They are commonly known amongst themselves and in popular culture as “Military Brats.” This would be the child of a military family, accustomed to many geographic moves (sometimes living in foreign countries), immersed in military culture and consequently never really having a hometown.
Military brats, whether current or former children of career military families, are viewed by those who study them as one of America’s oldest subculture with up to 15 million members. They’ve also been described as a modern nomadic tribe.
Donna Musil agrees. A military brat herself and founder of Brats Without Borders, she sees them as members of an ancient but invisible tribe. “The average brat moves nine to twelve times before graduating from high school and one or both parents can be absent for weeks or years, depending on the deployment,” she explains.
Musil says brats “grow up in a paradox that can be idealistic and authoritarian, privileged and perilous, supportive and stifling all at the same time.” Their world is shaped by regional (and sometimes foreign) cultural differences, threat of parental loss during war, and the stress of making new friends as well as leaving old ones behind. As a result, when brats leave the military world, they may find themselves floundering or feeling out of sync with the “normal” world, according to Musil.
On the plus side, this group has been identified in studies of military brat populations as having a high occurrence of resilient personalities, exceptional social skills, high degree of multicultural awareness, and a very strong affinity for careers that involve service to others.
Another similarly tested group would be “Suddenly Military” brats who are reservists and National Guard families who face the additional challenges of isolation from other military-family peers as well as within their own hometown communities.
Through her nonprofit organization, Musil has been trying to bring attention to the emotional and mental challenges children have regarding this life, including and beyond deployment. “The country seems willing to face the mental challenges of soldiers and spouses, but not their children who are just encouraged to ‘be resilient,’ which in my view is the 20th century term for ‘get over it,’” she points out.
Musil is also a filmmaker and her documentary, Brats: Our Journey Home has won six awards. Narrated by Kris Kristofferson, a brat himself, the film explores the unique heritage and psychological legacy of this special subculture through interviews, shared experiences and expert insight. Among those interviewed is General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, USA (Ret.).
What advice does Musil have for a military family in these times of deployment to a combat zone? “You can make it through this – millions of families have walked in your shoes and we’re here to help,” she says. “One of the best ways to help your own military brat is through understanding. Look at ‘being a brat’ through a child’s eyes.” She also urges parents to watch the documentary, read books written by older brats and visit her website as well as other military social networking sites.
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