2010) training the troops that were deploying on the next rotation from Petawawa going to Afghanistan. He was often away due to training, most notably on a long exercise during January and February 2010. He was then posted, in the summer of 2010, to Kingston, Ontario on the Army Technical Warrant Officer Program and this summer he was posted to Ottawa.
The family did not follow him to Kingston for the one year posting because Madeline was in Grade 12 at the time, and her parents thought it would be a tough adjustment to start a new school in her graduation year. When Scott moved to Ottawa the family stayed in Petawawa. Since the summer of 2010 they have seen each other on weekends and school breaks.
While it has been a long haul for the family, and they experience their share of “weekend integration challenges” overall they manage to spend quality time together.
Both parents agree that – for the time being anyway—this was and is currently the best scenario for their four children, especially in terms of schooling and stability. They know they are not alone in their lifestyle choice or coping with the often-conflicting needs of the military and the family.
Maddie, 17, thought the film portraying her family’s unusual life was “perfect”. She was especially glad that it showed the family joking around as well as serious parts, because she admits there’s a lot of both as her family lives the military lifestyle adventure.
Two years after making the film, Maddie feels even prouder of her dad and being the daughter of a soldier. Glad to have participated in the film, she believes the experience may have helped her to become more open about sharing her thoughts and feelings. The experience may have also helped her decide her future. She recently enrolled into the Canadian Forces as a reservist and is attending the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario where she is has the opportunity to pursue her dreams, playing soccer for a university.
“I’m really excited to go there. I’ve talked to a lot of people and they love it. I’m a little scared but I know it will get easier after the first couple of months. I’m proud to be going to RMC.”
Maddie’s brother, Evan, is only 15 but he is already considering the military for his education, too. Two years ago he wanted to be a meteorologist, but today he is aspiring to be an engineer. Either way, he feels RMC would be a good bet to get his post secondary education, having been raised by a senior non-commissioned officer, Evan feels he could handle the discipline and strict rules.
Being in the film was “a cool experience,” he says, although he was glad his friends didn’t see it because “there were some pretty personal things in it.”
Upon reflection, he agrees with his sister and mother that the opportunity to enlighten other families about their military lifestyle was worth exposing their private lives.
Having seen what some of the other families in the film have gone through, he now recognizes that their lives are similar — even if unusual – and that somehow helps.
Children of Soldiers: Life Under the Flag, the 2010 NFB documentary film, followed families affected by recent deployments:
One family lost their soldier father.
One family is still dealing with physical and mental (PTSD) repercussions.
One family is living apart from their soldier.
And at least two families are watching the next generation opt to serve.
**Top photo: Major Chris Reeves, Madeline Mills and Warrant Officer Scott Mills at Madeline’s enrollment in July 2011.Bottom photo: Evan and Maddie after reffing a soccer game.
Joan Dixon is a military mom, an author/editor and currently at work on an anthology about the homefront anthology.