Monday, December 3, 2007
'Brat' offers glimpse of her world
A documentary tells what it's like to grow up in a military family.
The Orange County Register
Donna Musil was a "military brat," a phrase warmly embraced by children whose parent (or parents) serve in the armed forces.
She experienced a typical brat childhood, marked by numerous moves, the frequent absence of her father,
and a degree of uncertainty regarding the future.
Before she turned 8 years old, Donna moved six times. She attended three high schools.
For Donna, brat life included rich rewards: overseas travel, close friendships within a tight-knit community and remarkable adventures.
When she reached 18, Donna turned in her military ID and essentially lost her status as a military dependent.
She was an adult, no longer a military brat and largely separated from the only life she knew – military life.
As an adult, Donna felt disconnected from her past.
After all, where is home if you never stay long enough to plant roots?
How can you locate friends from the past whose families were also highly mobile?
If you attended high school on a military base in South Korea, where might you find your old buddies?
Donna soon discovered that her struggles were typical for many of the nation's estimated 15 million adult military brats.
While some feel the urge to move every few years and are reluctant to forge lasting relationships,
others choose to plant themselves in one spot and vow to stay put for the rest of their lives.
Brats tend to share personality traits born of necessity and are generally viewed as independent, outgoing and flexible.
With the help of the Internet, Donna tracked down classmates from her Korean high school,
where she graduated in a class of 10. "For the first time," Donna says of the get-together,
"I felt like I really fit in and belonged somewhere. We were all different colors, races and religions. But we were all the same."
Donna soon founded the nonprofit organization Brats Without Borders and began researching
the unique bonds and experiences of military brats.
She solicited input from adult brats, who eagerly answered extensive questionnaires.
Hundreds poured their souls onto paper.
One respondent submitted a 72-page, typed response.
Another remarked that filling out the survey was "the best hour of therapy of my life."
As former brats worked their way through the survey,
they too came to fully realize how their experiences as military brats impacted their adult lives.
Donna – a TV and radio journalist – set out to make the first documentary about growing up military.
The project required six years of research and interviews, and even Donna admits with a chuckle that
"to commit to something for six years is a big thing for a military brat."
She sent the footage to Los Angeles film producer Tim Wurtz, a former Department of Defense brat.
"I cried through most of the film," Tim admits. He quickly committed his time and energy to the project.
The first version of "Brats: Our Journey Home" was viewed by 500 adult military brats at a reunion in Turkey.
"The response was overwhelming. People were crying and hugging me," says Donna.
The final version of the film features narration by fellow brat Kris Kristofferson and includes
interviews with retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf,
authors and mental health experts who deconstruct the ups and downs of the military lifestyle.
Brats share personal photos from postwar Vietnam, Japan and Germany
and discuss issues that range from attending the Nuremburg war crimes trials to exploring historical landmarks around the world.
The documentary, Donna says with satisfaction, "seems to be helping people and bringing people together."
And of her military brat status, Donna concludes: "I would not trade it for anything."
To purchase or learn more about "Brats: Our Journey Home," visit www.bratsfilm.org.
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