By Chaplain Richard A. Hansen, M.Sc., M.Div., BCC
For many of us, we now find ourselves hoisting our sails and preparing to navigate New Year 2017 after coming out of 2016 with renewed thoughts and feelings of hope, joy, peace, love, reflection, and expectation experienced and received through the holiday season, whether from Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or some other celebration with family, friends, or in a private setting. Fulfilled expectations of 2016 with companion 2017 course settings energize us to welcome and address the events we will encounter during this new set of months that may contain detours, dry wells, dead ends, and dark valleys along with achievements, crossroads, promising horizons, and breakthroughs of enlightenment.
However, for many of our Veterans, now trying to adjust back to civilian life with spouses and partners, they find themselves on the uncertain path of transition from the military battlefield to social trench warfare of confusion, communication breakdown, anger, resentment, regret, guilt, and reversed culture shock. Frequent deployments and PTSD can wear on relationships, destabilizing them, stifling healthy growth, and hampering reconciliation and forgiveness. In the midst of this uncertainty, Veterans may be at a loss as to where to go for good support that is easily accessible and affordable.
Your VA Medical Center recognizes this, and has assembled and mobilized an interdisciplinary team of caring employees who are current certified Warrior to Soul Mate (W2SM) instructors, a of PAIRS Essentials program, which is a proven and world-wide approach to help people reconnect with their loved ones. Your VA W2SM workshop team comprises gifted people from different disciplines in the healthcare fields: social work, medicine, education, nursing, health administration, polytrauma, psychology, readjustment counseling, caregiver support, pharmacy, chaplaincy and performance improvement.
The W2SM Weekend Workshop, held at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center, offers Veterans, and their spouses or partners, a toolbox of communication essentials with proven potential to result in improved speaking and listening skills, conflict resolution, and identification of issues that impair, sabotage, or prevent relationships from healthy growth in the emotional, physical, and spiritual facets of life. The” Goodwill Umbrella” of caring, communication, commitment, and change are emphasized along with empathy, compassion, and bonding. A sense of community is established during the workshop as couples have opportunities to coach and be coached by fellow couples during communication exercises, such as Talking Tips, Daily Temperature Reading, Emptying the Emotional Jug and Fair Fight for Change. Instructors are present and engaged with participants. Couples receive support from other couples who may have similar experiences, and therefore convey a strong understanding.
Participant feedback on the 2016 workshops has been very positive: “Improved overall listening skills;” “We learned better ways to approach addressing hurt or change in our relationships;” “Our relationship was on the verge of falling apart and now I have a lot of hope;” “I thought this was great because you now know you are not alone;” “We now have a new way to communicate;” “…the instructors broke the topics down to my level of learning- that was decreased with a brain injury.” As W2SM facilitators, we desire for these words of appreciation, healing and hope to replicate themselves in the lives of our 2017 participants.
This workshop is offered to all Veterans and active duty military personnel free of charge. To enroll in the workshop, one must be in a relationship for at least six months with no domestic violence during that time period, and be eligible for VA care. Four weekend workshops are scheduled for 2017: January 28-29; April 29-30; July 22-23; October 21-22. The workshops will be held in Building 41 (main building), on the 5th floor in Medical Conference Room 5C 100, starting at 8:30 AM and finishing at 4:00 PM each day.
To register for a workshop or for more information, please call Albuquerque VAMC Chaplain Services at 505-256-2735. Brochures are available at Chaplain Services (Bldg. 41, Rm. 2A-104 by the chapel) and in many waiting areas. In order to provide effective instruction and individual attention, classes will be limited to seven couples or less.
Libby Hopkins, Military Parent Liaison
Libby Hopkins is a Registered Nurse and Mom to a United States Marine. Her father was an Army Veteran and her cousin was a Vietnam combat Veteran. She has another cousin who is retired from the United States Air Force, her husband is a Navy Vet, and her son Daniel is an active duty Marine serving as a Naval Aviator flying the V-22 Osprey.
Libby works as a clinical educator at an Albuquerque hospital training nurses about the care of patients with dementia and those in need of skilled rehabilitation. She also educates nurses and other healthcare team members about hospice and palliative care. She is the coordinator for the “No Veteran Dies Alone” volunteer program and the “Veteran Honors Escort” project. She also sits on the Veterans’ Caregiver Support Committee. Libby’s nursing specialties and certifications are Hospice & Palliative Care, Geriatrics, and Mental Health. She volunteers in our community educating and advocating for Advance Directives and providing holy washing in preparation of Jewish bodies for burial. Libby is honored to be the Military Parent Liaison and working with MAMF.
In 1986, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger established April as the “Month of the Military Child”, recognizing U.S. military children ranging in age from infant to 18 years old, who have one or both parents serving in the armed forces.
