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.
Great article. Well said. Thanks for speaking for so many of us.
Career USAF Brat
You spoke to my core. Wonderful piece.
Kay Kern, Proud Army BRAT since 1951
A huge “Thank you!” for this post. You have voiced the thoughts of MANY military Brats the world over, and we support your position on this 110%. No one who has not lived the Brat life could ever fully understand, but I think your post can help them get closer to understanding, and (I hope!) to supporting us in our desire to retain our tradition, and to NOT suffer our name to be changed in order to provide a money-making opportunity for outsiders, at the expense of our military families. As you said – “Always and forever a Brat.”
Can’t even express how much I appreciate this. “Stupid blather”, bwahahahahaha!!!
I am a BRAT, too. Great blog. Keep it up!! BTW – I live in Vacaville. Not too terribly far from Sonoma. My folks are from Santa Rosa, although my Mom is a Navy BRAT and traveled until she was 7. Thank you for speaking up.
Thanks to you, fellow Brats!
Great essay!!! My Dad was combat engineers also, made SGM, retired out on a medical (Agent Orange, but govt never fessed up) in ’72. And yes….it’s spelled BRATS!!!!! And we don’t need no stinkin’ tools to cope….we cope very well, thank you…
Norman, my father eventually died of Agent Orange related cancers — as did many of his West Point classmates who went to Viet Nam. Thanks to a lot of lobbying by fellow soldiers, there was a sliver of acknowledgement that AO was the cause.
And I agree, we don’t need coping tools. If there is one thing Brats learn better than anyone, it’s coping. What bothers me most about this travesty is the USO and Red Cross money that is bankrolling a useless program when there are real needs to be met among our Military families. And the fact that USAA has repeatedly refused to spend even a penny on the wonderful Brats documentaries — produced by Brats. The producers appealed for help getting showings in Town Hall and Military base settings, but USAA — which makes its money off Military families — couldn’t spare one thin dime. Yet this PC crap, which does nothing but enrich the Finks, has all their support.”
If you want to see some good films, books and programs created for Brats and by Brats, check out: http://www.bratsourjourneyhome.com/
The Executive Director, Donna Musil, had this to say on the Stolen Valor/Stolen Identity Facebook page:
“The more I think about this Champs thing, the angrier I get. The responses so far from USO and USAA (no one else has even bothered) are insulting and insufficient. I love USAA. I never thought in a hundred years I would consider leaving them, but this is a slap in the face to all military brats, young and old. Every time Brats Without Borders asked for support for the documentary, Operation Military Brat’s screenings and town-hall meetings, giving Military Brat books (written by brats) away to public libraries, presenting workshops on the brat culture to parents, professionals and teens – we were always turned down. USAA ran some wonderful articles about the film and brought me to USAA to give a presentation about “growing up military” to their staff. It was wonderful. But their corporate giving department has never given one dime to Brats Without Borders – in 15 years – or any other brat-run organization, as far as I know. We have clubs for kids (run by real brats), we have art camps for kids (run by real brats). No support for those programs. But they are more than happy to throw money at these interlopers who are trying to disenfranchise an entire culture, all the while funneling money from their nonprofit to their for-profit company? Really?
I’ve been watching this ‘lil open argument since day one, I’ve read everything I could find, and then I read you. After spurting coffee through my nose several times, I was hooked. To me, you have expressed the sentiments of all the BRATS out there clearer, and more concisely, than I would’ve thought possible. You’ve stated the ‘essence’ of BRAT and touched every detriment, every benefit, and every bit of sarcasm that is innately drilled into our fibers. You did not miss the compassion.
Well done! Yours words should be the bugle call, splayed across the Stars and Stripes! (…um…the newspaper. Certainly, every DoDDS teacher should have this in-hand.)
I am a BRAT and a father of 3 of my own. You covered all the bases nicely except one. The icing on the cake is that the vomit worthy C.H.A.M.P. acronym is also a commercially registered trademark. All this tour bluster is a self-serving introduction of a commercial label to be supported by the armed services support groups. It’s a blatant attempt to turn the BRAT community into a CHAMP commodity with royalties for it’s use.
The only tool we need to help us cope is being a BRAT! Pretty simple…leave well enough alone that has worked for hundreds of years… that lady needs to get her fame by trying to defend the Constitution which is being abused…
Best commentary I’ve read on this attempt of identity theft by the Finks–mother and daughter trying to make a buck mis-interpreting OUR lives. I hope their little scheme simply fades away once their sponsors realize just how ticked off the BRAT community is. Thanks.
Excellent!!! You are so right. When someone says to me I am a Brat I feel an instant connection. Air Force brat since 1965!!
Yes BRATS has been around for hundreds of years. It probably did not become an acronym until a hundred yes or so ago. And it does stand for British Regiment Attached Traveler. It is still in use by us, Canadian BRATS the UK and several other countries we are all Military BRATS.They are all with us. Not only the terrible name they want to change it ti, but they are brainwashing our children and grandbrats by washing away our history and legacy The Finks claim they are non profit but run everything through their for profit company. The sponsors and all that donate to then are paying for their worldwide tour as they stay in 5-star hotels and eat at expensive returns. This is appalling as neither Fink has a clue what it means to be a BRAT
VERY WELL WRITTEN, TRUE AND HEARTFELT!!!!! THANK YOU!!! ONCE A BRAT ALWAYS A BRAT!!!
