Online Old School
"Brats: Our Journey Home"
John Nesbit, Old School Reviews
Until now, the best film chronicling the life of a military BRAT was The Great Santini (1979).
Robert Duvall's complex character demanded discipline and expected his kids to "spit nails" and excel
despite the hardships of being uprooted every school year. While this fictionalized account remains
standing as the finest film dealing with this subculture, BRATS: Our Journey Home commands
attention as the most detailed non-fictional account of this unique lifestyle—one that involves
approximately 1.2 children currently raised in the military and an estimated 15 million former American BRATS.
Growing up on military bases around the globe and never developing roots, American military BRATS face
a mixed bag of challenges and opportunities that filmmaker Donna Musil captures vividly via interviews,
archival footage, clever comic strip quips, and movie clips (including The Great Santini, generously
contributed by Warner Brothers free of charge). An army BRAT herself without a huge bankroll, Musil
advantageously applied her first time filmmaking naivety effectively to obtain exceptionally high production
value—using the Internet to gather data and screen potential interviewees, obtaining incredible free video
footage of post-war Germany and Japan from individual families and the U.S. military, and even gaining the
musical and narration services of Kris Kristofferson without charge. Just one more advantage of being a
military BRAT—Kristofferson, General Norman Schwarzkopf, and numerous other BRAT alumni have a personal
stake for wanting this story told.
Although I'd heard generally from former brats about how difficult it was maintaining friendships over the
years due to constant moves, Musil's documentary goes beyond the general impressionistic landscape and
paints in realistic and believable characters. These include famous BRATS (Schwartzkopf and Kristofferson),
notable BRAT scholars and authors, and a number of "ordinary" BRATS with compelling histories.
Universally none of them can comfortably state where they are from—unsure whether this refers to their
birth city that they never knew, their relatives' home that was rarely visited, or their last place of
residence that might have been for only a few months. Other challenges are chronicled—insecurities caused
by an often absent father, being raised in a highly structured home environment that demanded obedience,
and a high rate of parental alcoholism due to stress. But it's not all bad. Spending gondola time in Venice
or being able to attend the historic Nuremberg Trials is a perk that most of us could only fantasize about,
and outgoing people who love making new friends and enjoy adventure find the BRAT lifestyle ideal. One
factor I hadn't considered before was the idea that racism is a virtual non-factor with BRATS—not only
is it illegal within the military, but the schools are invariably multi-cultural and free of the inherent
racism that exists in more established American neighborhoods.
A labor of love seven years in the making, the film avoids the most common fatal flaws in documentary
construction. It would have been easy to include too much footage, excessive narration, and talking heads;
thus, it's refreshing to see Musil practice restraint and spice up the content with sufficient variety and
movement with a high production value that surpass its low budget. What could have been a mere cult film
popular only with former BRATS has evolved into an illuminating portrait of a subculture that most of us
never experienced directly—and it's relatively unlikely that any of us got to know BRATS real well during
our formative years. BRATS: Our Journey Home both educates and appears destined to be a cornerstone for
connecting its scattered "community" with a number of cited resources within the film and organization
links on its official website.