Acknowledging the TCK Experience: Part III

Honoring Those Who Have Come Before Us

Here are some people who have come before us that have been resources for the community of military families, only that they have not been granted the recognition and support they deserve:

Donna Musil is a writer-director, lawyer, and proud Army “brat.”  In 1999, she founded Brats Without Borders (BWB), the only 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the country that provides educational outreach, support, materials, and research to Military “Brats” and “Third Culture Kids” of all ages.  Through its documentary films like BRATS: Our Journey Home, and programs such as “UNCLASSIFIED: The Military Kid Art Show,”BRATS Clubs, BRAT Cultural Competency and Teen Transition Workshops at Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program weekends, BWB raises awareness of the culture, contributions, and challenges of military brats and TCKs everywhere.  The daughter of an Army judge and lawyer, Musil moved twelve times on three continents before her father died of a service-related illness when she was sixteen.  Her writing credits include Ananse, a children’s animated film based on African folktales in development with Visionex/Ghana and Melendez Films/London, Charles Schulz’s Peanut animators, and Rebuilding America’s Communities for the Carter Center (PBS). She also contributed a chapter to Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids, a book of memoirs published in London in 2012.

About Donna Musil’s films:

Musil wrote and directed BRATS: Our Journey Home, the first feature-length documentary about growing up military and the powerful effect it has on one’s adult life. The film is narrated by singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, and features the late Commander-in-Chief, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, author Mary Edwards Wertsch, and other brats from all ages, races, and branches of service.  The film has been broadcast on Armed Forces Network Television in 178 countries and was featured on CNN’s “This Week at War” and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” It won numerous awards, including Best Documentary, Best First Time Director, and the G.I. Film Festival’s Founder’s Choice Award.

“UNCLASSIFIED: The Military Kid Art Show” unveils powerful and poignant clips from Musil’s newest documentary-in-progress, Our Own Private Battlefield, about one Marine family’s struggle to heal the wounds of war through art, scheduled for release in 2015. Musil is also developing Mean People, a documentary about the impact of modern brain science on the “nature vs. nurture” debate.


Robert Holliker, an Air Force brat, Vietnam veteran and retired Air Force pilot, created the Brat Pin, Inc., launched in October, 2013, to recognize and honor military brats for their service to the United States.  Holliker started Brat Pin to create an icon representative of military brats, with the goal of sending proceeds from sales of the pin to non-profit programs that support military brats.  Holliker will be giving a portion of the proceeds to the Museum of American Military Families to benefit educational programs for military brats, and in the future plans to raise funds for kids with post-traumatic stress disorder, “an outcome of always wondering if Mom or Dad is going to come back alive after being sent overseas,” according to Holliker.  Holliker spent 17 years as a brat, four in the ROTC and 20 on active dutyAs a kid, I moved 14 times and went to 16 schools, including four high schools in three countries – the United States, France and Germany.  In 1968, Holliker went on active duty with the Air Force, serving as a pilot for 18 of the 20 years, stationed in several bases in the United States as well as Australia.

More about the Brat Pin:

In his retirement years, Holliker, moved by the introduction written by Pat Conroy in Mary Edwards Wertsch’s book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, began to observe and relate to the military brats in televised ceremonies.   Affected by the words of Pat Conroy, which described military brats as an invisible “lost tribe” who “spent their entire youth in the service to this country,” Holliker began to take action.  In December 2009, he approached US Congressman, Representative Bob Latta, R/OH, with a proposal to create a lapel pin to honor the 15 million children of current and former military personnel.  Rep. Latta introduced H.R. 5333: Children of Military Service Members Commemorative Lapel Pin Act, 18 May 2010, where it died in committee later that year.  The next year Rep. Latta reintroduced the bill, same title, as H.R. 1014, 10 Mar 2011, which sat “in committee for 2 years before it died. Then, on 8 May 2013 he once again reintroduced the bill as H.R. 1889, same title.  As of now, Holliker does not know the current status of the bill.