Recently, a group of adult military brats began a grass-roots movement to make April 30 the official National Military Brats Day. Like so many grass-roots efforts, the movement began in small discussions on social media, quickly became organized and gained momentum.
Why April 30th?
Through discussions and polls, participants agreed that April 30, the last day of the month honoring military children, would be most meaningful to adult brats. It would symbolize the time many of them– at age 18—or 23 if they were in college– had to give up their ID cards and leave behind the only lifestyle they had ever known.
“The worst thing about being a military brat is not being a military brat anymore. When they take away your ID card, they take away your life. Everything you’ve known. Everything that is security to you.” –Marc Curtis, founder of Military Brats Registry.
Curtis estimates there are about 15 million military brats – those who are, or once were, the children of active duty service personnel.
Military Brat Cultural Identity
Best-selling author Pat Conroy was a major supporter of the research and writing efforts of journalist Mary Edwards Wertsch and filmmaker Donna Musil, who have both devoted their lives to studying the effects of military life on children. Conroy’s novel, The Great Santini, was inspired by his life growing up under the strict discipline of a US Marine officer, and his story resonated with many military children.
In 1991, Wertsch’s book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood inside the Fortress identified common themes, special challenges and strengths and the unique subculture experienced by American military dependents.
Conroy wrote the introduction to Wertsch’s book, saying,
“Her book speaks in a language that is clear and stinging and instantly recognizable to me, yet it’s a language I was not even aware I spoke. She isolates the military brats of America as a new indigenous subculture with our own customs, rites of passage, forms of communication, and folkways…”
Conroy also authorized the use of his work in the award-winning documentary Brats: Our Journey Home, directed by Donna Musil, founder of “Brats without Borders.”
Musil explains, “Growing up ‘brat’ has a profound effect on a person’s life. It shapes the way one thinks, feels, and behaves—as a child and as an adult. Brats without Borders has been a voice for this invisible subculture–from advocating for after school Brats Clubs, the new BRAT Art Institute, to keeping our name. Brats without Borders raises awareness of the culture, contributions and challenges of brats and ‘Third Culture Kids’.”
“An adult military brat is a very unique person, as (he or she) grew up unconventionally… some brats hold dear the [military] and its bases, longing to return ‘home’; others walk away as soon as possible and then stay as far away as possible”-Gene Moser, Army brat and Army veteran.
Army brat Anita Pope says, “I feel like I had the best childhood ever. We grew up with such a diverse group of people over the years; we did not know prejudice. Everyone was treated equally, and we grew to be super flexible people.”
Some Brat Culture:
In March of 1998, another grassroots movement online chose the dandelion as the “Official Military Brat Flower.”
“ The [dandelion] puts down roots almost anywhere. It is almost impossible to get rid of…It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates… This just illustrates my motto, which is ‘bloom where you’re planted’.”–Anne Christopherson
And so the dandelion was adopted. Over the years, dandelions have cropped up on pins, bumper stickers, tee shirts and insignia—instantly identifying military children to each other.
“Children of the world, blown to all corners of the world, we bloom anywhere!”
Purple symbolizes all branches of the military, as it is the combination of Army green, Marine red, and Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force blue. During the month of April, people are encouraged to wear purple to show support to military children.
According to Wikipedia, “the origin of the term ‘military brat’ is unknown. There is some evidence that it dates back hundreds of years into the British Empire, and originally stood for ‘British Regiment Attached Traveler’. However, acronyms are a product of the 20th century and all attempts to trace this theory have failed to find a legitimate source.”
Overseas Brats founder, Joe Condrill, elaborates, “Today’s U.S. military dependents also use: ‘Born, Raised And Trained’; ‘Born, Rough And Tough’, and a number of other explanations.”
No matter where the word originated, many military children have embraced the term, although in recent years, there have been other alternatives proposed.
Misty Corrales, who, along with her husband Jon, created the National Brats Day logo says, “[Some] view it as derogatory or insulting. How can it be when our culture identifies with it and embraces it? At its most basic translation, ‘brat’ merely means ‘child of’. Military brats are children of the military. But we grow up. We’re not always children. And trust me, we’re not spoiled.
“We’re working to gain recognition, not just for the active duty brats, but for veteran brats… We plan to raise $1,500 to have “Brat’s Day’ placed on the National Days Calendar. We’ve claimed April 30 as our day, and we want to make it official.”
In addition to having National Brats Day placed on the National Days Calendar, many people are asking that Congress set aside a day each year as National Military Brats Day, so “Americans can thank these patriots, young and grown, for their dedication and sacrifice in the service of their country.”
For more information on the National Brats Day Initiative, please visit http://MilitaryBratsInc.org.