New England Entertainment Digest review
George T. Marshall (Executive Director, Rhode Island International Film Festival), New England
When I was child, I was very fortunate to have been able to travel around the globe. My father, you
see, was in the Navy and he was stationed in a number of exotic locales. The family traveled with him.
As a matter of fact, we spent four and a half years in Japan prior to his retirement and those memories
are still strong for me today as though I was there last week.
Now I know, it was a while ago. Friends, being less than charitable would say all this happened when
dinosaurs ruled the world. In truth, it was more like the late 1950s.
I was recently sent a documentary film to review that brought back many memories associated with
my chilhood. It’s called “BRATS: Our Journey Home.” The film is about American military “brats”
who share intimate memories about their strange, but interesting childhoods - growing up on military
bases around the world, then struggling to fit into an America with which they have little in common.
Strongly and creatively directed by Donna Musil, the film hit home.
“BRATS: Our Journey Home” is a seven-year work of passion and independent filmmaker Musil’s
directorial debut. A former lawyer and daughter of an Army JAG officer, Donna’s writing credits
include “Ananse,” a children’s animated film in development in London/Ghana; Rebuilding
America’s Communities, the PBS/Carter Center documentary about inner-city poverty; and
“To Kingdom Come,” a feature drama about union-busting labor lawyers featured in NY Women in
Film & Television’s Screenplay Reading Series representing "some of the best developing women screenwriters."
I’ve been on the Japan Brats website (http://japanbrats.blogspot.com/) repeatedly during the past
year after hearing from someone I had known while a child on the Yokosuka Naval Base. Musil’s film
found in me a receptive and appreciative audience. Who knew that others shared my experiences or even
cared. Musil’s film reminded me what it had been like growing up in so many different communities;
not quite fitting in with the locals and never in one place long enough to form solid friendships.
SO JUST WHO ARE THE BRATS?
Brats are children of military personnel.
How Many Brats Are There? The truth is, nobody knows. In a country obsessed with polls and statistics,
neither the Department of Defense (DoD) nor anyone else has kept a running count of the number of
children raised in the U.S. military. And you can’t tell just by looking. They’re every race, every
age, every religion. They’re everywhere. They’re your spouses, your parents, your grandchildren, your
co-workers, and your neighbors.
The DoD school system estimates it has educated around 4 million brats overseas since 1946. But
that’s only 20-30% of the total brat population, so you’re looking at a total of at least 12-20
million brats. That’s not counting the children of National Guard men and women… embassy and foreign
service personnel… DoD civilian employees… missionary families… and mobile corporate families – all
of who share more in common with military brats than with their fellow citizens.
Because brats are not easily identifiable, marketing to this “lost American tribe” (as author Pat
Conroy calls them), is a challenge, but not impossible, particularly in the United States. Statistics
indicate almost 60% of all military brats live in 10 states: Texas, California, Florida, Virginia,
Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina, Maryland, Arizona, and Washington.
The film is narrated by Kris Kristofferson, himself an Air Force Brat. Kristofferson as a
(Singer/Songwriter is known for BROKEN FREEDOM SONG, MOMENT OF FOREVER, ME AND BOBBY MCGEE, THE
HIGHWAYMEN; and as an Actor for LONE STAR, A SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER NEVER CRIES, HEAVEN'S GATE, A STAR IS
“BRATS: Our Journey Home” features Interviews with: General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Army Brat,
Retired; Mary Edwards Wertsch, Army Brat, Author, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside
the Fortress; Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, Psychotherapist, Author, The Narcissistic Family;
Morten Ender, Sociology Professor, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, Author, Military Brats and
Other Global Nomads: Growing Up in Organization Families; George H. Junne, Army Brat, Chair,
Department of Africana Studies, University of Northern Colorado, Blacks in the American West and
Beyond—America, Canada, and Mexico.
(No, I wasn’t interviewed.)
When asked why she developed the film, director Donna Musil told me:
“The idea for a non-fiction film about military children took root back in 1998. I was a labor-lawyer-
turned-struggling-writer feeling a bit out of sorts and “different” from my fellow Americans, but
didn’t know why. Then one day I discovered I was not alone. There are literally millions of us
military “brats” scattered around the world and more are being born every day. We are raised in
a separate and distinct culture that affects us deeply in both positive and negative ways.
“Making this connection to my culture gave me a sense of belonging I had never experienced,
which in turn gave me the strength to focus less on “why I was the way I was” and more on how I
could use the positive aspects of my cultural inheritance to make the world a better place. This
was indeed revelatory and empowering to a little girl who had moved twelve times on three continents,
attended three high schools, and lost a father to cancer by the time she was sixteen years old.”
I could certainly relate to what she had felt.
Being a child in a military family not only gives you a different perspective on the world
around you, but also can be an isolating experience.
Making the film was an experience in itself. According to Ms. Musil:
“It has been one roller-coaster of a ride. Seven years later, we have a film about a group of
children whose only “homes” are really each other. We actually seem to have more in common
with the military children and “global nomads” of other countries than with our fellow
citizens. And wouldn’t that be ironic and yet oddly hopeful, that the children of soldiers who
fought each other end up belonging to an almost borderless nation of people?”
What of her goals for the film?
“And that, I suppose, is my hope and my vision – that this little film might be a small spark
in a global fire of self-awareness and belonging – that from the ashes of war might rise a
nation of children committed to peace. If we can put a man on the moon... if we can dissect
the human genome into its infinitesimal parts... surely we can find a way to live peacefully
with our differences. It's a lofty goal, to be certain, but then again, we military brats are
raised on lofty goals.