Celebrities Who Were Military Brats
Life on base shaped these famous stars' childhoods!
Most of the time, if you call a child a “brat” it would be a harsh insult. But it’s a badge of honor for kids who grew up with parents in the military.
Nobody is quite sure where the phrase “military brat” comes from but it’s long been used to describe those children who were raised on bases, lived away from one of their parents during tours and often had to be uprooted as assignments changed. There are millions of people who grew up this away around the world, including many famous ones.
Here are some celebrities who grew up as brats and how spending their childhood in a military family has continued to influence their lives.
Oscar nominee Amy Adams was born in Italy while her father was serving in the U.S. military and was stationed in Aviano at the time. Adams is pretty private about her personal life, but in 2014 she showed how enduring her respect for the armed services is when she gave up a first-class seat on a flight so that a soldier could be upgraded. Her memories of being in Italy as a kid must also be fond because she eventually named her daughter Aviana.
Like Amy Adams, Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon knows what it was like to spend part of her childhood overseas. Her father, Dr. John Witherspoon, was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. That service resulted in little Reese spending four years of her childhood living in Wiesbaden, Germany. In 2015, it was announced that Witherspoon would be producing a film version of the book “Ashley’s War,” which tells the true story of some of the first women to serve on the front line in American combat operations.
Not all stories of growing up as a military brat are full of great memories: just ask Christina Aguilera. The singer’s father was a sergeant in the U.S. Army and his combative nature didn’t stop after he left the battlefield. In 2009, Aguilera admitted to E! TV that her dad was physically abusive when she was growing up and that she “did not feel safe.” Among the charitable causes she has supported since becoming famous are funds for survivors of domestic violence and homeless women veterans.
Bruce Willis has made a career out of playing tough guys and it makes even more sense when you consider he was raised in a military family. The action movie icon was born in West Germany while his dad was stationed there during his U.S. military service. Willis has shown his respect for soldiers like his father, telling The Guardian in 2007 that “the young man or woman fighting overseas” is the person he admires most in the world.
“Anybody who has a job that puts them in harm’s way … for what they believe is their responsibility to their country, is my biggest hero,” Willis said.
Many people join the military for an opportunity to get out of a tough situation in life and that’s exactly what Shaquille O’Neal’s dad did. The NBA legend wrote in his autobiography that his stepfather Phillip Harrison, by whom he was raised since infancy, joined the U.S. Army when O’Neal was two years old, “so he could get us out of the ‘hood.” After that, O’Neal was a full-blown brat, growing up on several bases around the country and even in Germany.
Like Shaq, fellow basketball Hall of Famer Ray Allen grew up on military bases. Allen was actually born on one in California, as his father served out a 21-year career in the U.S. Air Force. In 2018, the three-point shooting legend went on a USO tour and wrote for Sports Illustrated about the lessons it reminded him of from his own life as a military brat, which he thought of as a “curse” when he was a kid.
“As I got older and started traveling then got to the NBA, I realized it was a blessing because I was tailor-made to do what I do,” Allen wrote.
Tia, Tamera and Tahj Mowry
Many a ’90s kid’s favorite set of twins, Tia and Tamera Mowry, were born in Germany while both of their parents were serving in the U.S. Army. When they were two years old, the family relocated to America and the “Sister, Sister” duo was raised in Texas and Hawaii, where little brother Tahj was eventually born, while their parents continued to serve. Their mom ended up leaving the Army to manage their acting careers while their father stayed on.
“They would only let one of my parents out of the Army, so my dad actually had to stay in Texas for a while,” Tia told People in 2018.
Another legendary athlete who was raised in a military family was soccer star Mia Hamm. Her dad was a U.S. Air Force colonel and that meant she moved around plenty as a kid and even spent time living in Italy, where Hamm’s love of soccer was sparked. In 2013, Hamm told TIME she credits sports with her ability to weather the seven moves she went through as a military brat.
