Family Matters: Interview with Debbie Fink of Operation C.H.A.M.P.S. (Part 1 of 2)

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There’s an army of over 700,000 of these tough fighters spanning the ranks of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. None of them received much in the form of medals or awards for their service. These tireless heroes continue to fight nonetheless. They remain encouraged in spite of being tested again and again. They show resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. As you read this, they continue to selflessly serve.


Can you guess the name of this elite fighting force?


Whether you call them Family Members, “Brats”, or Dependents, the youngest of these might be better known as “C.H.A.M.P.S.”! Why? Military life presents unique challenges for the younger set within any military family. Each branch of service provides ongoing support for military families designed to make sure morale stays high at home. You should take full advantage of all the available support resources.

But, there’s something else worth mentioning. This affects all Americans, at home or abroad, whether they’re serving or supporting our Military.


There’s a “disconnect” between two communities! No, I’m not referring to what one branch of military service offers that the other branch may not; I’m referring to a couple of communities you know very well – The Military Community and The Civilian Community and their ability to better understand each other.


In this edition of GOING CIVILIAN, you’ll meet Debbie Fink and learn about a unique program whose goal is not only about uplifting Military Children, but also bridging the gap between the military and civilian communities.


Charles “Chazz” Pratt III (CP3): Tell me a little bit about Operation C.H.A.M.P.S. – Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel – and how it got started?

Debbie Fink (DF): Operation CHAMPS is a public health and education initiative that was launched in October 2012, to celebrate and support America’s children of the military and their families, and to build the bridge of understanding between our military and civilian worlds.  Our children’s book – titled “The Little C.H.A.M.P.S – Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel” – is the cornerstone for this initiative.  There are ~718,000 6-12 year old Champs (the initiative’s target audience) across all five military branches.  We also aim to reach and teach the Champs’ countless civilian classmates.


CP3: Your website says that Operation CHAMPS engages civilian communities in giving back to military families. How do you go about doing this engagement?

DF: Operation CHAMPS, newly launched at the University of Maryland, offers four ways to engage civilians in giving back to military families:  1) CHAMPSitting Program:  training college students and other civilians to be ‘militarily culturally competent’ CHAMPSitters, offering free Champ(baby)sitting to local military families.  2)  “DutyFree Fun” Program:  engaging local businesses to donate free gifts (e.g., a dinner out for a military couple; a spa package for a spouse of a deployed Servicemember; respite for a spouse of a Wounded Warrior, etc.).  3)  “Campus Corps” Program:  organizing volunteers to help out at other military-connected organizational events.  4) “The Little CHAMPS” Program: overseeing the national distribution of “The Little CHAMPS” book, as well as the distribution of the  (Operation CHAMPS) Traveling Classroom CHAMPKit.


CP3: Some people place a patriotic bumper sticker on their car or attend a military-themed parade as a show of gratitude to our military. How does Operation CHAMPS build upon this level of patriotism?

DF: Bumper stickers and parade attendance – it’s all good.  Though for Americans seeking opportunities to make an immediate difference in the lives of our military families, Operation CHAMPS offers easy opportunities to do so.  An individual who donates $10 knows that a copy of “The Little CHAMPS” book is going directly to a Champ, providing support, comfort, and coping skills to the Champ and family. 


Those individuals, PTAS, or local businesses that sponsor a Traveling Classroom CHAMPKit know that they are making a profound and immediate difference in the lives of hundreds and hundreds of American children: classroom by classroom, school by school.


Operation CHAMPS’ UMD program will soon be growing to other campuses nationwide, at state universities located near large military installations.


CP3: The Military is definitely a community within a community. There’s often a “disconnect” between the two communities that highlights the need for a better understanding of military life. How does Operation CHAMPS bridge the gap between the military and civilian worlds?

