- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

WATERTOWN, N.Y. — Lee Allison was a little nervous during his first assignment. But in the military, he knew, you complete your mission.

“I stuttered a few times, but he was nice. He answered all my questions,” said 12-year-old Lee, recalling his interview with Brett Helquist, the illustrator for the children’s books “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

The interview was for the first issue of Military Brats, a magazine for military youth written mostly by sons and daughters of servicemen and women and published by a military mom at the U.S. Army’s Fort Drum in upstate New York.

The first 250,000 copies of Military Brats was distributed free through 258 commissaries worldwide and began disappearing almost immediately, said Robert Hansgen, a spokesman for the U.S. Defense Commissary Agency.

“That’s a sure sign that it filled a need that people had,” said Janice Witte, director of the Department of Defense’s Office of Children and Youth.

There are more than 692,000 children ages 6 to 18 classified as military youth, she said.

“There are lots of publications out there for military personnel over age 18, but there isn’t really anything that’s really connected to the military for our youth,” she said.

Misty Burris also noticed the void. So while she and her husband, now-retired Army Staff Sgt. Sean Burris, drove from California to Fort Drum three years ago, she wrote out a detailed business plan for a military youth magazine.

“We hear all these stories about how military morale is down in these difficult times. I thought the way to fix that is to start with the kids,” said Mrs. Burris, 33, who formed Littlefoot Publishing Inc. to produce the magazine.

The only other attempt to produce a military youth magazine was distributed to just a few bases in the 1990s, Mrs. Burris said.

Keenly aware of military protocol, Mrs. Burris traveled to the Pentagon for support. The Pentagon provided her with a ready-made distribution network — the commissary system, which serves families in all branches of the military, living on or off U.S. installations.

The magazine’s first 100-page issue came out in June. The next is scheduled for September. Publishing an issue costs about $300,000, which the company is raising through advertising and corporate grants.

Each issue will highlight a dozen selected military bases with photos and a travelogue-type article written by the post’s public affairs office.

The stories, poems, columns and other regular features are produced by the magazine’s staff of 12 writers, ages 11 to 17. Several have fathers expected home in the coming weeks from Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the Indian River School District, 80 percent of the students have a parent at Fort Drum.

Among the magazine’s fixtures will be an advice column and a book review column. Another writer reviews electronic games and gadgetry. There’s even a style section.

Mrs. Burris’ 14-year-old son, Sean, is a sports columnist. For the first issue, he interviewed Tom Felton — Harry Potter’s arch nemesis Draco Malfoy — during the teen actor’s stop in northern New York to fish in the St. Lawrence River. For the next issue, he is writing about “geocaching” — a kind of high-tech treasure hunt.

“I think other kids will want to read our magazine because they know it’s going to be about something kids are interested in, and it’s going to be written in a way that they’ll find interesting,” said Sean, whose two siblings are also on the staff.

His mother said the magazine is not looking to take on controversial subjects.

“It’s hard enough being a military brat,” she said. “We want to tell them positive stories. We want to give them useful information, to let them know that there are others sharing their experiences, that they’re not alone.”

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