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Military Brats Compare Lives Reared in Uniform World

July 23, 1995|RICHARD PYLE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — In 1961, when King Mohammed V of Morocco died, 13-year-old Mike Adams looked out his bedroom window to see an endless procession of Berber tribes people flow into Rabat to pay respects.

"There must have been a million of them, maybe two million," he recalls. "I've never seen anything like it. How many people have?"

But not many people move 12 times during their childhoods and attend three high schools. As the son of an Air Force officer, Adams did just that.

Now he is trying to connect with other "military brats" who grew up in a world of uniforms, oftentimes living abroad, sometimes witness to history.

A year ago, he founded Military Brats of America, a national organization that seeks to promote the interests of the 10 million to 15 million people who fit the general definition, he says, based on military-pension statistics.

"The size of the American military exploded during and after World War II, and so did the number of military children," said Adams, 47, a self-employed graphic designer in New York. "The oldest of us are now in our 40s, and we're beginning to ask what hit us in childhood."

Whether "dependents," as they're officially known, or "brats" as they generally call themselves, being one is a mixed blessing, Adams says. Growing up with a more sophisticated view of the world can mean missing out on some of life's simpler pleasures.

Typically, he said, military brats attend six or more schools by the time they finish high school. Their closest friendships may last only a year. Many never know such typical teen experiences as hanging out at the drive-in, cheering a basketball team in the state regionals or attending a senior prom.

"It's best summed up in one phrase: no hometown," Adams said.

"Hometowns give normal people a sense of a shared destiny. None of us have any place to go back to. In a world of interconnected destinies, most brats have been going it alone."

Adams says he sought a way to bring such people together, to compare pasts, even find out if childhood experiences led to similar later lives.

Three years ago, he placed small ads in magazines catering to military audiences. Those drew only nibbles of interest, but the idea eventually caught on and last year became Military Brats of America.

For $8 dues, a new member gets a newsletter, a listing in the MBA "registry" and a bumper sticker with the logo--designed by Adams--of a crying baby clutching a missile in one hand.

Adams said MBA's main purpose is to "bolster the image of military brats in the national consciousness," somewhat like war veterans. "As it stands, we have absolutely no image in the minds of Americans."

A sampling of comments, randomly culled by Adams from his computer, seemed to bear that out. Most respondents used only their first names or nicknames.

* A Pennsylvania man said living abroad more than compensated for not having a hometown. "I couldn't have asked for a better upbringing," he said. "I can fit in with any social group . . . speak at least a smattering of several foreign tongues and can survive even in countries whose language I know not."

* A woman with three daughters--also military brats--said she saw her family's frequent moves as a means to self-improvement: "I could always . . . become a new person if I didn't like the me I was."

* A 26-year-old woman said that only now does she realize that some military families, including her own, had serious problems. "I wouldn't change a day in my life, though," she added. "I feel [we] brats are more prepared for the world."

Adams welcomes additions to his list of "military brat celebrities." Among them: House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.); Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas; singers Bette Midler, John Denver and the late Jim Morrison; basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, and actresses Faye Dunaway, Heather Locklear and Victoria Principal.

Military Brats of America can be reached at P.O. Box 1165A, New York, N.Y. 10159.

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