DF: Only 37 percent of military families currently live on military installations; the remaining 63 percent live in over 4,000 civilian communities nationwide. They are our neighbors, coworkers and friends, but the challenges that military children and families face are not widely understood by their civilian peers. With less than one percent of our Nation serving in our military, we believe it is the civic duty of the other 99 percent to understand, appreciate, and support our Servicemembers and their families.   “The Little CHAMPS” book not only helps Champs cope with their challenging lifestyle, but also educates their civilian classmates and school community about military life, while providing simple ways to build welcoming and supportive communities for military families.


We firmly believe that education raises awareness; awareness often translates into acts of gratitude; and acts of gratitude help bridge the gap between our military and civilian worlds.  Through our educational book and awareness-raising programs, our initiative bridges the gap child by child, school by school, community by community.  Working with our growing Alliance – military-connected organizations and now non-military, too – is a critical component to bridging the gap.


CP3: Champs face unique challenges. Their needs are exclusive to military life and specific to the career choice of their parents. What are some of these challenges they face? 

DF: First, let me highlight the benefits:  Champs learn and grow from their military-connected lifestyle:  they are worldly; and, due to their lifestyle, often absorb and exhibit vital virtues, such as:  flexibility, adaptability, patriotism, loyalty, honor, gratitude, citizenship, commitment, and more. 


Now let’s address some of their challenges, remembering that when one member of a family serves in the military, the entire family serves. Facts:

  • Champs move 6 to 9 times over the course of their school years.  The stressors that come with moving are well-documented in the body of psychology: in fact, moving is one of the top three stressors in life.
  • Champs must deal with inconsistent academic requirements as they move around.  Differences in State requirements for academic and athletic participation have negative impacts on achievement and participation.  Slow but steady progress is being made to standardize school requirements, which will help Champs tremendously. 
  • 34% of military parents are “less or not confident” that their children’s school is responsive to the unique aspects of military life (93% attend non-DoDEA schools).
  • The majority of Champs in public schools “feel their classmates and teachers do not understand what they are going through.”
  • More than 700,000 Champs (0-18) have endured one or more parental deployments.
  • Deployments take a toll on Servicemembers physically, mentally and emotionally, and take a significant toll on the families and children – whether it is pre-deployment angst; deployment fears; or reintegration struggles.

CP3: How do you help Champs overcome these challenges?

DF: We emphasize five keys to constructively overcome their challenges and build resiliency:  1) Asking for (and receiving) help from trusted adults.  2) Communication.  3) Community.  4) Feeling special and valued.    5)  Learning and practicing virtues.


There’s a lot of dialogue within the military community about the importance of building resiliency to overcome challenges.  My pedagogic philosophy is that we build resiliency by building character.   I firmly believe that virtues (such as courage or compassion) are the tools that we all need in order to face what life dishes out in a constructive, or resilient manner.  The more we focus and build upon virtues, the more resilient we become.  Our book and its Curricular Supplement reinforce this.  With that said, it also focuses on the importance of identifying and expressing emotions; helping Champs figure out how to handle these emotions; and how, when, and where to get help. 


We deliver the key messages mentioned earlier:  that it is a child’s right to ask for (and to receive) help.  S/he does not need to cope alone.  Champs are part of a community, and it is the responsibility of the adult community to provide the support, comfort, and guidance that our Champs need and deserve.  They can also learn to help themselves and to help each other.  Nonetheless, we adults need to claim responsibility to help them navigate through their military-connected challenges. 


CP3: You’ve traveled the globe sharing your support and program to Champs with the USO. Do you notice any differences between Champs located in the US versus those living in foreign soil?

DF: Absolutely.  I’ve had the honor of ‘edu-taining’ over 10,000 Champs during my USO tours to Europe and Asia.  I think the primary difference between our Champs residing overseas and our Champs in the US is that Champs overseas are all part of the DoDEA (Dept. of Defense Education Activity) school system.  Champs are the majority in these schools.  Their teachers and classmates understand what they’re going through.  The school system is structured to support them, recognizing the challenges they face.


Yet according to a principal of a school I visited on my 2011 USO Tour in Germany, over 90% of her Champs had a parent currently deployed in harm’s way.  So it is not uncommon that even when these Champs and families have been relocated across the world, the Servicemember is often deployed even further away.  Still, while living on foreign soil, Champs are among adults and children who understand what they’re going through, and seem to have more communal support.


