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Richard Galli, a Bozeman high school teacher serving with the Montana Army National Guard in Iraq, has been named Montana's "Preserve America" history teacher of the year.

Galli, 49, who teaches at Bozeman High School's alternative Bridger Program, will receive a $1,000 honorarium, and history books will be donated to the school library.

The second annual Preserve America History Teacher of the Year award for Montana was awarded based on the commitment and creativity Galli brings to his classes, rather than because of his service in Iraq, said Dave Swingle, assistant principal in charge of the Bridger Program.

To make history come alive for students, Galli has collected soldiers' uniforms from virtually all U.S. wars, starting with the Revolution, complete with boots, medals and weapons, Swingle said.

Galli also uses documents and artifacts - like beaver pelts and Indian trade goods - and primary sources like diaries.

"He really connects with kids," Swingle said. "He's active in all aspects of history - including making it."

The award was started last year by First Lady Laura Bush to honor one exceptional elementary or high school teacher in each state and U.S. territory. It is co-sponsored by Preserve America, a White House initiative, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Reached by e-mail north of Baghdad, where he is a sergeant first class with the 1-163rd Infantry Battalion, Galli wrote that he was proud and happy about the recognition.

He gave thanks to those who gave the award and to Swingle for giving him support and "freedom to flourish."

"Being in Iraq has done two things for me," Galli wrote. "One, it strengthens my love of teaching history. I miss all the folks at Bridger! I tell the soldiers over here about teaching high school history, 'the best job in the world!'

"I cannot wait to get back from my 'sabbatical in the Middle East.' … I will come back with a little bit more wisdom, experience and credibility."

The Montana winner was chosen by the Montana Council for Social Studies and the Montana Council for History Education, said Jim Bruggeman, principal of Irving School in Bozeman and state coordinator for the competition. Videotapes of nominees teaching in their classrooms and other materials are submitted with applications.

Bruggeman said a ceremony honoring Galli will be held after the 163rd returns from Iraq. That is expected in November.

Swingle said Galli has performed extensive public service outside of school. The two men were co-curators of the "Weapons that Changed the West" exhibit at the Museum of the Rockies in 2001. Galli also helped organize that year's Memorial Day parade.

In addition, Galli has worked with the Pioneer Museum, written for a Web page on the Austro-Italian front in World War I, and given talks to the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Association. In 2002, Galli traveled with a Time magazine reporter who crossed the rugged, snow-covered Bitterroots to write about the Lewis & Clark expedition's dangerous crossing 200 years ago.

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