Nancy, then I stand corrected and defer to my Canadian and British Brat cousins.
Lisa, very well said. I am furious about this whole thing, but particularly the support these ‘ladies’ are getting from the USO and USAA (who has been advertising their ‘brand’ on tv to BRATs lately). USO has denied supporting the Finks. Really? Then who paid for their trip? Whose logo is on their web pages, etc? I’d call that support. And USAA is also doing their best to ignore the BRATs who contact them on this issue.
It is nothing more than a money grab by a pair of snake oil salesmen.
Proud to be an Air Force BRAT! For 68 years.
Thank you for your delightful, witty piece!! Now as for the USAA problem, everyone needs to Plaster their page and Demand they Stop Refysing to Ignore and Patronuze Us!! Shame on those A
rogant Idiots, ( the people making the calls, not the ones trying to do good)…
Opps, sorry for the typos, it wouldn’t let me change them.
I would give you a hug if I could. This was so beautifully said. Instead I will raise my glass of wine to you and say Cheers, Brat sister, well done. You did your father proud! He’s smiling !
thank you for your eloquent and, based upon my experience as a Navy BRAT ????, accurate depiction of what we were and are about and the positive aspects of our life experiences. I would change NONE of it!
I am an Air Force brat, and am proud of that. My father is the hero. He served for 21 years. Thanks for a great article.
Love, Love, Love ~ You expressed it perfectly!!!
Found this on Facebook. I had not heard anything about this, until now. Thanks for the info. I am a proud Air Force BRAT, and dependent wife. My dad served 27 years, and my husband served 21 years. They are the heroes. But, we do belong to a special order, as stated above. Only another BRAT knows what it means to be a BEAT. Civies don’t have a clue. ????
Oops! That should read BRAT, not BEAT.
Always one to eschew labels and those who feel it is their place to assign them, I hope I get this right when I describe myself as a part-time Navy Brat. And darn proud of it. Dad’s father died suddenly when dad was 9, in a tiny farming town in sw Iowa. Dad was smart enough to know only a great education and hard work were the ticket to getting off the family’s 30 acres and a mule (farmed by neighbors) and personally established a 25 year one on one relationship with his Congressman, Rep. Ben Jensen who personally, PERSONALLY, wrote back and forth with my father advising him on classes, how to prepare for a service academy appointment and eventually awarding my father a commission to the U.S. naval academy, often mistakenly referred to as Annapolis a sort of surrogate father. Can you imagine this today? You’d never get past an intern. . My father graduated n the top percentile of his class, inexplicably as a 6 foot : 3 inch bean pole opted for the submarine service, served his required 5 years and theme want to law school and spent the next 30 summers spending time in the naval reserves…and so my part time status as a naval brat. Summers in old Lyme CTt while dad was at Groton, at Virginia beach while he went on maneuvers out of Norfolk, and time on bases where everyone was polite, well mannered and good to be around. We were raised to be well behaved, strict rules at home ( which may explain my brief enjoyment of freedom in college) and knew how to respect our elders use good manners and be proud of the work our families were supporting. My father always said the best people he ever knew were the people he knew from his days in the service and in the naval reserves. I agree. I still love going to MacDill AFB here in Tampa because people of all races creeds colors backgrounds ranks countries and services are polite respectful helpful and just calm nice. It’s the way I wish the world were more like. I’m proud of my family, of our support for the military and the service my father and ancestors rendered for the United stated. We don’t need another netball like this woman, but my dad flight for her right to say what she wants. I’ll do my best to articulate my truth and hope the rest of us brats can get our truthfulness out there and make her go away b
Great article. And your last sentence gave me a laugh out loud moment. Thanks.
Not a BRAT, but thank you so much for addressing the overuse of the “h” word. There are heroes in the world, but the overuse has devalued the word as to make it almost meaningless. I work on a Navy base, and come in contact with many military families, BRATs in tow, daily. Spouses and children most definitely serve along with the service member, but they don’t want, nor do they need, this kind of patronizing.
Your words are my words – just like I’m sure they are the words of the rest of my extended family of BRATS! I feel like I’ve come to the party late, just finding out about all of this, this week. But, I am here now and am joining everyone scratching their head wondering why this lady thinks she can just change who I am. I was born a brat & raised a brat, and love everything that entails.
BRAT for life!
Well said, well done. Keep up the charges against the ridiculous, politically correct, nonsensical world of the self publishing and self-promoting folks who feel that every issue deserves a book.
Signed, a proud Canadian Air Force Brat. (past present and future).
(I often feel sorry for people who have lived in the same place their entire lives….although, it mostly comes as a result of hearing ‘small’ things said that could be influenced by a broader context of world experience). I’m grateful for my life, and every experience it gave me.
