Memories of a DOD School: Lakenheath American High School

My last update on this site included a reblog of the American Military Family Museum’s blog post on Operation Footlocker. They offer an amazing service for military families all over the world, but we are incredibly fortunate to have them in this ‘hometown’ of ours.

One of my favorite features of their blog is the many writing prompts they offer for bloggers new and old, professional and amateur. So, to get started, let’s talk about our experiences!

Our first question:

Which Department of Defense schools did you attend? Give a brief-1-3 sentence memory from each. (Unfortunately, brevity is not my strong suit and I don’t want it to be.)

I only attended one DOD school in my entire K-12 experience and it was my favorite school of all time. We relocated to RAF Lakenheath in 2003 for my mom’s job as a DOD employee. My first memory of England was walking very tiredly through London’s Heathrow airport, thinking about just how hot and stinky it was (If you recall, the summer of 2003 was notoriously awful and people died across Europe due to a heat wave).

We took the scenic drive from the airport to the base, passing by the beautiful countryside in Essex before finally arriving in Suffolk. My mom’s friend told us that there wasn’t any air conditioning in England, and I laughed. Little did I know, he was serious. (Later that summer, I slept on the tiled kitchen floor in an attempt to sleep without dripping in sweat).

Castle Acre, UK

Lakenheath High School was very intimidating at first. I had moved from Cocoa Beach, Florida and had no idea of what to expect from a DOD school.

Orientation took place in the gym and from there, I met my teachers. Somehow, I had enrolled for AP European History as a sophomore, which was absolutely terrifying. I was so nervous that on the first day, I ate lunch in the bathroom so no one would have to reach out to the pathetic new girl. Just like you, I’d had plenty of ‘new kid’ experiences in my life and there was no way I was going to do THAT again.

Eventually, I realized that one of my teachers let students eat lunch in his classroom. It was a room full of loud and gross boys, but I sat quietly with my book and sandwich in the corner. I used the book to disguise my eavesdropping and eventually, I made in-roads at the school through these boys and others.

My guidance counselor recommended I get involved in theater as a way to meet new people. I had never thought about that before and was completely disinterested…at first. My entire high school experience changed after that point and I became entrenched in the drama programs. I made many friends and wonderful memories at the time and during my senior year, I was even the president of the International Thespian Society.

Lakenheath allowed me to come out of my shell in a comfortable, supportive environment. Sure, it took me a really long time to warm up fully, but it is one of the many reasons I miss England so dearly.

There, I met equally ambitious and hardworking students who still impress me to this day. There, I realized that military brats thrive in a community of peers. There, I knew I had something special.

It was a small school; my graduating class (2006) had about 150 people. We had our graduation ceremony in the famed Ely Cathedral. For “regional” competitions, we all flew or took incredibly long bus trips to Germany. I made lifelong friends at the International Student Leadership Institute in Oberwesel one year, which was the first time I ever realized that I could aim as high as I wanted and actually achieve my goals.

A rather blurry Ely Cathedral

I’ve never regretted our move to the UK and in many ways, I have to catch myself from over-idealizing it. It was the perfect location for a kid like me and even with a student population halfway to 1,000, it created a brand new world for me and my family.

A couple of years ago, two of my favorite teachers (Mr. T and Mr. Dawson) drove through Albuquerque on a trip to Arizona. I made plans to see them and was unsure of how it would go. Maybe I was the only one to have such great memories from those times and maybe they were just seeing me to be polite. As soon as I saw them, Mr. T hollered a big, friendly “Hello, Rach!” from across the restaurant and I knew once again that just as Lakenheath left a huge impression upon me, I too left my mark in the hearts of the people I cared about.

That time in my life is over now, but I will cherish those memories and connections forever.

Did you ever transfer overseas and/or attend a DOD school? What was your experience? Either comment below or write your own post!

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4 responses

  1. Thank you for this wonderful memory. I, too, was a brat–growing up and attending schools in Karlsruhe, Germany, college in Munich, Germany, and ultimately becoming a teacher for the DoD schools in Puerto Rico.
    Circe Woessner, Executive Director, Museum of the American Military Family.

  2. […] Memories of a DOD School: Lakenheath American High School […]

  3. Great memories 🙂 I was born in Mildenhall, Suffolk, on my dads station to the UK. I think they were stationed at Lakenheath but the maternity hospital was located at Mildenhall (cant say for definate) We only lived there 2 years, and went off on our travels…Sherman, Texas…Naha, Okinawa…a year stay back in the UK Margate (while my dad did a year in vietnam) Fort Walton Beach, Florida…then Keflavik, Iceland (teenage years here and loved every minute of it! my mum n dad retired to Devon, England, I’m still here now! Mum was English, but I miss the USA still 36 years later! lol

    1. Liz, those are some great places! I loved Mildenhall, but always wanted to spend time in Keflavik. What makes Devon feels so much like home? Thanks for sharing your awesome stories. 🙂

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