Advocacy: Congressional Commemorative Military Brat Lapel Pin

(This is the “talking paper” I will use this afternoon with my meeting with the staff of US Representative Marcy Kaptur, D/OH.)

Bob Holliker:
–  Retired Air force Lt. Colonel (1968 – 1988)
–  Former Air Force “Brat” (1950 – 1964)
–  Have 2 “Brats” of my own, a son and daughter, and 2 “grand Brats!”

Military Brat:

A ‘military brat’ is the child of a parent serving full time in the US military.  The term refers to both current and former children of such families.  The DoD estimates there are 15 million current, and former Brats in our culture now.

(For this ‘presentation,’ I will pull from numerous sources, primarily from but not limited to, Mary Edwards Wertsch’s book, “Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress,” The ‘Introduction’ by Pat Conroy from the aforementioned book, “Brats: Our Journey Home,” a DVD video documentary and my own personal experiences.)

“We spent our entire childhoods in the service of our country, and no one knew we were there.”  Pat Conroy.

And herein is the ‘essence’ for my presentation here.


I ‘grew up’ in the Air Force.  I moved 14 times in 14 years and attended 16 schools during that period.  I attended 4 high schools, in 4 years, in 3 countries.  I learned to speak Japanese, Spanish, French and German.

In 1998 I began reading the book, “Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress,” by Mary Edwards Wertsch.  It took me the better part of 3-4-5 years just to get through the Introduction by Pat Conroy – it just struck me too hard, right in the chest…

He opens with, “I think being a military brat is one of the strangest and most intriguing ways to spend an American childhood.   The military brats of America are an invisible, unorganized tribe, a federation of brothers and sisters bound by common experience, by our uniformed fathers (and mothers) by the movement of families being rotated through the American mainland and to military posts in foreign lands.  We are an undiscovered nation living invisibly within the body politic of this country.  There are millions of us scattered throughout America, but we have no special markings or passwords to identify each other when we move into a common field of vision.  We grew up as strangers to ourselves.”

He goes on with, “We’d never stopped to honor ourselves, out loud, for our understanding service to America.”

As Pat says, “My job was to be a stranger, to know no one’s name on the first day of school, to be ignorant of all history and flow and that familial sense of relationship that makes a town safe for a child.”

While growing up I always told folks I was from Whitehouse, Ohio, but I knew I wasn’t.  I come from a country with no name.  When I moved back to Whitehouse – after 20 years on active duty – I still “feel” a stranger.

Pat then says: “This is my paradox.  Because of the military life, I am a stranger everywhere and a stranger nowhere.  I can engage anyone in a conversation, become well-liked in a matter of seconds, yet there is a distance I can never recover, a slight alienation, of not belonging, and an eye on the nearest door.  The word goodbye is a killing word for me, but so is the word hello…”

And he continues, “Each year I began my life all over again.  I grew up knowing no one well, lest of all myself, and I think that damaged me.  I grew up not knowing if I was smart or stupid, handsome or ugly, interesting or insipid.  I was too busy reacting to the changing landscapes and climates of my life to get a clear picture of myself.  I was always leaving behind what I was just about to become.  I could never catch up to the boy I might have been had I grown up in one place.”

He then observes, “Our greatest tragedy is that we don’t know each other.”  And, we don’t.

And then he concludes:  “I imagined that all of us could meet on some impeccably manicured field, all the military brats, in a gathering so vast that it would be like the assembly of some vivid and undauntable army.  We could come together on this parade ground at dusk, million voiced and articulating our secret anthems of hurt and joy.  We could praise each other in voices that understood both the magnificence and pain of our transient lives.

At the end of our assembly, we could pass in review in a parade of unutterably beauty.

As brats, we’ve watched a thousand parades on a thousand weekends.  We’ve shined shoes and polished brass and gotten every bedroom we’ve ever slept in ready for Saturday morning inspection.  A parade would be a piece of cake for military brats.

I would put all of our fathers (and mothers)  in the reviewing stand, and require that they come in full dress uniform, and in the prime of life.  I want our fathers handsome and strong and feared by all the armies of the world the day they attend our parade.

To the ancient beat of drums we could pass by those erect and silent rows of fathers (and mothers).  What a fearful word father is to so many of us (even today), but not so on this day, when the marchers keep perfect step and the command for “EYES RIGHT” roars through our disciplined ranks and we turn to face our fathers (and mothers) in that crowd of warriors.

In this parade, these men (and women) would understand the nature and value of their children’s sacrifice for the first time.  Our fathers (and mothers) would stand at rigid attention.  Then they would begin to salute us, one by one, and in that salute, that one sign recognition, of acknowledgement, they would thank us for the first time.  They would be thanking their own children for their fortitude and courage and generosity and long suffering, for enduring a military childhood.

But most of all the salute would be for something no military man in this country has ever acknowledged.  The gathering of fighting men (and women) would be thanking their children, their fine and resourceful children, who were strangers in every town they entered, thanking them for their extraordinary service to their country, for the sacrifices they made over and over again to the United States of America, to its ideals of freedom, to its preservation, and to its everlasting honor.”

Military Brats have spend their whole youth in service to our country, and no one knows we were even here….

Into Action:

I reread Pat’s introduction in 2009 and I got mad.  Why hasn’t this nation ever recognized us?  Military Brats?  So, in December 2009, I emailed Bob Latta, R/OH, and floated the idea of ‘Congressional recognition.’  He, in turn, introduced H.R. 5333: Children of Military Service Members Congressional Lapel Pin Act in March 2010.  It sat “in committee” for a year, then died.  He then reintroduced it again in 2010 as H.R. 1014, same title.  This bill sat “in committee” for 2 years before it died.  That’s progress!  Now, in 2013, Bob has once again reintroduced the bill as H.R. 1889 – and it is again, “in committee.”  I think we all know where it will end up if we don’t take action!

