This is why we can’t have nice things, people. On Tuesday, Operation CHAMPS, a nonprofit dedicated to military kids closed down due to a crippling internet controversy. Read about it over on Military.com.
We didn't write about the controversy at SpouseBuzz when it began because it didn't seem like a controversy to us. Our readers know that we can get into a lather about all kinds of things, but at the time, we couldn't think of anything to say about this.
The whole thing boiled down to ‘what’s in a name?’ What do people call the children of military personnel? The Department of Defense calls them Dependent Children. Deb and Jennifer Fink, the civilian authors of the book, called the kids Little CH.A.M.P.S. (Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel.) We military brats call ourselves ... well, military brats.
I'm a military brat.‘Military brat' is our little code word that says we grew up with deployments and too many moves and no lifelong childhood friends and the towering presence of a parent in uniform. What else is there to say?
Plenty, apparently. After an article out of Florida ran in Stars and Stripes about whether those raised in the military call themselves CHAMPS or Brats, the thing heated up enough that reportedly the address of the authors was published, as well as the price of their home, information about the law firm of the husband of one of the authors and their religious orientation.
The thing that got me most was the publication of the fact that Jennifer Fink, the 23-year-old Founder and CEO of Operation CHAMPS was engaged to a service member -- and that he was deployed. “It spooked him. It spooked me,” Jennifer told me.
Those associated with the book said that they woke up to hundreds of hate emails every day for weeks. Their social media was bombarded.
Worst of all, some of the military nonprofits associated with their book withdrew their support after their social media was attacked. Other nonprofits like the Navy League and the Marine Corps League and United Through Reading stood by the authors.
The threats eventually became so bad that the Finks started worrying about the safety of children at their presentations and their volunteers. The Finks made the decision to shut down.
“We didn’t fail. We were destroyed,” said Jennifer.
They were destroyed.Operation CHAMPS was a nonprofit that provided free babysitting for the children of wounded warriors and other service members through chapters staffed by high school and college kids. Most of the copies of this book were given away to military kids through nonprofit organizations. They went on exactly four USO tours.
This was a four year effort by a couple of civilians to give military kids a little appreciation. At a time when school principals don’t want to acknowledge Veterans Day, this little book was teaching civilian kids about what military life is like. The Finks consulted with military nonprofits to get the message right.
The great civilian sin.And what was their great sin that they somehow deserved this attack? It came across loud and clear from the protesters: They. Aren’t. Us. Deb and Jennifer Fink are civilians. How dare they try to give a name to the children of military personnel, right?
Wrong. That is so wrong. When we talk about the military/civilian divide we always act like it only comes from civilians, that they don’t understand us, won’t make an effort to understand us, can’t possibly understand us.
While I am appalled when behavioral health providers lack a basic understanding of the life their military clients lead, this wasn't that. This Little CHAMPS name was on exactly one book. This wasn't a movement. Wasn't a best-seller. Wasn't a policy change. No one who called themselves a military brat stopped calling themselves a military brat because of this book.
While I understand and even cheer the family feeling that made some adult children of military members come out to defend the Military Brat name, I can't stomach the ugly attack that drove a small nonprofit out of the military world.
Because of that attack, a lot of unhappiness was released in our community. A little more ugliness was created. And the divide between military and civilian worlds just got just a little wider.
To our readers: I am sorry if this piece seems one sided. That wasn’t my intention. And for any flaws in this work, I take responsibility. I stand by my work.
I do want you to know that when I was working on the article, I not only spoke to Deb and Jen Fink and members of their organization in person, but I also spoke to members of the nonprofits that supported them. I read letters that had been sent. I read emails and posts. I saw their timelines. I spoke to other military brats about the issue.
I did not interview any of the people who are currently posting. It wasn’t that I didn’t care what they had to say. It was because this didn’t seem to be the effort of one group who had a leader. Although many of the military brats involved have posted their side of the story here, we have also requested a guest post on the topic that will be published this week.
At SpouseBuzz, we care a lot about military families and all the issues that concern them. We always welcome submissions from members of the community.