The Brat Pin features the dandelion, the official flower of the military child, bordered by a dog tag chain, which symbolizes the dog tags worn by their sponsors, and the fence around the installations military brats were raised in. To date, $43,000 worth of Brat Pin products, now including over 75 items beyond the original Brat Pin, have been sold.  Brat Pin has no corporate sponsorship or endorsements.
Marc Curtis, an army brat, TV photojournalist and author of Growing Up Military: Every Brat Has a Story, Vol. One,. created The Military Brats Registry (Registry) in April 1997 out of his need to “locate …long lost friends from Ft Bliss, Texas in 1960-61.”  He explains, “I knew that others must be seeking their Military Brat friends too, so the Military Brats Registry was developed in 1997 to help everyone with a desire to find others who grew up in the military.”   Growing Up Military: Every Brat Has a Story, Vol. One,  is a compilation of stories of military brats about their unique lifestyles growing up as military dependents around the world.  The compilation furthers the Military Brat Registry’s goal of “preserving the culture and history of military brats.”  Marc Curtis grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s as a military brat.  His family moved every 1 to 3 years around California, Texas and Japan.  In 1994, he found a book called Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress by Mary Edwards Wertsch and began to understand why he reacted to life differently than most of his friends.  This led to his search for his roots.  Today, the Registry has become the largest online resource for reconnecting with friends, and understanding the unique culture and heritage of being a military brat.


A movement or a profession:

The sacrifices people have made to create resources for the community are what makes the progress in the TCK community a movement.  The work and efforts of leaders such as Donna Musil, Robert Holliker, and Marc Curtis, which have not been granted recognition or funding at the same level given to the civilian authors of CHAMPS, demonstrate a commitment regardless of the lack of due recognition.  The numerous statements on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, Amazon book reviews, petitions (one of which currently has over 4000 signatories) and letters, emails and phone calls made by military brats to the endorsers of CHAMPS, without specific prompting by any one leader or set of leaders (as evident by the history of Facebook threads), represents how a unified voice has the power to change things.  In the same way David Pollock, without the convenience of social media, was able to help bring a term coined in the 1950’s into our every-day language we still use today, these are all indicators our work is part of a movement.

However, there is also a need for professionalizing the work the tribe needs to accomplish as a whole. We all need to eat and use energy even write or read anything on our computer screens.  Any work that needs to be accomplished requires money and resources, whether it comes from our own pockets, investors, business transactions or grant funding, if a non-profit agency.

However, the general public as well as the TCK community must recognize three things about movements and the professionalism of work within a movement:

1)  Every movement that is bigger than any one or set of individuals and does not live and die with the efforts of any one individual or group of people has a soul.  This soul is the reverence we feel for all who have been or will be on the journey with us, past, present or future.  This must be respected.

2)  Before we can claim truly successful professionalism of TCK work, the movement must include representation of all voices in the tribe.  Otherwise, we run the risk of only the privileged members of the tribe defining the experiences and needs of, as well as best practices for, the tribe and it can become a very gated self-perpetuating cycle.  The movement needs to involve people representing experiences considered to be affecting only a minority.

3) If someone outside the tribe, someone who has not experienced the same struggles of the people in the movement, professionalizes the movement with claim to expertise developed independently from the tribe, it is disrespectful to the soul of the movement and a disservice to the people in the movement. It displaces the diverse voices that should be represented and it mocks the right of people involved to the empowerment they deserve to own.

People who do not necessarily relate to our shared collective experiences as a TCK tribe but would like to help TCK’s, need to at the least acknowledge #1 and #3.  Providing help with an understanding of at least these two standards would make support go so much further and the support would be so much more meaningful.  An genuine apology and acknowledgement of mistakes made out of an insensitivity to these two standards at one point in time, would surely be welcome and accepted by understanding TCK’s.

TCK’s, as a tribe and as individuals, need to maintain the value of both the movement and the professionalism of the work within the movement.  Ideally, this professionalism would involve the diverse voices within the tribe and genuine collaborative efforts rather than individualistic ones. This recent event reminds us how we came to be a tribe – our collective experiences and voices, not individualistic goals and voices.  The good of the whole seems to be a common thread that has propelled inconvenient, unpaid, and unrecognized work in this movement.  We all need to “work smarter, not harder,” but there is always a stage where hard work gives birth to things smart work would not have created.  Professional work exists only because a movement pre-existed.

Every citizen seeking understanding can learn from this situation because the world is becoming more globalized.*  Every civilian TCK has a role to play because it affects the larger movement and progress we have already made.  A stone that creates ripples that is ignored still continues to ripple.  We can be a tribe that notices the ripples and does something about them.


“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

(Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)


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