National Army Museum will tell the story of the American soldier

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STRARS AND STRIPES Published: September 14, 2016

FORT BELVOIR, VA. — Dozens of museums across the nation are dedicated to sharing portions of the U.S. Army’s story, though no one institution exists that tells the comprehensive history of America’s oldest military service.

That will change in 2019 when the National Museum of the United States Army expects to open the doors of its state-of-the art, 180,000-square-foot facility on the grounds of Fort Belvoir in Virginia, about 30 minutes south of Washington D.C., said retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, the chairman of the Army Historical Foundation.

“The Army has never had a national museum,” said Sullivan, who served as the Army’s chief of staff from 1991-1995. “It’s had a lot of other museums, but this museum will tell the entire story of the Army … and give its visitors the chance to reflect on all the roles the Army has played throughout the development of our country.”

The Army Historical Foundation has worked more than a decade to build the museum. It took its first physical step toward its construction Wednesday, when foundation officials and top Army leaders gathered near the Fort Belvoir golf course to officially break ground.

While the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all have their own official, comprehensive museums, the Army has struggled for years to fund, plan and finally begin building its own.

Once completed, the museum will sit on 80 acres of Army land just outside Fort Belvoir’s gates, giving the public easy access to its building, memorial garden, amphitheater, parade ground and wooded trails.

The museum will educate the public on the services’ history from the initial militias formed in Massachusetts in 1663 that would become the foundation for the National Guard through to the modern-day Army that has been busy for the last 15 years fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Sullivan said.

The museum will house some 30,000 historical artifacts and documents -- including uniforms, weapons, protective equipment and letters -- alongside about 15,000 pieces of Army artwork, Sullivan said. More so, it will offer modern, interactive exhibits that will allow the public to fully immerse themselves in Army history, tradition and culture, he added.

The Army’s top general, who participated in Wednesday’s ground-breaking, said the museum will provide its visitors an experience they simply cannot find outside of its halls.

“This museum is going to offer everyone, all Americans, free of charge, an experience that you cannot find in the pages of a history book or on Google,” said Gen. Mark Milley, the service’s chief of staff. “This museum will enhance what all of us have learned in school about America, about our Army, about the costs, the pain and the sacrifice of war. It’s going to remind all of us what it means to be a soldier and serve with integrity, sacrifice and honor.”

The museum will honor the service and sacrifice of the more than 30 million Americans who have served in the regular Army, the National Guard and the reserves, but it will especially serve to honor men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in battle, said Army Secretary Eric Fanning.

“This museum will serve as a monument to them — a memorial to all who we have lost and to war’s incredible cost,” the service’s top civilian said. “From the Revolutionary War to our fights in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is the Army that has borne the greatest share or our nation’s loss — fully 85 percent of all Americans who have given their lives in our nation’s wars.”

The Army Historical Foundation has raised more than $135 million of the estimated $200 million the museum will cost, primarily through donations from 146,000 individuals, Sullivan said.

The organization hopes to raise the additional funds as quickly as possible to keep the construction on track to open in 2019 by the Army’s birthday, June 14.

“A great Army deserves a great museum, and truly this museum is going to be a very, very special landmark,” Sullivan said, adding it is appropriate to build the museum at Fort Belvoir just down the street from Mount Vernon, the home of the Army’s first commander, George Washington.

“This is the place for it,” Sullivan said. “This is going to be a wonderful thing for our Army and our country.”

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

Senior Army leaders and officials with the Army Historical Foundation officially break ground on the National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Va. on Wednesday.

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