Annapolis High School seniorJemma Bates knows what life as a military child entails. For her, being a military child meant frequent moves across the country throughout her life.
In 2020, Bates’ family moved to Annapolis from Hanford, California after her father, Capt. James Bates, became the deputy superintendent and chief of staff at the United States Naval Academy.
The 18-year-old was prepared for the brief sense of loneliness that accompanied that long move since this would be her fourth permanent change of station. But she was not prepared for that loneliness to be exacerbated by a pandemic.
“I was lonely, and I was looking for people to connect with, so I turned to social media as so many of us did,” she said.
Bates found refuge in a then-emerging nonprofit, Bloom Military Teens, an organization that advocates for military kids by providing them a safe space to go online when experiencing radical life changes.
Bloom readers can engage with posts from the organization’s featured authors who are often other military kids who want to share their stories and connect with their community. It’s “the place you can find comfort and advice about everything military-kid related: from moving tips to the top things to do at your duty station,” according to their website.
“It did exactly what [the organization] was supposed to do. I felt super empowered. I felt seen,” Bates said.
Now, Bates volunteers at Bloom as their interactive content creator, promoting work that has been submitted by military teens and openly advocating for military teens to receive mental health support when they relocate.
“[The blog addresses] a range of things and it really is meant to encompass everything that represents military experience: the fun, the good, the bad and the ugly sometimes. It’s a space for us to be authentic,” she said.
The average military child will move six times before they graduate high school, according to the National Military Family Association, another nonprofit s that advocates for military families. These moves can have an effect on a child’s self-esteem and personal achievement markers such as academics, social activity with friends, and extracurricular activities, the nonprofit found.
In the months following her cross-country move, Bates took part in various extracurriculars in school, including student government; Future Business Leaders of America; various musical ensembles, playing oboe, English horn and flute; and specialized honor societies, including the National Music Honor Society and National Math Honor Society.
However, she is most passionate about her involvement in the Annapolis Division of the U.S. Naval Academy Sea Cadets, an organization run by the Navy League that promotes youth leadership skills and character development.
“I knew I wanted to join the Navy and ultimately serve our country. I’ve loved growing up in the military. Despite all of the things that we sacrifice, the people— the military family — is what makes me want to stay,” Bates said. “My actual blood-related family is often very far away from us, and the military has such a unique environment where we take care of each other.
“Whether you’re a service member, a spouse‚ a kid or a parent, there is an inherent sense of responsibility to take care of the people around you that I have never found anywhere else in my life.”
In two years, Bates rose from a seaman recruit to leading drills for more than 40 cadets as the senior rank petty officer in the Annapolis Division.
Once a month, the group meets for 16 hours—8 hours on Saturday and Sunday — to perform drills that are traditional to military training, such as marching. They also take time to participate in service projects and other training exercises that are facilitated by military organizations.
Bates said that without her cadets, she could not have made the program what it is right now. Outside of drills, she’s in charge of planning for the division and as her graduation approaches, she has begun mentoring her successors.
Through the program, Bates has traveled up to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, to take a course on emergency medical care. She learned how to handle tourniquets, dress wounds and approach wounded soldiers on the battlefield using fake rifles or “rubber duckies.”
“It was a fantastic experience,” she said. “We were able to learn a lot of stuff hands-on using the dummies that real sailors use and they can talk and they breathe so it was just really cool a lot of interesting opportunities.”
The experience has helped Bates jump-start her journey to becoming a naval pilot. Last summer, she traveled to Federal Aviation Administration Ground School Aviation Training in Key West, Florida, where she completed and passed the FAA Private Pilot Ground School Exam.
She was also able to log two flight hours that will go toward her training to become a naval pilot that summer.
“It was a really great experience,” she said.
On Feb. 11, Bates was presented with the Outstanding Cadet award from the Peggy Stewart Tea Party Chapter of the Maryland State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution for her dedication to the Naval Sea Cadets Corps and her passion for promoting awareness of issues that affect military teens.
“Jemma truly leads the way for our next generation of American adults,” said Bobbi Carleton, the Peggy Stewart Tea Party regent and presenter of the medal. “Her level of service and commitment enhances the community, her fellow cadets and our nation.”
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The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution is a women’s service organization whose members can trace their lineage to an individual who helped win American independence during the Revolutionary War. NSDAR chapters participate in projects to promote historic preservation, education, and patriotism.
“I was kind of caught off guard [by the award] because I knew it was a thing and when you know something you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah that exists, but it’ll never happen to me,’ so it was really very fulfilling to receive it,” Bates said. “[This award] is not a reflection of just me as far as me being an outstanding cadet because I couldn’t be outstanding without the people whose shoulders I stand on and that’s everyone who’s come before me and everyone who has supported me.”
In April, she will also be honored as the Navy’s 2023 Military Child of the Year. This award will be given to Bates by Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable and secure military families by providing programs and services throughout the year to help military families overcome short-term difficulties so they don’t become long-term hardships, according to the website.
An awards gala to honor the seven 2023 Military Child of the Year recipients. Each recipient will receive a $10,000 grant, a laptop computer, and other donated gifts.
Bates is set to graduate from Annapolis High School in June with a diploma in the International Baccalaureate Program. She will attend the Naval Academy this fall and pursue a degree in aerospace engineering.
When she’s inducted into the academy this summer, it will be a family affair. Her father, James, will swear her in.