Beyond Take-Your-Child-to-Work Day: Inside the Lives of Military Children with the Antal Girls

Not many American middle schoolers can say they’ve spent time in bomb shelters in Ukraine, but the Antal girls can. Fiona (11), Brigid (11), and Vivi (10) were all in elementary school when they travelled to Ukraine with their parents, former Army veterans, to deliver lifesaving supplies and emergency medical training to people on the ground in Ukraine. While they were there air sirens went off, forcing them to take shelter in an underground bomb shelter for over three hours.  

“I was kind of scared because there were wars and stuff,” said Brigid. “I didn’t want to die. I was too young, and I’ve never met Taylor Swift!”  

The Antal girls are three of the country’s almost two million military children, children who have one or more parents who are currently active-duty service members or veterans. Both Antal parents are veterans: Mark is a special operations combat veteran, and Christine is a former Army lawyer. In 2021 Mark and Christine founded the nonprofit Task Force Antal to help Afghan allies and their families escape the Taliban. When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, their sense of duty compelled them to carry out humanitarian work in Ukraine as well. Since then, they have leveraged the help of veterans they served with to carry out dozens of missions to Ukraine. Because of their first-hand Army experience, volunteers at Task Force Antal travel into conflict zones where others cannot – or dare not – go, delivering hundreds of medical kits and conducting Front-Line Emergency Medical trainings to civilians trapped in war zones.  

For the Antal girls, this means that a typical bring-your-child-to-work day looks a little different from those of their classmates. Like many military families the Antals have moved around a lot. The girls were born on the military base Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, before moving to Germany for Christine’s work as National Security Legal Advisor at the U.S. Army Europe for Ukraine and Georgia. After about five years, they moved to New York, which they said was a hard transition at first (but, on the plus side, Fiona pointed out that Taylor Swift lives there, too.) When Russia fully invaded Ukraine in 2022, Christine and Mark felt their work would be more effective from the ground there, and so the whole family relocated to Budapest, Hungary.  

It was from there that Fiona, Brigid and Vivi accompanied their parents on one of their trips into Ukraine to deliver medical kits and teach classes on Front-Line Emergency Medical (FLEM) training to Ukrainian civilians. While in Ukraine, they also celebrated Easter with the frontline soldiers, listened to their stories and got to see for themselves what life is really like there.  

“People were going out Friday nights to the clubs and kids were playing at the playgrounds and stuff,” said Brigid. “The only thing that you had to get used to was the sirens going off and sometimes they would have to go into the shelter for a couple hours, but it was pretty normal.” 

Living in Hungary meant that the girls were gone for almost the entire school year. When they returned to New York, they found that many of their classmates didn’t understand what was going on in Ukraine, or why they had been gone. To help the class understand what she had been doing for the year, Brigid’s teacher showed her class the clip of the Antal family on the Today Show, where Mark and Christine were presented with Still Serving Awards for their continued service. “There were lots of questions because people didn’t know what was happening, because their parents don’t want to say that to them,” Brigid said. “So they were confused on what we were doing and how we were helping, but then they respected what we were doing.” 

In general, though, military children can often struggle with a sense of loneliness or isolation in school settings, especially when they are among the only kids who are part of a military family. Currently, Fiona says she has a couple classmates who are also part of military families, but Brigid and Vivi are both the only ones in their classes. “Even if I explain it, it’s really hard to understand unless you’re actually in the action,” said Fiona. “And some of them will understand it because of their parents in the military but some of them do get a little confused.” 

“They still appreciate it, but they don’t get it,” added Vivi.  

Fiona, Brigid and Vivi all agree that from the outside, being part of a military family can look really exciting: opportunities to attend fancy events, be on TV, and travel to places most of their classmates have never been to (already, the girls have been to over twenty countries). But there are also less glamorous parts that their friends don’t fully understand. “I wish they would know that life as a military kid isn’t always perfect. Because when you’re at school you can seem so happy and stuff because you’re with your friends, but then they don’t realize what we do for the world and how we help,” said Brigid. “It can be really scary and risky because you don’t know what the next move is going to be, and you might have to say goodbye to your friends. I just wish they knew that my life isn’t perfect and what we do is important.” 

Mark, who deployed over 12 times, was shot twice during his service and has traumatic brain injuries. This can affect his speech and can cause him to suffer from chronic, debilitating pain in his back and neck, as well as terrible migraines. Because of this Fiona, Brigid and Vivi have gotten used to hanging out with their dad at doctor’s appointments and have learned to be very responsible and independent. They manage their own school and activity calendars and help their dad with things like physical and language exercises: another experience many of their classmates don’t share. 

“I wish they knew how it felt because sometimes it’s really good, but sometimes it’s also bad,” said Fiona. “They won’t fully understand even if I tell them, so I wish they would understand. When we were out for more than half of the school year in 3rd grade, a lot of them, even after explaining it, did not know what it meant.” 

Even though their friends may not fully understand what the Antal family does, Fiona, Brigid and Vivi all take pride in helping their parents carry out this important, often dangerous work. “What inspires me about them is how they travel so much, to mostly the dangerous places, not the safer places,” said Vivi. “They go to the dangerous places where the wars are to bring things that will help the people that are at risk.” 

“What’s really cool about them is that they actually didn’t get forced to do what they wanted to do, they did it because they wanted to and they cared,” said Fiona. “My dad joined the military because he wanted to save the world and my mom joined the military because she wanted to save the world with talking and making statements to make it better.” 

Brigid says that one day she may want to be a military lawyer, like her mom, “because she made a difference in the world.” All three are inspired by the example set by both of their parents, pointing out proudly that they don’t just say they will do something, but actually follow through and make a difference.  “You can’t just sit and say something that you’re going to do, you have to stand up and take action,” said Brigid. “You have to actually step up and be brave and take action.” 

“My coach says that good players make other players better,” said Fiona. “Any regular person can make a difference in the world…we were just regular people, but we actually took our statement and made it into action, which made a difference in the world. Anyone can do that, so we want to teach them to do it.”