“Whatever sports my siblings and I played, there was that similarity, or common bond, with our teammates,” she said.
Country music icon Kris Kristofferson has a very impressive military background in his family but it almost got in the way of his dreams. The singer-songwriter’s father was a two-star general in the U.S. Air Force and Kristofferson himself joined the Army and became a captain before leaving the service to try his luck in Nashville. His mother disowned him for the choice, sending him a scathing letter as he was struggling to make it in the music business.
“She said I was an embarrassment to the family,” Kristofferson told Rolling Stone in 2016.
WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels apparently loved his time growing up as a military brat, even describing his childhood as carefree. The wrestler’s father was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force who served for 25 years, including during the Vietnam War. Growing up, Michaels lived in several places, including England and Arizona, but he has especially warm memories of Randolph Air Force Base in Texas.
“Things were so simple then,” Michaels told an Air Force public affairs reporter during a visit to Randolph in 2004. “Being inside these gates I knew I was safe.”
Rapper Wiz Khalifa is most closely linked with Pittsburgh but he grew up all over the place as the son of two veterans. The “Black and Yellow” performer lived in Germany, England and Japan before his life ultimately settled in the Steel City.
Khalifa’s father, Laurence Thomaz, served in the Air Force and always encouraged his son’s desire to be a musician, telling Ebony, “Despite my military background, it was always my role to be supportive of [his] dreams.” The entertainer has been known to send out special Veterans Day shout-outs to his parents on Twitter, showing his obvious pride in their service.
Jackson Browne has made a career out of writing sharp songs that often include pointed criticisms of American politics and society. Does it surprise you that he grew up an Army brat? His father served during his childhood, mostly working as a journalist, and Browne was actually born at a base in Germany.
“My dad used to say the time he spent in the Army was the happiest time of his life because he didn’t have to think,” Browne told the Los Angeles Times in 2008. He said that thought “horrified” him in his youth but as he got older, he understood why his dad enjoyed the order and simplicity that military life provided.
Another actor known for playing tough characters who grew up in a military family is Pam Grier. The “Jackie Brown” star’s dad served in the U.S. Air Force and repaired B-52 bombers. As a result of his service, she has said her family moved every two years until she was 12, including stops in England and Colorado. In 2017, Grier told The Wall Street Journal she loved that lifestyle.
“I enjoyed the moves,” she said. “Each trip was an adventure, with new friends, new food, new culture.”
Yet another Air Force baby, the service of Jessica Alba’s father gave her a well-traveled childhood. The actor and entrepreneur lived in Mississippi, Texas and California as a girl, finally settling in the Golden State. She gave back to women who’ve been in her mother’s shoes in 2014 by throwing an epic baby shower for a large group of military wives who were expecting.
“I saw first-hand how tough deployment is on families and the time apart is never easy for either party involved,” Alba said of her decision to give back.
Chart-topping singer Khalid can trace his own musical talents to his mother, who served in the U.S. Army. Linda Wolfe spent 23 years in the Army, achieving the rank of sergeant first class before retiring in 2017. She spent the latter part of her military career as a singer in the branch’s band, performing around the world for dignitaries and fellow service members. Her career meant plenty of moving for her famous son but she always had his back.
“I instilled in him at an early age to be confident in your gift,” she told KFOX-TV in 2017. “It’s in our DNA, I always wanted my children to be in some form of arts.”
Way before she won an Oscar and became one of Hollywood’s most reliable dramatic powerhouses, Julianne Moore lived the scattered life of a military brat. Her dad was a colonel in the U.S. Army and that meant living in places like North Carolina, Washington D.C. and even Germany for a spell. Her parents weren’t necessarily thrilled that she wanted to try to make it in Hollywood but she has said that moving around a lot as a kid helped her develop the skills she uses in her job.
“I think that moving around, you realize that behavior is mutable, that behavior can change so how you behave is not who you are,” she told The Irish Times in 2015.
