BRATS: Our Journey Home A Donna Musil Film Featuring Narration and Music by Kris Kristofferson
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Film explores upbringing of military children
Posted on: Friday, March 30, 2007
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Film explores upbringing of military children
By Shannon Lowry
Killeen Daily Herald

"BRATS: Our Journey Home" is a new documentary about growing up in military families that will be shown in Killeen at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Central Texas College, Building 150, Room 1075.  The film is free and open to the public.

Writer-director Donna Musil showed the film in Austin this week to a packed house and is looking forward to bringing her documentary to Killeen.

"This was a seven-year project, and it is the first nonfiction film about this topic, so there was a lot to cover," she said.

Musil, a Vietnam-era military brat herself, started this journey by posting a form questionnaire online for military brats to answer.  She received more than 500 responses, and some of them were up to 70 typewritten pages.   She kept narrowing down the questionnaires until she made the final selections of who to interview for the film.

Two of the better-known people in the film are Kris Kristofferson, who not only narrated but donated original songs to the production, and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, both a brat and the father of brats.   They and others discuss the profound effect that growing up brat has had on their lives.

"Like most things in life, there are both positive and negative impacts that come out of the military brat experience," she said.   "The positives are that you grow up with tolerance.   The military is such a unique multiracial environment and you are exposed to so many different cultures moving around the world.  It's also illegal on post to say racial epitaphs and the military member of your family could bedemoted for something their kids do or say.   Military brats also have a sense of mission, that their family members are doing something greater than themselves.   After all, nobody goes into the military to get rich."

Remarkably, she said, test scores of military kids compare to high school kids who have attended private schools.

"If you put all the military brats together, they would rank second or third in the country in high schools," she said.   "And 40 percent of them are minorities."

She attributes these scores to the "mind constantly being challenged, by moving and the stress of leaving friends and towns behind, which builds a resiliency in brats and tears them apart in other ways."

Although the film may not be appropriate for those under age 13, Musil is hoping that teens and young adults will see the film.

"I'm a Vietnam-era brat, but I feel strongly that the Iraq-era brats are going through and will go through a lot of the same things we did."

The main theme of the film is that the brats are not alone, and can go "home" again, but home isn't a place like it would be for most civilians; home is "your family and friends."

"It's a really unique subculture most Americans don't even know exists," she said.   "Until the advent of the Internet, most military kids moved every two to three years and never reconnected with anyone.   Through the Internet, people started reconnecting again."

Military brats in adult life often face intimacy and trust issues from moving constantly as a child, Musil said,

"When you grow up, you don't have a lot of set boundaries so you either trust people too easily (from having to meet and make friends quickly as a kid) or you can meet anyone and talk to anyone, but you may already have one foot out the door," she explained.

Children from military families also grow up with a lack of medical confidentiality, she said.   If a child in the military reports abuse, medical and law enforcement personnel aren't the only ones who are notified.   The soldier's commanding officer is told as well.   The same is true for alcoholism or any number of other health issues.

"If your dad works for Coke, chances are if you are an alcoholic, it won't get reported to his boss.   But whatever a military family does reflects on their soldier.   And the military looks at it like, if you can't control your family, how can you control your troops?'"

Musil noted that in the past, military brats have been afraid to go get help when they need it because it might reflect badly on their family or cause a soldier in their family to be demoted.

"The film is really not about the military," she said.   "It's about the profound effects the military had on the brats' lives as adults.   The brats are different from their civilian counterparts, but they are not alone.   It's about belonging and finding a place to belong.   You do have a home - it's just each other instead of a place."

As the daughter of a Judge Advocate General officer, Musil and her family moved all over the South, to Germany, San Francisco, Korea and finally Kentucky and Georgia.

"We moved 11 times during the first 16 years of my life," she said.  " I went to three different high schools, in Korea, Kentucky, and after my dad died at the age of 42, I finished high school in a civilian school in Georgia.   Back then, if there was a death of a soldier, you had to be out of the military environment within a couple of weeks and, of course, lose every friend and support you had in the process."

Now, Musil said, the military allows families to stay on post for up to a year after the death of a soldier "or they can take the housing allowance they would receive for a year and move off post.   It's so important for kids to stay where they are for a little bit."

And although Musil said she wouldn't have traded her life on three continents for anything, she admits there are negatives.

"One of the most difficult things is that children are never really put first in military families," she said.   "You learn early on that the military comes first and kids' needs and desires can be sacrificed at any moment.   What most people don't understand is that military kids serve, too, and most of them do so without complaint.   But there are psychological repercussions down the road."

Musil said that one of the things she particularly enjoys about showing her documentary to military brats and their families is that "families see this film and they sit down and talk to their kids, really talk to them, for the first time."

After the film is shown, Kimbery Bayes, a social worker, will conduct a question-and-answer session with audience participation.

For more information on the film, visit   To join a military brat registry that has 70,000 members worldwide and may be a good way to find lost friends, go to

Contact Shannon Lowry at or call (254) 501-7548
The first documentary about growing up military.