A nonprofit that offers free babysitting for military children in the Washington, D.C. area and whose founders have toured worldwide with the USO giving away thousands of books to military kids is shutting down amidst a raging internet-based controversy over the proper term for military children.
Operation CHAMPS, started in 2012, centers around "The Little CHAMPS," a picture book written by the organization's mother-daughter team Deborah and Jennifer Fink, about what they call "CHAMPS," Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel. They received endorsements from the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), American Red Cross, USO, USAA and Navy League, among others. First Lady Michelle Obama filmed a short video message for military children using the "CHAMPS" term.
But the book and tour recently sent the community of now adults who grew-up as military children in primarily in the Vietnam era into an uproar. They prefer the moniker "military BRATs" and feel the book, its authors and the organization are attacking their identities and heritage as military kids.
But when the disagreement escalated into online personal attacks, including the publication of the Finks' home addresses, Operation CHAMPS officials decided to shutter.
"We have reached this decision reluctantly, following weeks of escalated divisive attacks from a group of adult children of military service members, which began as a difference of opinion regarding terminology," Jennifer Fink, the organizations CEO, said in a statement released Dec. 9. "Operation CHAMPS has since become the the target of distorted and increasingly abusive accusations on Facebook, Twitter and email. Volunteers of the organization have been threatened, and Operation CHAMPS' supporters have been besieged with emails and posts requesting that they withdrawn their support. As a result, Operation CHAMPS has decided to close its doors."
Supporters of the "BRAT" push say the debate is about more than a title. They say it's about cultural identity and the need to carry that heritage over to military children today.
"Military kids have very little. We don't have a hometown, we don't have a place to go back to. We can't even go on base anymore if we don't join the military. Our one root is each other, and when you change a name, when you try to redefine a culture of people, and that's their only root, this is what happens," said Donna Musil, a documentarian and military brat whose father died of service related health issues in 1976. Her film, "BRATS: Our Journey Home," examines military child subculture.
Musil said the Finks, who she said had no personal military connection beyond volunteer work when they started the organization, have done the military child community a disservice not only by using the CHAMPS moniker but by taking space in the community that should be used by volunteers who grew-up military. And while she said the personal attacks and publication of their addresses are inappropriate, they are sign of how passionate people are about this issue.
"It's not just about the word 'BRAT.' It's about military children not really getting the program and help and attention they do need because all these organizations that are run by well intentioned civilians are taking all the space," she said. "A lot of these programs are not developed by people who really lived that life. To me that's my biggest concern."
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org