In contrast, this is not the case in the US.  Champs in public schools often “feel their classmates and teachers don’t understand what they’re going through.”  More often than not, a Champ can go through a school day where people (including teachers) are entirely unaware that his/her parent serves our country; or that his/her parent is deployed; or that a parent has just come back and is dealing with PTSD or a Traumatic Brain Injury or other injuries or wounds; or that parents have grown apart and are discussing divorce; or that the child has just been told they would be PCSing (moving) again in a few month’s time . . . As a Nation, it is our Civic Duty to cultivate a more sensitive school climate and informed community here in the US. 


CP3: What are the key “take home” messages that civilian children discover? How do they gain a better appreciation for Champs and the military lifestyle?

DF: We had the pleasure of co-piloting a program alongside our cherished partner United Through Reading (UTR), at a public school in Fairfax County, VA.  One-third of the students were Champs; two-thirds were civilians.  Prior to our arrival, the Champs didn’t even know others were Champs!  So right there, a Champ support group was born.  UTR gave each student a copy of the book.  We played a video, recorded by UTR, of a deployed parent (in Afghanistan) reading the story to and with the children.  He spoke to/with the kids; for example, asking them to find Afghanistan on the map.  The children read along with him. 


Over the next few months, the fabulous educator piloted a few of the classroom extensions from our Operation CHAMPS Curricular Supplement.  We returned on Flag Day (June 14) to a classroom of children who had undergone a transformation individually and collectively from this experience. 


The Champs felt understood, appreciated, supported, and PROUD.  The civilians shared how much they had learned about military life, about military challenges, about their peers, about friendship.  They bonded over commonalities and celebrated differences.  The ensuing dialogue was remarkable.  The classroom’s bridge of understanding was built between its civilian and CHAMPS.  We continue to build this program out with UTR.


CP3: You have a strong group of supporters for this initiative! Who have you partnered with and what results have you seen? 

DF: Yes, our Alliance of strong and ever growing supporters for this initiative has been paramount!  For the book’s first printing, branding our “Statement of Support,” we had the following military-connected organizations:  The USO; United Through Reading; AUSA Family Programs; Military Child Education Coalition; Armed Services YMCA; American Red Cross; Operation Homefront; and National Military Family Association. As we head back to press, we are so pleased to add the following organizations to our Alliance:  Air Force Association; Navy League; Marine Corps League; Coast Guard Foundation; Blue Star Families; and our first non-military connected organization:  the National Association for Elementary School Principals (NAESP).



Frequent Visitor

It doesn't appear that anyone here vetted the Finks before endorsing their program.  It is an insult to us Brats.  

Looking at their website and facebook page, it appears that their main interest is making money - have a fundraiser, donate to us, etc.  Send me on a world tour to 5 star hotels.


None of the people associated with this organization have any military connection, Brat or otherwise.


USAA's support of Operation CHAMPs is a slap in the face to many of us who are USAA members.  Maybe it's time that USAA should rethink this.  Do you really want to insult those of us who make up a large part of your membership?


Proud Army Brat for 63 years

Terrill Major
Frequent Contributor
USAA built their business on the generations of BRATs not champs. Champs built their business off the backs of BRATs. Is it just business for you all? For us its our birthright, heritage and our legacy. What will you do if we pull our support from you, USAA? Please reassess your sponsorship of champs. We BRATs are rear military family support of that which you built your business on. Why are you disregarding our birthright by supporting this small group of people who use corporate sponsorship and tax payers dollars and Donations to fill their own pockets and travel the world to bases and posts to educate BRATs that they are now Champs (a word they made up). Please see our petition for and by BRATs. Please understand how Finks book; , further segregates BRATs... "I am a Proud Military BRAT, a member of a tenacious group with strong roots and a shared heritage and legacy endeared to us by our parents who served in the Armed Forces." ~ Terrill
Proud Army BRAT

We are BRATS!!!  OUR PARENTS are the heroes....not us.  
Unless you have walked in our shoes and know what a Badge of Honor being a BRAT is....don't attempt to change who we are because OUR name offends YOU!  It is OUR Legacy and birthright to call ourselves BRATS.

