Military brats know no place like home
By Alison apRoberts - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, February 24, 2007
Story appeared in SCENE section, Page K1
Where are you from?
It's a quick and easy question for most of us, but not for many who grew up in military families.
Military brats -- the term used by those who grew up here, there and everywhere their parents (usually fathers)
were stationed -- can have a little trouble figuring out how to respond to questions about home.
Donna Musil found an answer for herself while writing and directing a new documentary, "Brats: Our Journey Home."
"That question that we hate, 'Where are you from?'
Now, I have an answer," Musil says, speaking by phone from Eatonton, Ga.,
which is her home, for now anyway. "I'm not from a place, but I'm from a group of people.
(Realizing that) really did bring me a sense of belonging that I never had. It's wonderful."
The documentary has been making its own tour of duty, hitting film festivals and community screenings.
(It won an Emerging Eye award for first-time directors at the 2006 Roving Eye Documentary Film Festival
and a best documentary award at the 2006 Estes Park Film Festival.) The movie will be shown at free
screenings at 3 and 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Crest Theatre downtown.
Musil belongs to a big group -- estimated at 12 million in the United States, including 150,000 people
in the Sacramento area, according to Marc Curtis, the founder of an online military brat registry.
And it's a group whose notion of home is global.
"We're really citizens of the world," says actor Kris Kristofferson, a brat and narrator of the documentary.
Other brats in the movie include Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Mary Edwards Wertsch, the author of
"Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress."
There are film clips from "The Great Santini," about a bullying Marine dad (based on the novel
of the same name by brat Pat Conroy), and interviews with grown-up brats.
There are poignant images from family photos and home movies.
Military brats pack their own distinctive psychological baggage, positive and negative,
from growing up in this nomadic subculture.
The pluses include a love of travel, a sense of ease in diverse communities, a sense of
public service and an ability to adjust to change.
The minuses include repeated experiences of loss every time the family moves (as often as every couple of years for many),
a feeling of responsibility for a parent's career (children's misbehavior often is reported to commanding officers)
and a loss of personal freedom in a hierarchical social setting where orders must be followed.
Some brats continue a rootless life as adults; others insist on sticking with one address.
Musil, 46, moved 12 times in 16 years as a kid.
She kept right on moving as an adult, changing addresses 19 times in 20 years.
Ginny Douglas decided to stay put once she moved to Sacramento in 1981.
"I envied people who had always lived in the same town in the same place.
It made me determined not to move," says Douglas, whose father was in the Air Force.
She grew up in Libya, Turkey and Virginia.
Douglas, 63, remembers the strangeness of missing the events of popular culture in the States --
including the cultural teen currency of pop music -- while living overseas.
"You have gaps in your culture when you come back," she says.
But she also points to the positive of enjoying travel and a taste for international experience.
"Your world can never be as small again," she says.
Curt Robinson settled in his college town -- Davis -- after growing up all over, from Japan to Turkey.
"Four years as an undergraduate was as long as I'd lived anywhere," he says.
Robinson, 55, has had a Davis address for about 30 years.
He sees being a brat as a privilege and a challenge.
"It's a mixed bag," he says. "It has a lot of positives associated with it,
just by virtue of being exposed to world culture and tolerance for others.
On the other hand, there's a lot of disruptions.
I've managed to keep friends, but it's been a concerted effort.
In the Internet-enabled age, members of this wandering tribe have more options than ever to reconnect.
Curtis, who is 55 and lives in East Highland in Southern California,
set up his registry for military brats in the United States in 1997.
Close to 77,000 people have registered at www.militarybrat.com.
Curtis had lived in 10 places, from Yokohama, Japan, to Fort Bliss,
Texas, by the time he finished high school in Pleasant Hill.
Now, thanks to his registry, he is in touch with far-flung friends of his childhood.
The knowledge that he's part of a numerous and distinctly American has given him a new way to answer, "Where are you from?"
"When you tell them, people either think you're bragging or you're lying," he says.
"I've gotten to the point where I say, 'I'm an Army brat.'
People seem to understand that these days."
About the writer:
The Bee's Alison apRoberts can be reached at (916) 321-1113 or email@example.com.
BRATS: OUR JOURNEY HOME
WHAT: A 90-minute documentary about "growing up military," written and directed by Donna Musil
WHEN: 3 and 7 p.m. Tuesday WHERE: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St.
INFORMATION: (916) 442-5189