The Cadets of the Bataan Military Academy posted the colors proudly, and just as proudly, Dr. Circe Olson Woessner, founder and Executive Director of the Museum of the American Military Family, gave them the order to cut the ribbon and open “Schooling with Uncle Sam.”

Some 40 friends and supporters of the Museum rose to applaud the gesture, led by an enthusiastic Brigadier General Andrew Salas, Adjutant General of the New Mexico National Guard. They then spread out to look at artifact cases and displays and a series of exhibit panels telling the story of the elementary and secondary schools operated by the U.S. Defense Department around the world since the end of World War II.

“Schooling with Uncle Sam,” housed in the Botts Auditorium of the Albuquerque Special Collections Library, itself on the National Register of Historic Places, is the first public exhibit about this remarkable and unique school system.

“Schooling” co-curator (with Dr. Woessner) Dr. Allen Dale Olson told the audience that some 15 million adults have attended these schools over the years and that nearly all of them went to three, four, maybe five different schools on the way to graduation, that 50 % of them lived at or near the poverty line and in spite of all the moves, 97% of them actually graduated.

The exhibit focuses on a wide range of school-related topics and experiences, from buildings and supplies to academics and sports. But the highlights of the exhibit are statements of students and teachers, some telling what it was like in the early days, others what living in a host country was and is like. Typically, a DoD student will have lived in a foreign country by the time he or she reaches fourth grade.

Artifacts include school yearbooks from places like Berlin, Heidelberg, Tachikawa, Okinawa, and varsity letter jackets from Frankfurt and Karlsruhe. There are report cards, diplomas, teachers guides, school rules, and curriculum guides similar to what one would find in a neighborhood school at home except that these items bear names like Vienna, Paris, London, and address special courtesies and behaviors expected in cultures different from those at home. A photo of General Colin Powell bears a caption in his own words telling how, as a Colonel, he was appointed President of the post school board.

Important contributions to the exhibit came from the American Overseas Schools Historical Society and the Overseas Brats, organizations of teachers and students who worked in and attended Defense Department Schools.

Today the school system is known as DoDEA – Department of Defense Education Agency – and is headed by a civilian educator with a central office staff in Washington, D.C. and in Peachtree, Georgia. School Directors oversee programs on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, the Atlantic Islands, and in the United States.

“Schooling with Uncle Sam” will run through August 22 and is free to the public.