Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Brats vs C.H.A.M.P.S debate goes on...

If you've been reading this blog, you may know that I've written twice about Jennifer and Debbie Fink, the mother-daughter pair who tried and failed to get people to stop referring to military kids as "brats" and embrace their new acronym, CHAMPS (Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel).  Both of those posts got a lot of feedback from military brats around the world.  Indeed, I was astonished by the number of people who read my posts about the brats vs CHAMPs phenomenon.

As I've written before many times, I am myself an Air Force "brat", though my experiences growing up a brat were not of the stereotypical country crossing/globe trotting sort.  I was born late in my dad's Air Force career and he was retired by the time I was six years old.  I still grew up in very military heavy communities, though, and have always been surrounded by people in the military.  I grew up going to AAFES, the commissary, and getting my healthcare at military hospitals (which are becoming a dying breed) and dispensaries.  Hell, the only time I've ever heard or used the term "dispensary" was in connection with the military.  That's what the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Virginia called the little medical facility they had... which is where I got my college physical.

Yesterday I became aware of an article that was published in the Washington Post, which may be of interest to some people who read this blog.  Reporter John Kelly, himself an Air Force brat, interviewed the Finks as well as a number of "brats" and presents a fairly balanced view of the whole brats vs. CHAMPS debate.  I see from information posted in Facebook groups about this article that Mr. Kelly didn't have enough space to present every fine point about this situation.  I did learn something new when I read his article, though.

It seems that the Finks originally titled their book "The Little Brats", but were advised by certain groups, notably the Military Child Education Coalition outside of Austin, that the term "brats" was not used in an official way.  MCEC president and chief executive, Mary Keller, explains that she knows people who grew up children of service members often refer to themselves as "brats", but the term isn't always considered appropriate for those who aren't in the group.  If you think about it, a lot of groups are like that.  For instance, it might be okay for homosexuals within a group to refer to themselves as "queens", but they might be offended if someone not within the group called them that.  Same might go for a group of women who refer to themselves as "bitches"... they might not want a group of men to call them that.  As someone who has advanced degrees in social work and public health, I am well aware of this phenomenon.  When I was getting my MPH/MSW, I had to change some of my own terminology.  For example, I no longer refer to "unwanted pregnancies"; instead, I call them "unintended or unplanned pregnancies".  I don't refer to "day care".  Instead, I call it "child care", since not all parents need care for their children during the daytime.

While I get that the Finks didn't want to run afoul of military bureaucrats, especially if they were being funded by them, it does seem that they missed asking actual "brats" what they want to be called.  According to Kelly's article, when Jennifer Fink presented the name CHAMPs to the powers that bed, they supposedly "loved it".  On the surface, it seems like it would have been a good idea.  Who wants to be called a "brat" when they could be called a CHAMP?  As it turns out, a lot of people were turned off by the new CHAMP moniker.  I can't speak for other "brats", but to me, it just seemed like a forced "politically correct" term, steeped in liberalism.  I have nothing against liberalism per se-- I often lean toward it myself.  But when it comes to military culture, liberalism seems kind of wimpy and reeking of bullshit.  I may embrace some of the so-called bullshit myself, but I know that the military culture as a whole is much more conservative and hawkish.  They aren't going to buy into a program that presents a special trophy to everyone.  The military culture embraces toughness and competition and tenacity, not labeling everyone a "champ" for simply being born to a person who chooses the military lifestyle.

While the Finks have done a lot of volunteering for military causes and Jennifer Fink is even engaged to be married to a service member, it seems to me that they haven't quite grasped military culture as well as they could.  I could be wrong, but it looks like the whole of the Finks' experiences with the military have been in places like Washington, DC and Europe.  Granted, there are plenty of military folks in those areas.  I wonder if they ever visited Fort Hood?  Fort Irwin?  Wright-Patterson Air Force Base?  Fort Polk?  Cherry Point?  Leavenworth?  Did the Finks go to military communities in areas that may not have been as lively and fun as DC and Europe (although I have no earthly desire to move back to the DC area)?  Did they speak to the rank and file members of the military community?  The spouses, their kids, and most importantly, those who grew up military but are no longer affiliated?  I'm guessing they probably didn't.

It's not that I can blame the Finks for not going on a tour of some of the less glamorous military installations.  If you can work with the USO and go to Italy and Germany rather than Killeen, Texas, Leavenworth, Kansas, or Barstow, California, why wouldn't you?  Except that if you're going to take on and win support from a large group of people, you have to engage them.  The impression I get is that the Finks didn't bother to engage regular people.  They hung out with bureaucrats and corporate bigwigs from USAA...  or at least, that's how it appears to me.  I could be wrong.

I do think the Finks meant well.  They were doing some good things.  I am not as pissed off at them as a lot of people seem to be.  I just think their idea to rebrand military brats was really kind of lame and they didn't do as much homework as they should have.  They can't help that they are outsiders when it comes to military brat culture, but Jennifer Fink is marrying a service member, which means that if she has children, they will likely be a part of the group.  And maybe she can learn from her kids and her own experiences once she's actually in the military culture herself and has some "skin in the game".

Independent filmmaker Donna Musil, herself an Army brat, has made a film about the "brat" experience called BRATS: Our Journey Home.  I just found out about this documentary, which features narration and music by Kris Kristofferson.  It looks like it might be good viewing for the Finks.  I believe I will also try to get a copy of the film myself.  I think there's a lot more to be learned about brat culture.  Also, for those who want to read about the military brat experience, I highly recommend Mary Edwards Wertsch's excellent book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress.  You'll find my review by clicking the link.


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