The nickname for children who grew up with parents in the military has a long, proud pedigree—so proud that hundreds of “military brats” objected to a charity’s attempt to soften that nickname by eliminating the “brats” part of their long-used nickname.
Until this month, Jennifer Fink, 23, ran a support charity for military families called Operation Champs. Since 2012, Operation Champs offered free babysitting services to military families. As part of her charity, Fink and her mother Debbie, neither of whom grew up in a military family, wrote a children’s book aimed at instituting a new nickname for “military brats” in order to eliminate the negative-sounding “brats” from the old label.
Debbie Fink explained in 2012 that the traditional “brat” name might unduly add to the “challenging situation” that kids of military personnel already experience. So, in an attempt to alleviate this problem they felt burdened military kids, the pair published a children’s book titled “The Little C.H.A.M.P.S.” The acronym standing for “Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel.”
With their charity the Finks toured across the world with the USO giving military kids thousands of free copies of the book.
Despite that the book has been out for two years already, this year, some who were once children of soldiers became upset and charged that the book was an unwanted exercise in political correctness. Many felt it was perfectly acceptable to be called “military brats.” In fact, they preferred the traditional name so much, they took to social media with a vengeance to let Jennifer and her mother know that they were proud to be “brats.”
“She has no right to change what we have been called,” said Stephanie Evans Elrod, 66, of Omaha, who’s father was in the Air Force. “She’s not a brat. She doesn’t have any experience to speak from.”
Elrod is so proud of her status as a military brat that she recently ordered a personalized license plate that reads “BRAT66.”
Another proud military brat, Regina Lorenz, 53, agreed saying, “When you see a military brat, you immediately have something in common, even if you don’t know them. They understand your lifestyle.”
But Jennifer Fink said that her book was created in response to some military kids who said that the term “brats” was too negative. The Finks claim that they didn’t simply impose the new name but wrote the book to serve a need.
Initially, the Finks used the term “military brats” in the rough draft of their book. But she said that some expressed discomfort with the old term. “Everyone that we spoke to loved the book,” Jennifer said. “But there were many military connected organizations that had a visceral reaction to the term ‘brats.'” It was this reaction, she said, that spurred her to create the C.H.A.M.P.S. handle.
Regardless, hundreds of “brats” joined together in a Twitter and Facebook campaign to force military charities and organizations to cut ties with the Finks’ small charity. The campaign mounted such strong pressure that the USO, USAA, the Red Cross, the Navy League, and the Military Child Education Coalition—the latter of which withdrew its support of Operation Champs.
After losing so much support, the Finks closed down their charity, even though they feel that the attacks on them weren’t justified.
“This has become about vengeance,” she said. “You can spend so long building something so beautiful and so virtuous, and it only takes two weeks of social media and tweets to destroy it.
In a statement, the Finks explained their decision to shut down the charity.
“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 said in the December 9 statement. “Operation CHAMPS has since become 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.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.