Your Alaska picture is from Otter Lake on Ft Richardson/Elmendorf in Anchorage. I have a similar picture of me and was then stationed there myself.
Thanks, Rich. We were indeed stationed near Anchorage. I’d always thought it was Denali Park.
Why I love my Air Force brats. They know what a real hero is. They are now in their 50’s, and I still see the effects of them growing up in a military family. They know the meaning of responsibility, they are more knowledgeable and tolerant of other cultures than their peers. They are comfortable meeting new people. They are not intimidated by bogus shows of authority and importance. They love their country, and know there is no better. They are quiet, polite, self-assured, and strong. Their late father taught them all these things by example.
Wow. So many issues to comment on and so many eloquent comments by others. Yes the word “hero” is overused (football players?) and now we have to listen to this tiresome woman with her cloying, patronizing and phony champ promotion; ugh! There are so many worthy organizations trying to help military families, and it’s shameful that the USO and others are supporting this. I am so sorry that your father and many of his brave comrades were felled so long after combat by the devastating effects of Agent Orange. Like the Americans, the Vietnamese are still suffering, as well. I have been involved with a Seattle-based NGO called Peace Trees Vietnam, and they are making a POSITIVE difference in Quang Tri Province: clearing UXOs, cleansing the soil of Dioxin, building schools and so much more. And, their biggest private benefactors are Vietnam vets. Their Citizen Diplomacy trips are very rewarding ; definitely travel
with a purpose. Check out their website and read their story. Jerilyn Brusseau and her many supporters are true heroes, not this fake Fink person. BTW, always a terrier angle: the people we got Django from also train SFTs to be service dogs for vets with PTSD. Hero dogs for hero vets!
We stand united. WE ARE BRATS!
I can’t thank you enough!
Proud AF Brat since 1952
You can’t hear me, but I am applauding! Very well written and certainly conveys what so many of us are feeling right now. We may not know each other personally, nor do I personally know all the other thousands that have gathered together to fight for what is ours, but one thing is sure. There is a unity just in being a BRAT, that pulls us all together.
We have no hometown, we have no ID for any base, we have no ‘base’ even if we did have the ID, we have no official position in the military, we have no official position in the government… we have our name, BRATS. And I’ll be damned if we’re going to give it up!
Love, Love, Love this piece!
And let me add from my own personal experience Caleb, Riley and Noah (but mostly Riley – he will be a Naval Aviator) do not need a self esteem boost! Call them what you will (brats) they don’t care.
They don’t care.
Every day they prove to me that our future is bright and we have little to fear.
Or, in a fiery flash, they will destroy all life as we know it. One or the other, either way we have little to fear and our future will be bright.
As usual, someone is trying to make a buck off our military’s sacrifices. The big businesses
who think that Veterans Day is a good time to sell their junk, and that memorial day is all about hot dogs and hamburgers. Now, along comes a person-with no connection to the armed forces-who thinks it would be a nice, lucrative idea to change the proud “military brat” title (yes, TITLE) to military “champs”.
I have been a military brat since 1943 when my father got leave from Germany, hitched a ride on a B-24 with 4 other guys and only one oxygen mask between them, and came to see me, his newborn son. Since then I have lived in bombed-out Germany, through Morocco’s revolution when our school buses were escorted by armored car, and under the dictatorship of Spain’s Franco until I went off to serve my country as my father and grandfathers before me did.
You, Ms.Fink, have absolutely no right to change our title without our consent, and the Brats Memorial to our departed classmates says so as well. You should be ashamed of yourself for trying to make a profit from our service.
I am a retired senior NCO, my daughter, a BRAT, has no lack of self esteem. She has been to 13 different countries and 40 States. She has been flying alone since she was 12 (To Germany with a stop in Paris) and the globe is her hometown, she worked hard, emulating her parents in her studies and today is a Scientist in one of the toughest fields in the Sciences. 47 began her undergraduate program, five graduated, 3 of those 5 were Brats. And two of those three were female. She speaks three languages, two fluently and holds dual citizenship. She is a high achiever and even the Brats I know that are not high achievers are still higher achiever’s than most of their civilian counterparts. She definitely merges towards other Brats and they towards her, and they are all proud of their title..BRAT.
I know plenty of Brats, they have no shortage of self esteem and if anything in a lot of cases too much self esteem because they learned independence early on.
If the “Brat community” allows this woman to make a case in public that Brats suffer from low self esteem and need their name and tradition changed…then you are not living up to the title you have EARNED.
Do not let this woman make you victims. Civilians have a way of turning the entire military into victims and usually for profit and to build their own low self esteem.
Love it Rootin’ Tootin’ Billy Bob! Congratulations to your daughter. She is an uber-Brat. As you can tell, this whole CHAMPs thing is about a money grab. The travesty is that there are so many worthy programs created by Brats and for Brats. Only someone who has lived the life can really speak to the Brat experience. Sometimes even former Army officers don’t get what Brats went through. It’s one thing to choose the life when an adult. It’s another to grow up in and develop the very special skills the life demands.