Harford military BRATs are featured in exhibit at Hays-Heighe House through March 13

Military kids: moving around is a way of life they get used to

Being a military kid has its ups and its downs. You get to move a lot, and see and experience new things. But you have to move a lot, and say goodbye to the friends you've made.

Then again, you have friends everywhere, all over the country, and the world.

A new exhibit, on display through March 13 at Harford Community College's Hays Heighe House, features the lives of military families across the country as well as a handful of local BRATs, the children of military parents.

"We've been wanting to do something related to the military for quite a while, because of course Aberdeen Proving Ground is such a big part of the social and cultural history of the county," college Library Director Carol Allen said.

More than just the art show, the exhibit was expanded to include programs and presentations about the military.

"What we're trying to focus in on really is what it is like to live as a military family," Allen said.

Besides a poetry slam on Feb. 18 to show how literature can enhances the understanding of history and a showing of "Our Own Private Battlefield" on Feb. 24 featuring father-daughter artists Tom and Lora Beldon, who have used art to help heal the wounds of a family torn apart by the Vietnam War, HCC has two additional programs scheduled.

At 12:15 p.m. Friday, March 6, at the Hays-Heighe House is a seminar titled "When Mom or Dad is a Soldier: the Mental Health Consequences of Being a Military Kid." Two HCC psychology professors, Manolya Bayar and Regina Roof-Ray, will lead a discussion on mental health issues related to the military lifestyle.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 10, also at the Hays-Heighe House, Diane Dillard-Broadnax will discuss the Military BRATS comic book by Steve Dickenson and Todd Clark, which is a humorous look at the trials of military families.

Both are free and open to the public. Seating is limited. Reservations are recommended at haysheighe@harford.edu or 443-412-2539.

Traveling exhibit

The Military Kid Art Show is a traveling exhibit of Lora Beldon and Donna Musil, both Army BRATs, design to show the life of a military child through art.

Beldon owns "Military Kid Art Project" and Musil owns "BRATs Without Borders;" the two had been working separately but joined forces a few years ago and combined their efforts to accomplish the same goal, but "in a bigger way, faster," Beldon said.

The exhibit has been circulating for about a year and has been booked solid, she said.

The exhibit features an array of military-related items, primarily photos and artist renderings of life in the military, especially from a child's perspective.

One piece is a statement from Musil: "I love being called a military BRAT, which is based on the historic acronym for British military kids, "British Regiment Attached Traveler. It's who I am."

That pretty much sums up all military BRATs, who have to move with their families when they're reassigned.

Local art

To expand on the exhibit, Allen said, she and Iris Barnes sought works of Harford County military BRATs.

"We try with everything we do in the county to really get very specific to the county, not just to say we have Aberdeen Proving Ground," Allen said. "So we do something related to the military, but we wanted to try and showcase art done by current residents of Harford County who fit the description of being military kids."

Each of the pieces submitted by 21 BRATs, ranging from age 6 to 25, is hung in one of the downstairs rooms at the Hays-Heighe House. The pieces didn't have to be military-related, though some of them are – Allen said they just want to spotlight the works of some of the BRATs.

Jamie Colopietro is a Navy BRAT whose family has been in Bel Air for the last 10 years, and intends to stay.

Her dad, Daniel, whose last duty station was at the Pentagon, retired last from the Navy Reserves.

Jamie Colopietro, who was homeschooled growing up, is 19 and a student at Harford Community College. She moved frequently as a child until she and her family moved to Bel Air.

"It has its ups and downs. You get to meet a lot of amazing people, make really amazing friendships," she said. "But at the same time, you had to say goodbye to them."

Art has been a release for her when certain things have been going on in her life.

"I could do art and it was a release. It really doesn't show truly the emotions going on. It does show emotion, but not in a way others show it," she said.

One of her pieces in the exhibit is a series of three pictures – a flag, a proud wounded soldier and a little boy in front of his father's grave.

"It's showing that people are willing to sacrifice so much for their country so people can live in a country that is free and they have rights," Colopietro said.

She and her mom, Jeanne, both volunteer at the Hays-Heighe House.

It was important for Colopietro to have her works included in the exhibit.

"It's important to show that even though you move around, you still acquire different skills and techniques that you can appreciate and take with you," she said.

In most public schools, she said, art wasn't concentrated on, but at the youth center at APG, "you actually really do a lot of arts and crafts."

