One of the things military families tell me when they visit our museum is that they miss the life they left behind when they left the service. That life, of course, means different things to different people, but sometimes it’s quite clear that they are looking back nostalgically to what author and historian Mary Edwards Wertsch calls “life inside the fortress.”
The “fortress” refers to a military installation where families work, live, shop, and play inside the installation’s perimeter fence. Living and working in such close proximity creates a very tight-knit community. While this community is comprised of very different individuals with very different perspectives, these individuals are bound together by a common purpose: the mission.
On an installation, at 5 o’clock pm, everything comes to a stop as the National Anthem plays over a loudspeaker. Children stop playing, cars come to a halt, and anyone walking outside comes to a stop. At 5 o’clock everyone faces the flag and places their hand over their heart or, if in uniform, salutes. The National Anthem also is played in installation movie theatres, and the audience stands at attention prior to viewing the feature.
There is a sense of pride and duty that comes with being a military family, and living on an installation requires a modicum of discipline: yards must be kept to a certain standard, children mustn’t run amok, rules must be followed.
One Air Force daughter says, “I grew up knowing that I was a child ambassador representing the United States, the Air Force, and my immediate family.While living overseas and learning new customs and meeting new people, I represented the best of the United States.”
I grew up in Germany knowing that what I did reflected on my parents. If I did something wrong, people would tell them, and there would be Dire Consequences. Luckily, I was a pretty good kid, and the only dire consequence which happened was after my father received a letter from the Post Commander reprimanding him for allowing me to have 36 overdue library books. I was banned from the library for six months.
All people who have left this lifestyle, whether they liked it or not, have stories to tell.
Spouses often reminisce about living in base housing. They acknowledge the lack of privacy, but they also point out the great connections they built. Living in stairwells or in the close quarters of a military installation, means that the adults keep an eye on the kids, everybody knows everybody’s business, and one can’t really “escape the busyness” of the military tempo.
Shannon remembers life on Holloman Air Base during the Vietnam War. She describes when a jeep pulled up to her quarters. “I watched from the window as they walked up to the house. They spoke to my mom for a few minutes and then mom came in. I remember holding my breath (we knew what this meant). She said, ‘I need you and your brother to go next door and stay there until I get back.’ We didn’t ask questions, we went…It wasn’t until years later that mom talked about it though. She told me that she was going to the houses of wives that were being told their husbands were not coming back. She hated the task, but she said she would be damned if those women were going to face that time alone.”
Even as times have changed, the conflicts are different, more spouses work, and life doesn’t solely revolve around the installation, military spouses still look out for one another.
Sometimes it’s in social media groups like Facebook, where someone might post “We’re moving to base soon, which pediatric dentist in town do you recommend”? Or, “There are two black-and-white dogs running down my street, does anyone know who they belong to?” Or, “Can anyone look after my toddler while I run to the commissary for an hour?”
As our lives get busier and increasingly more isolated, we don’t have as much face-to-face contact with our neighbors as we used to, and small social media groups can be very helpful in bringing people together, building connections, and sharing information.
Adult brats often say that they can sense another brat, even in a crowd of strangers. Brats are drawn to each other because of their shared experiences. That happened to me just the other day at an East Mountain Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting. As I introduced myself to my tablemates, the man sitting to my left mentioned he was a brat. A little later, a woman came up to me and told me she was a brat as well. Instant community!
As military families, we are used to moving into and out of communities each time we PCS (move) even while yearning for a permanent “home” someday. “Home is where the heart is” is an oft-quoted platitude–people are the heart of our communities, and communities are what draw people to them when they’re deciding where to settle.
Our neighborhood is small, and when my husband and I are out walking our dog, our neighbors wave as they drive by. We recently got together for a neighborhood New Year’s Eve party, and via Facebook and cell phone, we keep each other informed if we notice anything out-of-the ordinary. It’s nice to have human connections.
Small communities are special. That’s one reason we chose to locate our museum in Tijeras—next to Molly’s Bar, because we wanted to be a part of a small, lively town and part of Route 66’s continuing history. We love the mountains, the folks who come and go from Molly’s, the tourists who are cruising the Mother Road, and the East Mountains’ unique vibe. People are neighborly here; they have time to visit a little. They offer to help someone out. They leave little painted rocks on our museum doorstep.
We hope our museum will become an increasingly important part of the business and tourism ecosystem here, and that as we grow and expand, we can meet many more of our East Mountain neighbors. Stop by the museum for a bit, let’s share a story and get to know each other!
(Circe Olson Woessner is the executive director of the Museum of the American Military Family & Learning Center. The museum collects and preserves the stories of military families of all branches and generations. The museum is located at 546B Highway 333, Tijeras.)
It’s shaping up to be another literary year for MAMF!
Our writer-in-residence emeritus Paul Zolbrod will be leading our monthly Book Club discussions and working on some local writing projects…
…our 2019 writer-in-residence ( drumroll please) Military Brat Lauren Mosher will be starting with MAMF in January. She’s going to put out a call for stories for this year’s anthology: My Hero Dog: Stories on How Our Dogs Have Helped Shaped Who We Are”
So…if you have an amazing dog and want to share a story, we would love to include it in the book!
