What Is A Brat?

By Iain Woessner, Military Brat and Freelance Journalist

The life of a military brat is something many find hard to adequately sum up into words. Every experience is both similar and unique, and even within a random sampling of Brat perspectives you’ll find a wide and varied description of what it means to really be a Brat. Here are some quotes from filmmaker and documentarian Donna Musil’s website, Brats, Our Journey Home

“Any Chance I can get to leave the U.S. and go someplace else and bask in another culture or different culture, I’m gone. And just give me a plane ticket, you know, and I’m out of here.” –George Junne

“Trust is a big issue in my life. I don’t issue it out to people very easily. And when I do, I think there’s always this thing in the back of my head that tells me they’re going to break it.” –Heather Wilson DeSpain

“I’ve had two disastrous marriages. Not because maybe that, but I’ve not ever learned commitment. I’ve not learned the skills it takes to keep a relationship going.” –Catherine Howard Reed

Karlsruhe American High School students circa 1979

Thanks to the work of Musil and the advances in communications technology made possible by the Internet, the diaspora of the Military Brats has shrunk over time. Shared experiences can create a sense of home and belonging that many Brats have never known. Brats come in all shapes and sizes, beliefs and ways of life.

As a Brat myself, I’ve felt my share of these feelings—both the shared experiences and the isolation. It is hard to objectively or dispassionately approach the subject. And while the above quotes might impress a largely negative view of Brat life, these quotes from Operation Footlocker, a mobile Military Brat monument, paint a very different picture.

“It was a time when we were all young and full of intense energy, and the world was ours to enjoy to its fullest. To be a military brat was miserable to some…but to many others…it was the most wonderful existence imaginable. To be able to spend years in places like Frankfurt, Paris, London, Rome…and Tokyo was…a wonderful dream.” –Dragon’s Roar Web Site

“I learned as a ‘military brat’ to like and care for everyone, regardless of beliefs, creed, or race. I have passed this value on to my daughter, and hopefully the students I teach see this in the way I treat all students equally.” –Catherine Jesch Wright

For better or worse, Brats embody some of the most fundamental values of the Unites States Military. Determination, courage, compassion…and while it may remain very difficult to define what exactly a Brat is, it will always be true that the Brats shall always take comfort in each other. With distance no longer as much of a chore as it used to be, and with great resources like Operation Footlocker and its affiliate, the Museum of the American Military Family, the next generation of Brats will grow up knowing that they aren’t alone—and that the experiences they have are shared amongst their other brothers and sisters.

And though they may never have carried a rifle or marched in a line, these Brats have served their country and its history all the same.

“The worst thing about being a military brat is not being a military brat anymore. When they take away your ID card, they take away your life. Everything you’ve known. Everything that is security to you.” –Marc Curtis, founder of Military Brats Registry 

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