"So you can kind of take something with you that you can show, that your kids can see and you can say, 'I was stationed here and this is what I made at this duty station, this is what I acquired, a different skill set,'" Colopietro said.

Leaving a legacy at EMS

The Aarsen family is active duty Army and has been stationed at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground for the last three and a half years.

The longest place they have lived is four years and now the Aarsens are trying to figure out where they're going next – Tom, a lieutenant colonel, is retiring from the Army this summer. The options are wide open, though some of the kids are voting for the Midwest or the East Coast.

Katie, who was born in Georgia, has lived in Missouri, Kansas twice, Texas and Pennsylvania in addition to Maryland.

"It's interesting," she said about moving around. "You get to see a lot of different places and have a different perspective fro people who stay in the same place and know the same people all their lives," Katie, 15 and a sophomore at Edgewood High School, said.

"You meet new people so you get to experience a bunch of perspectives and people in their areas. It's kind of cool," she said. "It's hard to leave people behind sometimes, but it's always interesting."

If and when she moves, Katie will be leaving something behind – the Science Olympiad, which she brought to Edgewood Middle School when she moved here from Pennsylvania. When she got to the International Baccalaureate program at Edgewood High, she started a chapter there, which her parents, Julie and Tom, coach.

The after-school activity focuses on all things science.

"It's really cool because it shows you different aspects of science you might not be interested in," Katie said, adding it has led her to hoping to pursue a career in architecture.

Katie and her parents hope teachers will pick up Science Olympiad when the Aarsens leave. They have already taken it over at Edgewood Middle, and Katie's brother, 14-year-old Josh, is part of it.

"It's really cool [knowing Science Olympiad will continue] because everyone will get to experience it in the future," Katie said. "Because it meant a lot to me and I hope someone else will find the same kind of meaning in it."

Her art in the exhibit is a poem made from words cut out of newspapers and magazines. Another is a picture of the Chesapeake Bay.

"I've always been fascinated by water. I never saw the ocean until I was about 13," she said.

Josh is in the eighth grade at Edgewood Middle. He said moving around can be sad, "but you get used to it eventually."

"I think it's easier when you're a kid. There are multiple ways to look at it – when you're older, you know how to deal with it, but when you're younger you can make friends easier," Josh said.

He said he has friends everywhere, "from the East Coast to the West Coast, pretty much."

When he's older, Josh said, he thinks he'd like to move around some, every five to seven years, perhaps. But he's also considering the military, which would mean moving more often.

One of 10-year-old Kenzie Aarsen's pieces in the exhibit includes a picture of Niagara Falls when they were visiting friends.

Kenzie, who is homeschooled, has mixed feelings about being a BRAT.

"It's kind of fun making new friends, but it's kind of sad to leave the old friends," she said.

Jaya and Jay Coats are also Army BRATs.

The Coatses have been stationed at APG for three years, their longest assignment so far.

Serenity Coats and her husband, Jay, are both from Toledo, Ohio, but in the last 15 years, they've lived in five locations, and each of their four children – Jaya, 9, Jay, 6, Journey, 4, and Justice, 2 – have been born in different places.

Jaya, who goes to school at Helping Hands Academy in Churchville, said one of her favorite places she's lived is Oklahoma.

"It's cool to learn new things when you go to different states around the U.S.," Jaya said, adding it's pretty easy for her to make friends.

Her art in the show includes flowers, a picture of her with her mom with the flag and a butterfly made with dots of paint.

"I love art. I like to paint and color. It's just fun to make stuff, you can paint a person or draw something creative," Jaya said.

Her brother, Jay, painted a picture of animals playing around with each other.

"I like [art], because it's fun," he said.

Fred Golden, 20, who is studying graphic design at HCC, said it wasn't hard for him to move as a kid.

"Sure, I missed my friends, but after a while, it tapers off, you don't really stay connected," the 2013 graduate of Patterson Mill said.

His exhibit pieces include two graphite pencil drawings, one called "One more time," a tribute to his favorite band, Daft Punk, that he first heard when he was living in Germany.

Another piece is called "Tea time," and is based on his favorite Disney movie, "Alice in Wonderland."

"I just love the story so much, I can't get rid of the idea of the story," he said.

The "Military Kid Art Show" is a traveling exhibit that is at the Hays Heighe house on the college's campus through March 13. It is open Mondays, 4 to 6 p.m.; Tuesdays, noon to 3 p.m.; Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to noon; Fridays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Saturday, March 7, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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