The lives of military families are no longer just a side exhibit in museums, or at least not at one museum located near Albuquerque, N.M.
The Museum of the American Military Family and Learning Center, a nonprofit corporation, opened in 2011 that focuses specifically on showcasing the lives of military families.
“It was 2011 and I was waiting to hear word from my son in Iraq,” said Dr. Circe Olsen, director of the Museum of the American Military Family and Learning Center. “And I thought to myself: Around the world at this very moment there are moms and dads, spouses and children, worrying about their loved ones at war, and I wonder if there is a museum. I wonder if there is anything for us telling our history. We have generations of people doing this.”
Olsen took her idea, combined it with her own experience as a military child, spouse and mother, and brought the military family experience into public eye.
Over the next eight years she and a handful of volunteers created a home to thousands of artifacts ranging from priceless military family heirlooms, historically significant documents, handwritten correspondence to recorded interviews. Such donations trickle in from American military families around the globe. They now fill room after room of glass cases and exhibits.
The museum is tucked into a modern house turned museum space in Tijeras, N.M. Many visitors, even those familiar with military culture, may find the experience eye opening.
Upon arrival, volunteer staff welcomes visitors into the living room of its immersive collection of artifacts. People will see the recognizable occurrence of a uniform sitting on an ironing board and a kitchen not unlike one found in older military housing. Cupboards and drawers are open to display squadron mugs and military spouse cookbooks, all collected from lifetimes of Permanent Change of Station moves.
Ultimately, the Museum of the American Military Family and Learning Center shares the experiences and thought processes of military children and spouses while their service member is deployed. It brings to light the adjustments, sacrifices and innovations families made to sustain the home front, which often remains in the background.
Exhibits touch on topics significant and unique to military family life; PCS moves, military schools, times of reintegration, times of loss and even the high rates of veteran addiction that families often deal with.
There are military museums out there that have a wing or exhibit that give a nod to the active duty military spouses, but none are as dedicated to preserving and sharing the lessons, stories and memories of war through the lens of the military family.
“I think if you’re going to study history, it’s important to see it from all sides,” Olsen said. “I would like to share that history through the lens of the people living it.”
There is a collection of priceless and historic artifacts from around the world patched together to tell the collective narrative of the military family, including a green beret donated by a proud daughter, stacks of letters from World War I and a rare tiger skin brought back from Vietnam.
When discussing the project’s future, Olsen said that the longevity and growth of the museum depends on volunteers, donations and grants. Expansion is also in the future, and in May the museum will be unveiling another exhibit and community space. Additionally, the museum is an Albert B. Corey Award winning site with an extensive special collections library.
One can learn more about the military family focused museum by visiting it at its website.Read comments