Our nation’s Military and Military families are facing serious issues: parents who are still deployed, parents struggling with PTSD and horrific physical injuries, not to mention the shocking fact that up to 25% of the nation’s total active duty and reserve personnel rely on food stamps and food pantries to put dinner on their tables. There are many kind-hearted people who want to help with their donations. Unfortunately, there are many opportunists who see the plight of Military families and our vets as a golden chance to don a bright shining halo and line their pockets with a good chunk of those well-meaning contributions. I’m going to tell you about just such a scam — which has been aided, abetted and bankrolled by The USO, The Red Cross, the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), United Through Reading, USAA, Operation Homefront and others who were either duped, willing participants or failed to practice due diligence as to where they were spending your donations.
With all of the aforementioned and often life-threatening problems facing Military families, what do you think Operation C.H.A.M.P.s and Team Fink have decided is the most important issue to tackle? It’s the fact that the time-honored term Military Brat, which the children of American, Canadian and British Military personnel have worn with pride for over 100 years, is damaging to our little psyches. Her whole campaign centers on changing that name to C.H.A.M.P.s or Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel — a name change, as I outlined here, that is offensive and soundly rejected by the Brat community. Currently, Team Fink is on an all-expense paid junket across Europe, bankrolled by the USO, to “edu-tain” kids at Military bases about how they are now C.H.A.M.P.s. Actually, the goals of Operation CHAMPs are very fuzzy and ever changing depending on which of their many websites you land on. Besides raising Military kids’ self-esteem, they claim to be focussed on helping Civilians understand what Military kids go through. Although where Debbie Fink is going to find Civilians on the bases of Europe is questionable. Perhaps she’s doing that outreach at the various Five Star hotels and expensive restaurants and galas that the USO is helpfully underwriting for her and her team. Another stated goal is to “make CHAMPs feel as American as any other kids” (see this Fox News interview on YouTube.) Excuse me! I would posit that no one feels MORE American than Military kids. Spend one day on a base and you see, promptly at five o’clock when Retreat plays, every kid stops in his tracks, puts his hand over his heart and remains silent until the National Anthem finishes. But back to the money grab. Once the Finks are Stateside, they have some Traveling Classroom CHAMPs Kits to sell your school (at $399 a pop). They’d like you to raise donations to pay for these kits so you can buy them from that old for-profit family publishing company, Harmony Hearth.
If you don’t care about the insult of changing the time-honored term Brat to CHAMP, even if you aren’t affiliated with the Military, you should care very very deeply about this scam. Donations are so hard to come by and there are few causes as worthy at helping the families of our serving Military. To allow this much money to be siphoned off into the pockets of a family that has no family connections to the Military, has never lived the life and is shockingly tone-deaf to the community’s values, traditions, ethos and concerns should make your blood boil. In one horrible example, I’ll show you how out of touch Team Fink is with the Military. Debbie Fink somehow got herself invited to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. She engineered getting a copy of her book, The Little CHAMPS, affixed to the center of the wreath, then used the picture as promotional material on her various sites. The fact that she thinks this hallowed ground is fair game for her hucksterism and product boosting is beyond reprehensible. It’s akin to scrawling a smiley face on the coffin of a dead soldier. I choose to hope that Arlington was unaware of this desecration — they can’t review every wreath that is laid. But I wrote to them nonetheless to register my protest. I suggest you do too at this link. Be sure to use the pull-down menu to address it to Public Affairs.
“But”, you say, “Team Fink is putting a smile on Military children’s faces with their programs, songs and books. Surely there is a value in that?” Well, let’s look at the questionable value of the program. First of all, from its esteem-building programs, outreach, and “entertainment”, this program offers absolutely nothing that will meaningfully impact the lives of Military children. In fact, there are numerous long-standing programs, created and run by Brats for Brats, that have long been uniting Military kids and bringing their story to Civilians. For just one of them, I’ll point to Brats without Borders which is run by the producer of the award-winning documentary, Brats: Our Journey Home, which features Brats — including Norman Schwartzkopf and Kris Kristofferson, telling their stories. It’s worth noting that as the producer sought donations to facilitate screenings of this excellent film in town hall settings, USAA and MCEC gave not one thin dime. Yet they bankroll Operation Champs. I should also note that Debbie Fink made the rounds of interviewing several directors of these Brat run initiatives; read the scholarly definitive book on Brat life, Mary Wertch’s Brats: Legacies of Life Inside the Fortress; then cribbed their programs and research, slathered them with a thick layer of psychobabble and Political Correctness, and regurgitated it into this appallingly trite and poorly written book and “edu-tainment” program. To get a taste of it, you might check this information sheet. If you want to read the full thing, as I did, seek it out at a library. Please do not buy it.
To give you another idea how out of step this woman is with the Brat life, part of her “edu-tainment” program includes songs such as “Goodbye is Not Forever, Goodbye is Not the End”. One of the empowering but sobering things about Brat life was that it gave us a heaping dose of reality at a very early age. When I was a Brat during the height of the Viet Nam War, all of us Brats knew that goodbyes very often WERE forever. We all knew of fathers, brothers and other relatives and relatives of friends who said goodbye and it was forever! Brats live in a world where we know in our bones the high cost and risk of the job our parents do. To try to tell us that our parents deployment is just a temporary separation is insulting and false.
So where do we go from here? Well, thousands of us Brats are gathered on Facebook to coordinate efforts to bring our disgust with this money grab to the media, to sponsors and others. We will not stop until we achieve these goals:
1. Force Team Fink’s sponsors to give us a full accounting of the exact dollar amount they have expended on Operation CHAMPs. This accounting of expenditure must include the luxury hotels, airfare, galas, meals and other costs of Team Fink’s junkets in Korea and Europe. So far we’ve been palmed off with generic statements from PR flacks.
2. Demand that Debbie Fink and Harmony Hearth make public exactly how many book and CHAMPkit sales have been funneled through their for profit company.
3. Demand that all Operation CHAMPs sponsors refocus their donations and sponsorship to existing Brat-run initiatives and programs that have the full support of the Brat community and are legitimately operating as non-profits. This includes but is not limited to Brats without Borders, BratPin, Operation Footlocker. All books and films for purchase, showing and donation should be chosen from among the many many written by Brats. A good selection of them can be found here.
4. Ensure that, once a full accounting of the moneys wasted on Operation CHAMPs is made public, a donation in equal dollar amounts is made by each sponsor to legitimate Brat-run non-profits or vetted programs that are guaranteed to impact and improve the lives of Military families.
5. Make sure that groups who claim to support Military families — especially those who bankrolled Operation CHAMPs — open their donation and sponsorship decision-making to the light of day and the Brat community to ensure that due diligence is performed on all programs. We want to make sure that no subsequent donations are squandered on future Team CHAMPs style boondoggles!
Brats, I know I can count on you to keep the pressure on.
My Civilian friends — everyone loves to shout “We support our troops”. Here is your chance to really, really do that. Please click on the links I’ve posted above. Email, contact and mail your Congressional representatives and all the listed sponsors of Operation CHAMPs. If you can help us ensure that hard won donations actually find their way to programs that can offer true aid to our Military families, you will be taking an important stand in paying back the debt we owe those who serve.
Feel free to reference this post. Feel free to cut and paste whole paragraphs out of it into your letters. Just get the word out and stop the money grab on the backs of our veterans and their families.
NOTE: The Dandelion at the top of this post is the official flower of the Brat Community. We are blown here and there, but we always take root and thrive.
NOTE: The image of the Military family at the top of this post comes from The Heckscher Foundation for Children which has no affiliation or endorsement of any of the groups or sentiments expressed in this post.