In recent weeks, there has been a war of two cultures across social media.
There is a group, a non-profit, called Operation C.H.A.M.P.S (Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel) that is run by a mother/daughter duo out of Maryland. A former slogan, that has since been removed from the internet, was “BRATs are now CHAMPs.”
To those familiar with military children, you know we have a special affection for the “BRAT” name. It symbolizes more emotions, history and pride than can really be put into words. The very thought that we, mere children at the time, could be called “heroes” is offensive. It not only falsely labels us, but diminishes who the real heroes were — our parents.
This act means to steal honor from our true heroes, our mothers and fathers, who have heroically served our country. We were not heroes, we tagged along. We thrived. We see this attempt to change the term of endearment known as “BRAT” as an attempt to steal the subcultural identity of millions of people around the world. Our greatest fear was a coffin draped with the American Flag. That was daily life – the root of our culture;, the source of our heritage, the very thing that makes us family. Being a BRAT is all of that to us. We do not feel at all deprived or disconnected.
Now we are in the middle of a PR war and painted as “spoiled brats.”
The BRAT flower is a dandelion. Pick a dandelion, blow the petals off and wherever they land, they will flourish. Many consider it a weed, but to us it symbolizes the strength and resourcefulness a BRAT has. We moved at least every 3 years, changed schools countless times and made and lost hundreds of friends. As military children we endured saying goodbye through eyes that held back tears, tears that were sometimes stronger than we were. We shed them in group hugs as we left, silently on a plane that was flying us to a new home and at times into new pillows that muffled our sadness. With each new assignment there was the sadness of loss yet the promise of a new adventure.
We became adept, acquired skills. These skills recently manifested in the alleged attack on Operation CHAMPS. Articles site that our actions closed essential help to military families, specifically the babysitting program. That was not our intention. That is one of the few parts of their program we applauded.
The book published by the group that wanted to change the name, The Little C.H.A.M.P.S, was a gross misrepresentation of military life filled with alcoholism, bed-wetting and shame for being a child of a service member. While researching the company, we discovered inconsistencies and strange business not commonly used by non-profits. Sponsors were unaware of the content of the materials and only saw the fact they were helping the military. Lavish trips to Europe and SE Asia were flaunted online, while the owners, the Finks, touted “bridging the gap between civilian and military children.”
The Finks do not understand the perceived disconnect that BRATs face when they “age out” or “PCS.” They call the program they offer Edu-tainment. BRATs do not need a song and dance filled with a fantastical misrepresentation of military life. Speaking from personal, lifelong experience, they need help with reintegration.
I, along with a newly formed group of like minded BRATs, are in the process of redressing the void, small as it may have been. There are over 3,000 of us actively working (millions in the background), without pay but with passion, to make the life of the military child better than ever. Teachers, writers, medical professionals, and activists from around the world are answering the call.
We have welcomed everyone with open arms, offered a chance to dialog with the Finks, but we had been shut out. We feel recent columns published about what happened reflect the gross misunderstanding. I am here to show you our side.
We are not “spoiled brats.” We are proud children of real heroes, fighting for our legacy, our heritage, and our birthright and the chance to help our younger brethren of today.
Michael Hyatt spent the years 1975-1993 moving from base to base in the European theater. Upon moving to the States, he went through years of reintegration troubles, joined the USAF and finally settled down as a novelist.
Photo courtesy U.S. Army.