There is a Hurricane Katrina sized shitstorm brewing among present and former military dependent groups on Facebook and elsewhere and it centers on the name we go by: Military Brats, Air Force Brats, Army Brats, Navy Brats or just plain Brats. I’m not sure when the children of serving military started being called Brats — but it’s been a tradition for well over a hundred years. There’s a story floating around that it’s a 300 year old acronym for British Regiment Attached Travelers. I don’t believe that for the minute it would take a self-respecting Brat to drop down and give you ten. First of all, acronyms are a fairly recent thing and, secondly, the acronym sounds just too forced. I’m 100% sure the term Brat means just what you think it does — in the traditional definition of a child, but inferring an urchin, perhaps one traveling along in a pack with other children and their parents. Sort of like a passel of gypsy kids. Very apropos. I don’t even mind that the generic term has come to mean a somewhat unruly child or a scamp. Growing up as an Army Brat, I always felt that we Brats were a little cocky. It’s an attitude you get when you learn, from a very early age, that you can be picked up from one place, dropped several hundred or thousand miles away and, within days, get the full lay of the land, get acclimated and keep on keepin’ on. Yeah, there’s a little bit of a Brat superiority attitude toward our more landlocked Civilian counterparts. Hometown? We don’t need no steenkin’ hometown. The world is our hometown.
But now, along comes Debbie Fink who, with no personal experience in or with the Military, has coauthored a book with her daughter that she hopes will rebrand us as CHAMPs or Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel. I’ll get to that name later. But from perusing Debbie Fink’s Facebook page, it seems her premise is that we Brats have been suffering under depressed self-esteem and other psychological problems as a direct result of being referred to by a name she sees as derogatory. If only, if only, we were called something more “positive”, we would straighten up and fly right. What is immediately obvious is that this self-style “Edu-tainer” has found a way to cash in on a children’s book and a series of songs, work books and presentations. She’s targeted a large, easy to find audience — military kids — and expanded that potential audience by claiming that her materials are also for Civilian kids to educate them as to what we Military kids are all about — and presumably how best to help us. So far, they’ve been wildly successful. Team Fink has convinced sponsors including the USO, the Red Cross, and USAA (all of whom should know better) to bankroll a tour around Europe’s DoD schools where she can sing to, perform for and edu-tain all those poor little Brats who will blossom once they learn they are really CHAMPs.
Here’s the issue. Brat is not some derogatory term forced on us by others a la Native Americans being called Redskins — a term they see as pejorative and which they would never use and have never used to refer to themselves. Brat is a term that comes out of the Military and which we have always used to identify ourselves. Proudly! When someone asks about my background, I never say, “My dad was in the Military”. I say, “I was an Army Brat”. In fact, often I don’t use the past tense. Because if you were born into a Military family, being a Brat is your birthright. Once a Brat, always a Brat. It’s tribal. If I mention that I’m an Army Brat and someone else says “I was a Navy Brat!”, nothing else needs explaining. With that one word, you know so much about each other’s background that you can start from a place of Instant Best Friend. Or at least from a bond similar to Masonic Brotherhood. I dare you to find any organization or Facebook group for or about present or former Military dependents that doesn’t have the word Brat in the title. And Brat is always capitalized. Sometimes it’s in all caps as BRATS. I would suggest we add exclamation points.
Now if all Team Fink were trying to do was rebrand us with a stupid acronym, we’d just laugh. I would posit that long after the Finks have returned from their expense account trip, we’ll still be calling ourselves Brats. What really rubs us the wrong way is that the particular name she has chosen flies in the face of everything that the Military and Military families are all about. And it is downright insulting to have anyone — let alone a woman with ABSOLUTELY NO AFFILIATION OR CONNECTION WITH THE MILITARY — choose this particular term for our forced rebranding.