Essentials of H.R. 1889: Children of Military Service Members Commemorative Lapel Pin Act:

First of all, it’s a simple bill, 6 ‘triple-spaced’ pages, easy to read – even for ROTC guys.  Essentially:

–  It directs the SecDef (Secretary of Defense) to design the pin.  (We have already (somewhat) done that.  (See attached proposal.)  This will significantly cut down on the bickering.
–  It then sets the qualification for the pin.  (Living with a serving military parent for 30 days, or more.)-  Next it directs the SecDef to let folks know the pin is available, and discusses the application process.
–  And finally, the bill says that the COST will be essentially a “pass-through” cost for the parents, or who-ever pays for the pins.  (I have contacted 2 “Made-in-America” lapel pin companies, and estimates run from $0.48 to $0.50 each.)

That’s it – SIMPLE!

My Observations/Experiences of Late:

Take a look at the faces of our kids/grandkids at military deployments and unit returns.  Look at their faces at funerals.  You don’t think these kids ‘deserve’ recognition?

Last year we had 5 troops killed in one week in Afghanistan (I think).  What would it have meant to the children of those guys, had their fathers given them such a pin as proposed, just before they left?

In April I attended a Dining In – a formal military dinner – at Randolph AFB, TX, for the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam POWs.  The keynote speaker was a 3-star general.  In his presentation, he told us that he remembers the day the “blue car” showed up at his house -to tell them that their Dad had just been shot down, and was missing.  For the next 2 years they didn’t know if his dad was dead, or alive.  But this 7-year old kid helped the family hold it together.  No kid should endure this!  (Of note, his Dad was in attendance at the Dining In, as was his son, an instructor pilot in the Air Force.)

In June I had the honor of handing out “challenge coins” to the Children of Vietnam Era Veterans at the Toledo Vietnam Veteran Appreciation event.   I can only begin to tell you about how “emotional” that was.  I had men standing in front of me, unable to talk, but knowing what the coin would/could do for them.  One kid said he had nothing left of his father’s, but the coin.  A woman came up and asked for a coin and we began chatting.  Through unspoken communication we recognized that we were both ‘Brats!”  We laughed about a couple of things, the the tears came as we silently remembered our own personal, deep hurts and pains.  At that point we only could just stand there and hug each other…

This is the year to get this legislation passed!  As I explained it all to Dave L. the other night, a Vietnam Vet himself, he saw something else with it – a “vehicle” for healing.  A “bridge” if you will, to gap the distance between himself and his estranged daughter brought on by his military service.  I do not think he is the only one.

In promoting this idea I have created a FaceBook page:  “Brats: The BratPin” to spread the word.  In one of the threads a gal asked me who I thought should present the pins.  I told her, more often than not, the “serving member.”  She, in reply, told me that her father has passed, and that she would like a Vet to present hers to her.  This again, brought tears to my eyes…  Can you appreciate “the Power” in this?  Both for the Brat, and the Vet?


It’s a SIMPLE bill that should “stand alone!”  It’s a “win-win-win” proposition: a “win” for the kids, a “win” for our nation, and a “win” for Congress – to get “something” done with minimal bickering!  (Yay!)

This all being said, I have decided to create “our” own BratPin.  With the way Congress is going with this (H.R. 1889), most of us will receive ours posthumously!

1.   Wertsch, Mary Edwards (April 23, 1991). Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress (1st hardcore edition ed.)  Harmony. ISBN: 0-517-58400-X.

2.  Conroy, Pat.  Introduction:  Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress. pp. xv11-xxv.

3.  Musil, Donna (director, writer, producer); Goodwin, Beth (producer); Kristofferson, Kris (narrator).  Brats: Our Journey Home (DVD video documentary).

4.  Wikipedia:

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One Response to Advocacy: Congressional Commemorative Military Brat Lapel Pin

  1. Cass OFee says:

    I LOVE THIS!!! How is it going? I was a military brat, became a military wife, a military sister when my brother deployed w Marines in 1990 to Iraq. This is NEEDED. Absolutely.

    I think that the discipline most Brats grew up with is a big part of what sets us as separate. My Dad was a drill sergeant, an MP, then became an officer. He served in the Marines, then Army and went to Korea, then Air Force and served in Vietnam. I can recall w ease that we would go to dinner at the Officers Club, me and my brother would have to be dressed down to coats, gloves and hats & line up at the door ready, before Dad would get up & say “Guess its time to get ready now..” When I have shared details of my childhood, people have been fascinated, but often horrified. I’m surprised by that…what do they THINK Brats go thru!?? I’ve learned not to share, except w other Brats. The problem is that people often don’t consider the price the kids pay. I also credit my Mom w buffering us as much as she could, she was a military wife full-time. I learned to do a lot – like plumbing, fixing things incl cars, to help Mom out. I was raised to be as self sufficient as possible, it was a point of pride. My adult life has been much improved by the attitudes and habits learned as a Brat. Wouldn’t change ANY of it. I’m PROUD of my service.

    Actually, I have always considered myself part of ‘service’. My physical limitations prevented me from serving directly, but I am a Brat. That DOES make me part of serving, IMHO. I chose to marry a Navy man, and served that way. I do, however, consider my childhood as a greater sacrifice. A worthy, valuable sacrifice I’m gloriously proud of. I’ve always been secretly sad that there isn’t any recognition, and told myself not to be silly. Your idea is a balm to my spirit. Thank you for it.

    How can I help?

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