Mary Edwards Wertsch

Author and expert on military brat identity
MILITARY BRATS: Legacies of Childhood inside the Fortress

By Mary Edwards Wertsch
with Introduction by Pat Conroy


Some brats call it "the bible"....

This groundbreaking nonfiction book, first
published in 1991, set the stage for a movement
of cultural identity that is still growing. 
It remains
the only book to explore the long-term effects of
growing up military.


Author Mary Edwards Wertsch, a journalist and Army brat, takes the original approach of viewing the military as a culture: not a corporate culture, as some would have it, but a home culture for those born into it--a culture as valid and powerfully shaping as any other on earth. It is through sharing our stories with one another, she believes, that we rediscover our cultural roots and attain the empowerment of self-understanding. 

Her 80 interviewees are nearly all Baby Boomers, born after WWII.  The culture she discovers and defines through their stories, however, is one that transcends the confines of one particular period.

Wertsch points out, "The fact the military changes substantially over time is evidence for--rather than against--the idea of the military as a distinct culture.  Every true culture is an organic thing which continues to evolve and change even as it retains core characteristics that continue to shape its children generation after generation.  The U.S. military of 1900, 1950, and 2000 looked distinctly different from one another, and yet were also very much the same:  authoritarian, idealistic, mobile, largely male, dedicated to mission, radically different from civilian society, and engaged in continual preparation to wage war.

"This is why military brats do not stop being military brats the day they come of age and turn in their i.d. cards.  We are formed so thoroughly by that distinct culture that we continue to be influenced by it in our values, our choices, our strengths and our challenges until the day we die.  I did not know this when I started my research; I was blown away by the truth of it by the time I finished. 

"I think most military children grow up with the vague feeling that they don't really come from anywhere, don't carry the markings of a specific cultural origin, and don't have a shared connection with others from the same culture.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

"Truly, it's about time we owned our own lived experience.  We come from a culture as distinct and as powerfully shaping as any culture on earth.  Understanding that is the way to finally understand ourselves and our families, and to connect meaningfully with others like us."



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A startling, groundbreaking exploration, Military Brats is the first book to analyze what it means to grow up in the military.  Based on five years of research, including in-depth interviews with eighty military brats from all the armed services as well as physicians, teachers, psychologists, social workers, and others, this book probes the consequences—both positive and negative—of being raised in a family characterized by rigid discipline, nomadic rootlessness, dedication to military mission, and the threat of war and personal loss.

With its clear-eyed, sometimes shocking depictions of alcoholism and domestic violence, and its empathy for military parents caught up in an extremely demanding 
way of life, Military Brats provides catharsis, insight, and a path toward healing.  Mary Wertsch not only defines America’s most invisible minority for the very first time, she also passionately exhorts the children of warriors to come to terms with their native Fortress legacies so that they might take full advantage of the positive endowment that is also their birthright.

Civilians will find this book eye-opening.  Military parents will find it at once challenging and sympathetic.  And military  brats will know in their hearts that this is the book they’ve been waiting for. 


“I thought I was singular in all this, one of a kind.  With this book, Mary Wertsch astonished me and introduced me to a secret family I did not know I had….This book is both a love letter and a troubled meditation on the way children are raised in military families.”

--Pat Conroy , Marine brat, author of The Great Santini, Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, My Losing Season

'width' is a duplicate attribute name. Line 1, position 37.EXCERPTS FROM BOOK REVIEWS

Military Brats
gives the experience of a military childhood a weight many of us have never fully admitted, allowing our pain, finally, to be saluted alongside our pride.
--The Atlantic Monthly

 Fascinating and edifying….
--The Sunday Oregonian

…a comprehensive, well-written and moving study of the effects of military life on children, who ‘serve’ with no recognition or glory….
--United Press International

Wertsch’s deeply felt book has much to say about the fragility of the family and about the dark side of human nature.
--Publisher’s Weekly

Mary Edwards Wertsch offers…clarity for those of us born into military families with her ground-breaking study….  Wertsch writes eloquently, weaving together personal experience, extensive research, and interviews….  For those who were raised in the Fortress who are still searching for the missing pieces to their lives, Military Brats will provide valuable clues.
--Sober Times, The Recovery Magazine

Wertsch’s Military Brats is a long-needed corrective that goes a long way toward explaining to civilian society the demands it places not only on its soldiers but on their offspring….

Her attention to the dark side hasn’t resulted in a gloomy book.  I found it wise and helpful.
--Navy Times

A good choice for many public libraries and for any library serving a military population.
--Library Journal

 Despite its many handicaps, a military upbringing also offers unique bonuses, and Wertsch stresses the particular strengths that military brats can, and often do, develop.
--Kirkus Reviews

Brats will read this book and recognize themselves….  Civilians, particularly spouses of brats, may read it and begin to understand….Regardless, when Mary Edwards Wertsch says she’s ‘proud to be a military brat and despite the high price exacted by the Fortress,…would have it no other way,” she speaks an interesting truth that many brats will recognize.
--Raleigh News and Observer


Click here to see table of contents and one page from preface, Pat Conroy's introduction, and each chapter:


Listen to comment by reader Marion Hogan on National Public Radio!

