The Old Fart



Life as a BRAT!

I'm a BRAT!

A BRAT is someone who grew up in the home of a career military person. For me, it was my dad, SMSGT John McNeill (Deceased in 2000). We are different from most in the civilian world in that we grew up realizing daily that our parent was in a job that could cost him his life at any time. We saw death visit our neighbors, family, community, and school regularly. Stateside, we lived inside fenced in communities, separated from those who might have been our peers. For many of us, it was US against THEM. We got used to moving frequently. For many of us, we moved every year. Occasionally, usually overseas, we got to stay for extended time (3-4 years.) We learned to make friends quickly, but just as quickly say goodbye. Few friendships were really deep. For myself, I only have 1 friend that I've stayed in contact with over the years. Most of my friends have slid into the void that comes with time.

For us, patriotism isn't something that you wear on your sleeve, or display on the 4th of July or other holidays. When we see the flag, our hearts fill with pride for what it has stood for over the years and the sacrifices that our parents made so that it could wave freely. Many of us had the opportunity to have young GI's in our homes at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays, sharing a meal and some time so that they didn't feel quite as homesick or lonely. These men and women who made sacrifices (voluntary or involuntary) were special to us. As we grew older, we often socialized with them in the base gym, swimming pools, bagging groceries in the Commissary, or other activities. Many of us dated young GI's. Many of us saw them give their lives for us. Some of us had the opportunity to work in Evacuation Hospitals, like the one at Tachikawa A.F.B., Tokyo, Japan. We read or wrote letters for injured GI's who couldn't do it for themselves. We sang for and with them. We took them the cookies our mothers made for them. We met them at the Air Terminals when they came to Japan on R and R from Vietnam, Korea, or other places.

No one really knows the origin of the phrase, BRAT, but we're proud of it, because, like our parents, we too made sacrifices. We gave up friendships so that we could travel with our parents. We changed schools frequently so that our parents didn't have to come home to an empty home. We grew up strangers to our cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents so that our parents had the support that they needed. For us, the only continuity in our lives was our family. They traveled with us, fought with us, hugged us, and loved us.

We didn't always agree with our parents. I mean really, what kid would choose a drill sergeant for a father. Especially in an environment where failure to properly discipline you kids meant that you weren't able to discipline GI's and therefore you promotion opportunities were shot to hell. When we screwed up, we weren't the only ones to face consequences.

At times we had to stay home while our parents went off for long periods of time, often to war zones where there were real possibilities of not returning. We went to the terminals to say goodbye and then again to say welcome home dad/mom.

I'm a BRAT and proud of it. There are people in Washington trying to rename us. They think that the term BRAT is offensive and demeaning to today's young BRATs. Those kids today have thousands of others who came before, with lots of experience and we care for those kids, because we've been where they are now. They should be proud of being called a BRAT.

Over the years, I've had lots of BRATs in my classes. These were kids whose fathers were serving, either here in Utah or overseas. I watched and appreciated the way that they faced each day. Everyone was proud of their Dad or Mom. Each wanted to make friends and fit into a society that didn't understand them. Even the most basic question about their lives could leave the BRAT wondering how to answer it. For example: "Where are you from?" To the BRAT, that could mean: Where were you born? Where did you live before here? Where is your home? How does one answer those questions when the place you were born might be a place you lived for 3 months? The place you lived might be Germany, England, Japan, South Carolina, or any of the hundreds of other places they might have lived for a short period of time. Their home is where their dad is stationed when he's here and where they live when he's deployed. To a BRAT, a better question is where have you lived? How long do you think you'll be here? Or, even better, do you want to be my friend?

Oh, and by the way, there is a difference between a BRAT and a brat. I've seldom seen a BRAT that was a brat in class. The usually have insights in to the world that others can't even imagine. They usually treat people with respect and the word "sir" or "mam" flows easily off their tongue. When they stand for the national anthem or pledge, there is a respect that is missing in other students. They realize that the symbols of the flag represent their parent’s life and the sacrifices that their parent and others have made for this country, so that they can live free.

Yep, I'm a BRAT, and proud of it!