SHAME ON YOU USAA for not considering TRUE BRATS and supporting this opportunisitic attempt to make young Military kids around the world ashamed of their legacy and be forced to label themselves in a manner that steals Valor from their parents the TRUE HEROES! 

We are 15 million Strong and Proud to be BRATS...clearly you don't care about those of us who gave our childhoods away for this country!!!

Don't try to steal our legacy!!!

Community Manager
Community Manager

Hi Everyone! As an Army BRAT and Veteran with BRATS, I can appreciate all that's being shared here and I truly value your opinions on this and all other topics too! You may have seen this in a similar post already, but wanted to repost just in case:


Thank you for sharing your feedback. I will share each of your concerns with our sponsorship team. In the meantime, I was able to get some information on USAA’s involvement.


Like many military affiliated organizations, we are focused on supporting our military community. Our participation in this project was not an endorsement of a name change, but to support a positive message in helping civilian children better understand the challenges faced by their classmates from military families.


As mentioned, I will share each and every concern with our sponsorship team.


Thank you for sharing your feedback here in the Community!


- Chazz

Occasional Visitor

Debbie Fink has never served, nor was ever a dependant and has absolutely not idea what it means to be a BRAT. I just don't understand why she thinks that any one of us would allow ourselves to be called a hero. The word hero is being thrown around way too frivolous in my opinion now a days. My dad was a hero, certainly not me. And if I am reading stories correctly (there are a lot of them!), her initiative isn't even visiting civilian schools - she's overseas at the military base schools talking to elementary school BRATS edu-taining them (as she likes to call it). So, in essence, this isn't even reaching the targeted children to even matter.


I was born and raised a BRAT, I've lived the life of a BRAT, and loved and cherished every moment. I seriously doubt that her one little book will effect how I identify myself and my extended military family.   


I am so disappointed that USAA, whom I've been a member (as well as a former employee) with for what seems my whole life, would support this initiative. It sounds to me like the BRAT community is speaking - and loudly. YOUR members are speaking - what you do now says everything about how much you stand behind your mission statement.


BRAT for Life.


Brats community asks  that all Operation CHAMPs sponsors refocus their donations and sponsorship to existing Brat-run initiatives and programs that have the full support of the Brat community and are legitimately operating as non-profits. This includes but is not limited to Brats without Borders, BratPin, Operation Footlocker. All books and films for purchase, showing and donation should be chosen from among the many many written by Brats. A good selection of them can be found here.


Please ensure that, once a full accounting of the moneys wasted on Operation CHAMPs is made public, a donation in equal dollar amounts is made by each sponsor to legitimate Brat-run non-profits or vetted programs that are guaranteed to impact and improve the lives of Military families.



New Member

"Hero" is a special word with significant meaning. While the people with no experience with the Military, including Debbie Fink, may be ok with degrading the word, we are not. I am not a brat, but my kids are. I take special care to instill a true sense of responsibility in their community- that just existing is not enough to be called a "hero." Ms. Fink, clearly, seeks to profit, in monetary gain or prestige, off of that which she does not understand: the military and military families. I urge USAA to pull its support from this project.

New Member
Raise awareness about the way military kids are raised and the unique lifestyle that they lead. However, assisting someone in changing something that is important and dear to every single BRAT out there, while at the same time allowing some woman to benefit monetarily from it is just sad. We expect better from USAA especially considering the countless military personnel and and their families that utilize your services.
Rick Bloyer

This Fink person has never been in the world she is writing about.  We can tell.  Looks a lot like GREED to me.  She is a smooth talker but lacks the depth one can only get from walking the walk.  The interviewer did not know how to drill into the real experience of a BRAT.  Stay away from this person's books; they will mislead.

Rick Bloyer

USAA should do more research into stories it allows on its site!  It messed up miseably with this one.