Circe Olson Woessner
When service members join the military, both they and their families embark on an unconventional lifestyle—one full of opportunity, but also of sacrifice, as part of that service to America.
Military kids live with the constant reminder that their parent (or parents) could go off to war or be called up to respond to a national emergency at any time. They experience loss on a regular basis: their parent missing milestones such as birthdays, graduations or family holidays; friends moving away or events being cancelled due an unexpected TDY or alert.
Military kids move a lot. My own Army family moved 18 times in 20 years; our boys grew up in Germany, Puerto Rico and on several installations across the United States. They changed schools frequently—even within the school year—and were constantly saying goodbye to classmates and friends. They rarely saw their grandparents or cousins.
This fluid lifestyle has profound impact on military kids’ lives, and influences the way they think, feel and behave. While they are unique individuals, they all share common childhood experiences such as extreme mobility, frequent absence of the military parent and segregation from the civilian community. Some kids embrace the life, and wax nostalgic in later years; some grow up and join the military or federal service and others walk away as soon as they can and never look back.
In 1986, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger established April as the “Month of the Military Child,” recognizing U.S. military children ranging in age from infant to 18 years old, who have one or both parents serving in the armed forces. Since then, school districts, military installations and the commissary and exchange systems honor military children during the month of April.
A Brief Introduction into Military Brat Culture
While military children go by many nicknames, the term “brat” has been around a long time and is the most widely accepted.
According to Wikipedia, “the origin of the term ‘military brat’ is unknown. There is some evidence that it dates back hundreds of years into the British Empire, and originally stood for ‘British Regiment Attached Traveler’. However, acronyms are a product of the 20th century and all attempts to trace this theory have failed to find a legitimate source.”
No matter where the word originated, many military children have embraced the term, although in recent years, there have been other alternatives proposed. But an argument against those alternatives is that when military children grow up, they are no longer “military children” or “mil kids,” so “brat” is timeless.
Misty Corrales, who, along with her husband Jon, designed the first National Brats Day logo says, “Some people view [brat] as derogatory or insulting. How can it be when our culture identifies with it and embraces it? At its most basic translation, ‘brat’ merely means ‘child of’. Military brats are children of the military. But we grow up. We’re not always children. And trust me, we’re not spoiled.
Military Brat ID Seal founder, Terrill Ann Major agrees, “We embrace a unique military subculture and heritage all our own.”
Major recognized the need to document that unique heritage, and with the input of hundreds of fellow brats, designed the Military Brat ID Seal. The Brat Seal has “Pluribus Locis Nostrum” as part of the design, which translates to “many places are home” which truly reflects brat heritage, past, present and future.
In 1998, a grassroots movement online chose the dandelion as the “Official Military Brat Flower.”
“The [dandelion] puts down roots almost anywhere. It is almost impossible to get rid of…It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates… This just illustrates my motto, which is ‘bloom where you’re planted’.”–—-Anne Christopherson
And so, the dandelion was adopted. Over the years, dandelions have cropped up on pins, bumper stickers, tee shirts and insignia—instantly identifying military children to each other.
Purple symbolizes all branches of the military, as it is the combination of Army green, Marine red, and Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force blue. During the month of April, people are encouraged to wear purple to show support to military children.
“Children of the world, blown to all corners of the world, we bloom anywhere!”
National Military Brats Day
In 2016, a group of adult military brats through another grass-roots movement on social media partnered to make April 30 the official National Military Brats Day.
Why April 30th?
Through discussions, participants agreed that April 30, the last day of the month honoring military children, would be most meaningful to adult brats. It would symbolize the time many of them– at age 18—or 23 if they were in college– gave up their ID cards and left behind the only life they’d ever known.
“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.
Military brats can usually seek and find one another in public settings, much like veterans can, and thanks to social media, military brats can now seek out and reconnect with childhood friends. There are many Facebook groups, some very general; some of which are branch, base or school specific.
Since moving the museum to Tijeras, East Mountain brats have stopped by to introduce themselves. They’ve been watching the museum’s progress, and like what they see. Our local brats are pastors, hotel managers, school principals, letter carriers and federal workers. They own businesses and volunteer in the community. In essence, they are everywhere, but aren’t highly visible—unless you know what to look for…
…Especially in the month of April, people wearing purple or dandelions displayed on clothes or on jewelry might indicate that the wearer is a brat. Military Brat ID Seal designs can be found on pins, challenge coins, and fabric patches. License plate holders or the plates themselves might spell out “brat.” Military Brats Registry sells dandelion globes and special challenge coins. All of these symbols recognize, honor or show appreciation and love for brats and their culture.
Clare who wrote a quote for our “Brathood” project sums up what being a brat means for her, “I’m proud to be a brat and all that entails, especially being an ambassador for the military and ‘your’ branch to civilians. After all, as my sister says, ‘this is the most exclusive club in the world – no amount of money or fame can get you in; you’re born into it, and bloom.’”
So, this April, seek out one of the many online groups conducting virtual celebrations, or, on the 30th, find your favorite brat and celebrate!