The term “hero” has always been overused by the Civilian world — and that’s increased ten-fold since 9/11. Now everyone from the fireman who saves a child’s kitty to someone who ties yellow ribbons around a tree is called “a hero”. I’ll tell you the one community where you will seldom IF EVER hear the term hero, especially not when referencing oneself: the Military. For my father, a decorated combat engineer and veteran of two wars, the most excruciating moments were always when he was in full dress uniform and some Civilian walked up and asked him what he got each medal for. His standard answer: “Just for doing my job.” I’ve attended a number of my father’s West Point reunions and talked to dozens of genuine heroes — if you define heroes as guys who stormed Normandy Beach, liberated concentration camps, served with honor in the thick of the bloodiest fighting in Korea, and lost limbs saving their comrades in Viet Nam. Most are uncomfortable talking about their exploits — many of which have been made into movies starring A-List actors. The most common remarks I would hear: “I’m not a hero, but I served with heroes” and “I had the privilege of serving with valiant men.” Because the code of the Military is that for every guy who takes out the nest of snipers or lands first on the beachhead, there is a vast team of comrades whose service and teamwork allowed that act of heroism to take place. That sort of team mentality and the sense that we were part of a greater whole was instilled in us Brats. The family unit was seen as integral to the military career. I know I’m not the first Brat who was told, “Remember, your behavior reflects on your father’s rank and the reputation of the Army. Be worthy of it.” Some of us embraced that challenge, some of us rebelled against it. But I think all of us understood that the expectation was there. The Military is filled with teams and few, if any people, who call themselves heroes.
Can you imagine then the horror of Brats — who know the measure of a hero and how sparingly that term is used — to be told that they are Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel? As if we were on some sort of PC, self-esteem improving volleyball team where everyone gets a trophy just for showing up. Many of us have parents who were legitimate heroes. I’m sure all of us know a hero whose act of heroism meant they didn’t return to their family. We are not heroes just by virtue of being born to a military parent and we recoil at the notion that someone — especially someone not from our community — would decide they could stick that label on us. When you throw the term “hero” around indiscriminately, you cheapen its meaning for those who really earned it, often with their lives and blood. That’s why one of the anti-Little CHAMPs groups on Facebook is called: Stolen Valor, Stolen Identity. Team Fink is effectively trying to erase a self-identification of which we are inordinately proud and steal the valor of our parents and others from our community. The fact that the USO, the Red Cross and USAA are bankrolling this is especially egregious.
Which is not to say that I don’t commend the desire to help military dependents. When I was growing up, it seemed there were many support groups for military families from free daycare, to teen clubs and activities, to welcoming committees and the sponsoring families program at every new posting. Perhaps there should have been more. Again, I’m not the only Brat who remembers being assigned the kids of a newly posted family and told my job was to make sure they settled in and made friends. And that wasn’t just a suggestion. It was a duty you were expected to perform — and usually did willingly as it wouldn’t be too long before you’d be the new kid and want someone to show you the ropes. I understand that there have been cutbacks since my day. The single shocking fact that a large segment of the families of our enlisted personnel rely on food stamps and other benefits is signal enough that we need more support for our troops and their families.
But a bogus “esteem building” edutainment program aimed at a PC rebranding of our tribe? Ridiculous! There’s nothing wrong with our self-esteem. Remember those self-effacing heroes I talked about earlier? The only thing I remember them bragging about were the boasts of those who were also Brats. I stood around with some 80 year old WWII paratroopers who were still playing the old Brat game of comparing how many schools and far-flung postings they’d gone through before they turned 18. The Brat with the most won the bragging rights.
So, if you are a Brat, if you know Brats or you want to support a Brat, stop this stupid woman before she spreads her blather any further or grabs another penny of USO or Red Cross money that should be going toward really helping Military personnel and their families.
The BRATS: Stolen Valor/Stolen Identity Facebook group is coordinating efforts to protest this woman’s money grabbing junkets. They have links to a number of Change.org and other petitions you can sign on-line.
Or write to the USO, Red Cross and USAA asking them to drop their support for her. (The Stolen Valor group has a lot of emails for these people.)
If you want to be a bit of a troll, you can post a one star review for Debbie Fink’s Little Champs book on Amazon.
Remember, show your anger, but be civil. We are representing Brats and Military families.
Which is why I won’t ask why a woman who goes around with the name Fink thinks we Brats are the ones who need rebranding.
Note: Top image of kids playing Army by Mojo from the site, Emotive Storytelling.