MAMF Artist in residence Lora Beldon is working on our play in collaboration with several theatrical and veterans groups in Richmond, and we will be compiling stories for a companion anthology to SHOUT! It’s called Still SHOUTING!
Director Circe Olson Woessner will be working on a book about the troops and their families stationed along both sides of the East-West border in Cold War, Germany.
So…another busy year for the writers, artists and poets of MAMF.
Proceeds from all our book sales help the museum’s operating funds—so we can continue to bring programming and exhibits to the public!
Looking forward to hearing from you as we start 2019 with a clicking of keyboards!
By Circe Olson Woessner, Director, MAMF
It has become an annual event to reflect on our past years’ accomplishments and goals achieved, and to marvel how much our small-but-mighty board gets done. So, here’s MAMF’s year in review.
In February, we had a Valentines making class. A couple of days later, we helped with a chili cook-off fundraiser at Indian motorcycle of Albuquerque. It was a great success and we made some new friends and raised some money for Run for the Wall (RFTW).
In the spring, we had a DODDS teacher/student get-together and completed our “Brathood” project. Last year, we’d asked people on Facebook to give us quotes describing military brat “core values” and wrote them on the antique car hoods we have in our backyard. We filled in the gaps with more quotes, and called the project done.
We learned that one of our videos on the museum website took first place in the New Mexico Press Women communications contest and received an honorable mention in the National Federation of Press Women’s contest.
May was busy as usual. We started the month with our War and Peace Fest, hosted events for RFTW riders at the museum and in the community. I was the New Mexico Midway Route Coordinator for RFTW, and was responsible for coordinating meals, route permitting, law-enforcement, stops and events as they crossed New Mexico over two days. Volunteers from all over the state went out of their way to feed, entertain, and host nearly 350 riders passing through on their ride from California to Washington, DC.
Also, in May, we underwent the Collections Assessment Preservation process, and a museum expert came out to look at our collections, assessed our facility, and made recommendations based on her findings. We learned a great deal and look forward to putting some of those suggestions into place in 2019.
In June, we were thrilled to learn that we had won the 2018 American Association of State and Local History’s Albert B. Corey prize, a huge honor for our relatively new and very small museum.
Over the summer, we filmed our 10-minute music-documentary Love Song for the Dead at both the museum and at the VA hospital in town.
In August, we had a booth at the Albuquerque VA Golden Age Games and thousands of veterans and their family members came from all over the country to participate in athletic events. It was a lot of fun and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In September, I was asked to guest lecture in one of the museum studies graduate classes at the University of New Mexico and our museum began working with a team of MBA interns from the UNM Anderson School of Management.
For its 86thbirthday, I created a small exhibit telling of the Albuquerque VA’s history, now on permanent display in the cafeteria at the hospital.
In October, we once again hosted a professor from the University of San Francisco, who is working on a book about military spouses. We coordinated meetings with spouses and military family programs directors on Kirtland Air Force Base.
On October 13, as one of the stops on the VA’s inaugural suicide prevention ride from Albuquerque to Angel Fire, NM, we hosted the riders at the museum and had a one-day pop-up exhibit on addiction and recovery. We also previewed our Love Song for the Dead at the at the chapel at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire.
We hosted two naturalization ceremonies in 2018. We love to do them. It is so moving and wonderful to be with people as they become US citizens!
We displayed our exhibit Inside Out at Sandia National Labs on Coming Out Day, and also as part of the 10th anniversary of the Love Armor project at the Contemporary Center for the Arts in Santa Fe.
In late fall, I attended the New Mexico Association of Museums conference in Taos, where I learned a great deal about museums and place-making, and met a lot of great people with whom we’ll collaborate in the future…Speaking of collaboration, our museum was asked to contribute artifacts to Hometown Heroes,an exhibit of Medal of Honor recipients from the state of New Mexico, and a Vietnam War exhibit at the West Baton Rouge Museum in Louisiana.
We officially debuted Love Song for the Dead and introduced our Lines Across Time project the first weekend in November.
Veterans Day weekend contributors read passages from our anthologies at Bookworks, a local independent bookstore in Albuquerque.
So, what seemed to be a slow year, actually was really a year full of substantive events in our progress.
We couldn’t have done it without our board members, our volunteers, our supporters, and our donors…
We thank you all and wish all of you a wonderful 2019. (Big plans to be unveiled in early February!)
Premier for our film “Love Songs for the Dead” and the Debut of “Lines Across Time: A Memory Booth Project”
On November 3, we had a very moving and inspiring day–remembering and honoring our loved ones who’d passed on. About 30 people screened our film or participated in our memory booth project, which is a joint project between MAMF and UNM’s Arts-in-Medicine program. Mary Cockburn (R1 of NM) and Kelly Frey (Hometrust Mortgage) are both part of the Heroes Home Advantage real estate program.