'One of the things that military children get that is very positive is that sense of mission, a sense of doing something for somebody more than just yourself," says writer/director Donna Musil. On Friday, September 29, Musil will screen her documentary BRATS: Our Journey Home at the Civic Center in Oceanside.
Musil interviewed 50 of the 500 military brats who responded to a questionnaire on her website. The film, which took seven years to produce, was funded by donations from military brats worldwide. "We got $1000 from a guy who said, 'Anybody who can get Kris Kristofferson and [retired General] Norman Schwarzkopf in the same film deserves my money.'" Kristofferson donated his music to the film and served as narrator.
"When children are raised in families where their needs are secondary to something else, it doesn't matter what it is, it affects them the same," says Musil. "With missionary kids, God is number one; with brats, the military is number one. Children [whose family's needs are secondary] grow up to have the same symptoms of adult children of alcoholics."
Because of having to change locations frequently throughout their formative years, many military brats develop trust issues. "There's so much loss in a military child's life. [When you move] you lose friends, your reputation, teachers -- and that's if nothing happens to your parent. Animals? People didn't take their dogs with them. I met some brats who went through 20 dogs."
One of the military brats featured in the film, Catherine Howard Reed, says, "I had two disastrous marriages...I've not learned the skills that it takes to keep a relationship going." Heather Wilson DeSpain, another woman interviewed by Musil, says, "Trust is a really big issue in my life. I don't issue it out to people very easily. And when I do, I think there's always this thing in the back of my head that tells me they're going to break it."
Musil describes a segment of the film in which a psychologist explains a coping mechanism inherent in many military brats: "They don't fully invest. If you did fully invest in everything, you'd get your heart broken every year or so [when it's time to move again]. You're not stupid, so you survive that lifestyle by taking the good and learning to walk away from the bad.
"But," Musil explains, "it's counterproductive as an adult -- you don't work through difficulties very well. When I grew up, I had to teach myself to have confrontations with people [with whom relationships] are workable."
The structure of a military family is different from that of most other families. "Everything is saturated with the military culture," says Musil. In the documentary, Schwarzkopf shares, "I remember my dad talking to me about honor and integrity when I was seven. When he left home to go to Iran, he ceremoniously presented me with his West Point sword and said, 'You're the man of the house, and you have to take care of your mom and sisters.' I took it very seriously."
The most significant disadvantage for military families, Musil contends, is the lack of medical confidentiality. "Families that are really suffering from abuse or alcoholism, which are things that happen in every culture, feel this pressure not to tell anybody. Here you are a ten-year-old kid, and Dad's drinking too much, but we don't want to get him in trouble, so Mom doesn't get any help. You're told as a child that you represent America, particularly when you go overseas. That's a lot of pressure."
According to Musil, many men handle post-traumatic stress disorder with alcohol. "I did find in my research that older brats reported tons of drinking problems, and then there was a period of time -- related to peacetime -- where it wasn't much of a problem. Now [the military] is trying to get people not to drink [as much]. But studies have shown both smoking and drinking have now gone back up because of Iraq."
Musil's father was a JAG officer and a military judge, and her family had to move 12 times in 16 years. "I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world," she says. "To be able to live in different countries, to be exposed to different cultures and not be afraid of change -- those are wonderful things! I'm not from a place, I'm from a group of people, and I found my home in that group of people. I can sit down with any brat and have a great conversation." -- Barbarella
BRATS: Our Journey Home
Friday, September 29
Oceanside Public Library Community Room
330 North Coast Highway
Info: 760-435-5575 or www.bratsfilm.com