Recent Move Inspires Upcoming Programming

As we moved The Museum of the American Military Family into its new location in Tijeras, my husband mentioned the irony of moving a museum directly into the path of the raging Doghead Fire. I retorted that we might have to keep the U-Haul, which we’d rented for the museum move, to evacuate our home, which was also in potential danger.


As the fire neared our neighborhood, I walked around our house making a list of what I should take, and I photographed everything I could think of, just in case I needed to file a claim. At night, instead of sleeping, I mentally evacuated the museum.


Luckily, we didn’t have to evacuate anything, but the exercise made me realize how vulnerable we are—and how, as a military wife, it was so easy for me to determine what was necessary to salvage, and what was disposable.


We military families are resilient. We’re mostly unflappable, quick to react–we have a plan B or C–and can survive the worst that Mother Nature throws at us.


Air Force Brat Theo makes that point: “I remember in the early ‘60s, a typhoon blew through the Philippine Islands. We had just sat down to dinner and part of the roof blew off the back of our house– right over the dining room table. My youngest brother just picked up his plate, crawled under the table and continued to eat.”


How did the adults react?


“Dad crawled on the roof with plastic tarps and concrete blocks and covered the damaged area.”


Air Force daughter Joy shares experiences living on Kincheloe AFB in Upper Michigan: “We had a two-story house in which the whole lower floor was snowed in. Dad had to jump out of a second floor window with a shovel at least once to dig out the front door!”


I recently met with Theresa from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) at the museum. UCS does research on climate change impacts here in New Mexico. She shared that New Mexico is the sixth fastest warming state in the nation, and that more than seven percent of its residential properties near forested land are at high, or very high, risk of wildfire damage. This July, we broke record temperatures. Climate scientists are predicting we should plan for a hotter and dryer future.  She asked me what my plan was in case another wildfire threatened Tijeras.


I answered confidently: “I’ll rent a U-Haul, have some board members come out, and we’ll move everything.” She looked at me thoughtfully, and said, “Do you have routes planned out; do you have people designated for each area of the building? Do you have a written plan? “

I squirmed a bit, then said, “I think we can handle it…”


Having lived through six weeks of no power, water, or phone in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Georges, I felt pretty confident I could manage to save the museum—or my belongings—in a pinch.   After all, hasn’t the military drilled safety plans into us?


Air Force Veteran, Rob, agrees, “During Typhoon Kirk on Kadena AFB, Okinawa, the plan was shelter in place. Emergency services were manned and available if needed. Otherwise, we were to fill containers with water, prep for power outage, and stay indoors until all clear was given over radio, TV, and loud speakers. An emergency base handbook was provided.”


A Marine wife wasn’t so impressed: “In 2014, at Pendleton we had bad fires that evacuated our neighborhood and even shut down the Navy hospital. They set up shelters at the Child Development Center and Youth Center and gave vouchers to get hotels; the problem was, a lot of us had pets, so we slept on the beach in tents.”


Air Force dependent Bill remembers Hurricane Audrey in 1957. “We were living in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The hurricane was coming in; all the pilots, including my dad, flew the planes to an AFB in Arizona. My Mom, my brother, and I stayed there. The hurricane destroyed the town of Cameron south of us, and killed 500 people. We took in two boys to stay with us until they could locate relatives.”


Monica remembers the magnitude 9.2 Earthquake of 1964, Kodiak Naval Base, Alaska, “We packed our belongings and stayed with the families who lived on higher ground because there was the threat of a tsunami. The children slept while the parents stayed up all night, gleaning news and waiting to see if we would have subsequent quakes or tidal waves.”


Brat Nancy says, “In August 1957 was Hurricane Betsy. We lived at the New River Air Facility near Jacksonville. I remember the water rising in the creek behind our house and watching it come inside. We rode out most of the storm on my top bunk.”


Flooding is a real concern according to UCS, who just did an impact study on 18 military installations on the East and Gulf Coasts.


By 2070, half of the installations could experience 520 or more flood events annually—the equivalent of more than one flood daily, and four installations are at risk of losing between 75 and 95 percent of their land by the end of this century.


UCS recommends that military decision makers plan for the long term, and to understand how sea level rise may permanently alter the landscape.


While the military is making contingency plans for natural disasters for installations, it is up to all of us to make individual safety plans for our families.


There are local groups actively educating the public about safety preparedness: the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the East Mountain Interagency Fire Protection Association, and the State Forestry Division. These groups, as well as others, provide training opportunities throughout the year.


The more prepared we are, the better we will react to whatever comes our way. As military families, we know a little something about contingency planning.


Our museum will be partnering with UCS on October 30 to provide emergency-preparedness programming to help people understand how climate change is impacting New Mexico and what we need to do to stay safe.

Visit MAMF at its new location: 546 B State Hwy 333 (Historic Route 66) Tijeras, NM 87059


Open Thursday through Saturday 12:30-6:00 PM