Being raised as a military brat ended up helping the late, great Ric Ocasek get used to the constant travel that musicians must endure. The frontman of The Cars was raised by a father who was an Air Force member before eventually working as a computer analyst for NASA. When Ocasek founded The Cars in 1976, the band played its first show at an Air Force base in New Hampshire, showing that connections can pay off.
Michelle Rodriguez is about as cool as celebrities come and maybe that’s because she had to quickly learn to fit in anywhere when she was growing up. The star of “The Fast and the Furious” had a dad who served in the U.S. Army, meaning frequent moves. Rodriguez lived in Texas, New Jersey and the Dominican Republic as a child. In 2015, she said her childhood wasn’t ideal and she got bullied as a result of constantly being the new kid at school.
“I know what it’s like to be picked on and I never liked not fitting in,” she told Interview.
Like Kris Kristofferson, legendary singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris’ father had an impressive military background but, thankfully, hers was supportive of her musical aspirations. Her dad was a major in the U.S. Marine Corps who was decorated for his service as a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War, during which he spent 10 months as a prisoner of war.
In 2000, Harris wrote the song “Bang the Drum Slowly” to honor her dad’s military career after his passing. “I always meant to ask you about the war,” she sang. “And what you saw across a bridge too far / Did it leave a scar?”
NBC broadcaster Natalie Morales says her childhood as an Air Force brat with led her naturally into the world of journalism. The anchorwoman grew up in an Air Force family, living in Panama, Brazil and Spain after being born in Taiwan. In 2007, she told Broadcasting & Cable that a lifestyle like that made her ultimate job choice a no-brainer.
“Journalists are a lot like the military,” she said. “You are always picking up and moving and adjusting to new situations. You have to adapt.”
In case you couldn’t tell from his first name, Patton Oswalt grew up in a serious military family. The comedian was named for legendary U.S. Army General George S. Patton. His father served in the Marines and, according to Oswalt, “we moved around a lot when I was little, and he gave me the first name Patton, I’m assuming with very high hopes.” Obviously, Oswalt took a different route in life but his father was supportive.
“Because he had been through so much war and so much stress, he was just, like, I don’t want my kids being in the military, Oswalt told NPR in 2011.
Before he was a Grammy nominee, J. Cole was born on a U.S. military base in Germany to two soldiers. Both of his parents served in the U.S. Army, which led him to grow up in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His parents eventually divorced and his mom raised him alone, working for the U.S. Postal Service for years until she was able to retire early due to his success in rap — a circumstance he has called his greatest accomplishment.
Like J. Cole, comedy legend Martin Lawrence didn’t know his dad too well but was nonetheless affected by his military service. Lawrence was born on a base in Germany but was eventually raised in Washington, D.C. after his dad, who served in the U.S. Army, relocated. His parents got divorced when he was young and his mom raised him on her own, so he didn’t go through the constant moves that Army brats do and doesn’t remember much about the life.
“Once he and my mother split up, you know, hey, I’m like every other kid without a father,” Lawrence told The Source in 1993. “Mom’s playing a mother and a father.”
Ann and Nancy Wilson
The sisters who formed the classic rock band Heart owe their affinity with touring to their days on the move as military brats. Ann and Nancy Wilson’s father served in the Marines for 25 years as an officer, which meant they jumped from base to base as kids.
“I think that’s how we survive on these tours,” Ann told Rolling Stone in 1977. The sisters started performing together as children during those formative years and have continued doing so, on and off, to this day.
Whether you know him from “Roots,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” or “Reading Rainbow,” actor LeVar Burton is a national treasure and he was raised in a military household. Like others on this list, Burton was born on a base in Germany and his father was in the U.S. Army. He’s said that his childhood meant he missed out on a lot of the pop culture of his generation but has fond memories of life on the base, swapping comic books with other brats.
“It was this experience as a child in a military family, and the excitement, comfort and escape the comics provided, that helped spark my lifelong love of reading,” he wrote for WhiteHouse .gov in 2015.