This is a real page turner for those military brats trying to come to terms with who they are and why. There are so many answers to your nagging questions (and questions you didn't even know you had). Like others who have reviewed this book I laughed (at both myself and my family) and cried. Must-read
as far as I'm concerned.
--Kleinzle in Lincoln, NE

I have never seen the feelings and experiences I had growing up put down on paper with such clarity. Mary Wertsch captures the experience of growing up as a brat precisely. I have bought copies of this book to send to my parents and sisters; I know they'll feel the same way I do. This book will touch ANY person who grew up in the military environment.

I am a proud Navy brat and only recently found this astonishing book. I had no idea books like this existed and it was such a major source of enlightenment to me that I can't even begin to describe it. I'm recommending it to everyone. Although chunks of this book did not apply to me (my father was never abusive, my mother is anything but passive around him) the vast majority of her book hit me like a ton of bricks. A very good ton of bricks. The inconsistencies in my behavior that I couldn't quite explain, the constant sense of isolation and competition, my patterns with friends, my inability to adequately explain to any of my civilian friends exactly what made my childhood so different from their own... this book explained SO many things and put me on the path to answers for other things. This is part of a story that needs to be told but that few know is out there. Regardless of service, age, or experience I give this book my highest recommendation to everyone, military brat or not!!

When reading this book, as I saw something that applied to my life, I dog-eared the page. By the end of the book, I had about two-thirds of the pages turned down. The book really helped me understand myself.
--Stephen H.

It's been over 10 years since I originally bought this book. Mary Edwards Wertsch clearly documents that life in the military is not a job, but a career experience for an entire family. This book illustrates the challenges many of us faced growing up and the similarities we have had in adulthood. It also helps brats, like myself, understand some of the public service values we inherited from years of family public service. I have bought five copies to share with other friends who are brats. The stories in this book served as a unifying experience for all of us.
--Randall C.

It helped me to deal with some painful issues that I didn’t even realize were there. I am a younger brat, but I related to many of the stories in the book….My father was not abusive in any way, however, I cried in some parts of the book just because I have never heard or read anything that I could relate to so much.
--Sherri M.

I certainly have experienced many of the same ups and downs outlined in Military Brats, and like others I found it very therapeutic reading. I generally loathe self-help or pop pysch books, but this one's different - at least for me. Being a writer myself, I know what kind of effort it takes to put together a book like this. Congratulations to Wertsch.
--Josh T.

This book makes sense out of oddity. I cried as I read the first few chapters, not knowing why. My life and feelings make more sense. So many 'issues' I didn't realize had a foundation. I've passed it along to my husband, hoping he can better understand the 'brat life'. I wouldn't have missed the life, but almost missed the book. A MUST read for military families and for civilians trying to understand their military husbands, wives or children.
--Alexa C.

I found this book Military Brats by the Grace of my God. It answered soooooo many questions. I found out that I was not so crazy after all. But it also told me that I had many years ahead to work through some very painful issues. I praise Mary Edwards Wertsch and have endless gratitude to this woman for her courage to put into words that are even today setting me free of my fears and demons.
--Patrica A. Ladner Davis

Mary Edward Wertsch captures the experiences of military brat life in its truest sense. She illustrates through interviews, and her own family experiences, how brats do not live as civilian kids do. The book discusses the stresses and strains of a military parent constantly leaving home for months at a time; of living inside the military fortress with all its rules, frustrations, and expectations on the warrior family; of the effects of alcoholism within the military; and of the constant moves, broken friendships, and fractured relationships. As a backdrop to the interviews and stories, the author also weaves throughout the book scenes from the movie "The Great Santini", which to many a civilian is just a fictional movie about a military family, but to many a military brat, all too real. This is a must read for any military brat!
--Anne H.

A very good study about the "town" that we military brats grew up in. I have no contacts with past friends because of the typical rapid movement of the "cold warrior". This book has helped me realize that we are all out there and share a very common set of values gained while growing up "on the base". I now ask three questions when I come across other members of the tribe: 1) How may schools did you go to? 2) What did you do when the flag came down in the evening? 3) How did you answer the phone? If you don't think you are different, ask the questions of a civilian. I wish I’d had this resource 30 years ago.
--James E. Dodgen Jr.

This wonderful book helped me see my life in a new perspective. Now I am able to understand why the experience of growing up an "Army Brat" was so unique an environment that even my parents did not understand it. And it is so good to find out we are not alone.
--Joan Lane Jacobs

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NOTE:  The current edition of Military Brats is about to go out of print.  A new edition, celebrating its 20th anniversary, is in the works.  This new print edition should be available in early 2011.  In the meantime, an electronic version (of the 2006 edition only) is available through .

Since 2006 the book has been published by Brightwell Publishing, LLC.
The remaining individual print copies are available through and The Military Brat Registry.
If the intended order is for a bookstore, institution, college course, or for a group wishing to order multiple copies, please contact the publisher directly concerning when the new 20th Anniversary Edition of Military Brats will be available:

Brightwell Publishing
7151 Delmar Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63130-4304 

Phone:   (314) 662-2736 |
Fax:       (877) 865-5750

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