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Military service in the United States is performed by real people: parents, children, siblings, friends.

Sometimes, that's easy to forget, say members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Marion Post 661. It's why volunteers with the post keep a museum of more than 1,800 uniforms representing service from the Spanish-American War through the present day. 

It's also why they work with the Albany Downtown Association each year to bring a selection of uniforms to downtown Albany to mark Veterans Day. Nineteen uniforms, plus another six at a retirement home, are on display through Nov. 12.

When you look at a uniform, arranged on a dressmaker's dummy to show how it's worn, it's easier to understand it represents a real person, said Kimberly Rood of Albany.

It's easier to picture the person wearing it — or, perhaps, to picture yourself wearing it, she said. "It's honoring a person." 

In the case of one particular uniform, which went on display Tuesday at The Quilt Loft at 405 W. First Ave., Rood can picture the person wearing it very well. 

"This was me," she said simply. "I served in the Navy for 12 and a half years."

Rood teaches quilting classes at The Quilt Loft, and is friends with owner Karen Roberts, who asked to have Rood's uniform on display as part of the annual VFW effort.

Rood served from 1989 to 2002 as a Navy nurse, working at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, on the hospital ship USNS Mercy during the Gulf War, at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guam and at the Naval Hospital in Great Lakes, Illinois.

Twice during her service, she gave birth to daughters.

"This is my pregnancy uniform," Rood said, lifting the crisp tan shirt to show the expandable panel in the matching trousers beneath. "They did a good job. It was comfortable. Stretchy."

"I gained 50 pounds with each of my pregnancies, and it worked."

Rood's experience is another way the uniform project can bring history home to visitors, said Tom Vanderhoof, volunteer museum curator with VFW Post 661. He served in the Air Force in Vietnam himself, and in those days, he said, any servicewoman who became pregnant got shown the door immediately.

Fast-forward to today: "The pregnant ladies now are on the front lines," Vanderhoof said. The uniforms help tell that story.

It was tiring to be pregnant and serving, Rood said, but no more so than it would have been had she been pregnant and working as a nurse elsewhere. 

And, she added, "The military took excellent care of me and my babies." 

As part of the display, each uniform holds a placard with information about the person who wore it. In Rood's case, it details her service and includes a picture of her and several family members, including her baby daughter Athena, her firstborn.

The photos are an important part of the uniform displays because they, too, help make the wearer real, Vanderhoof said.

That, he said, is the purpose of the whole museum: "Keeping history alive."

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