The National Museum of the U.S. Army was officially launched Tuesday with Activation Ceremonies at Fort Belvoir, the chosen site for this tribute to the nation's oldest military branch.
With dignitaries from the military; national, state and local government; veterans and spouses assembled on the parade field, Gen. John M. Keane, vice chief of staff of the Army, said, "This is all about the history of our Army. It was founded before there was a United States of America. Two hundred and twenty-eight years ago, average citizens came together to form our Army.
"We are soldiers, and we are citizens. This museum will establish an enduring link with the American people. No other army in the world can do what we do. And, we do it with regularity."
Tuesday's ceremony formally established the Museum Project Office and set in motion the fund-raising campaign that will be necessary to build the proposed museum. Cost estimates for the project range up to $200 million, most of which is to be raised from private donations.
U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8th) announced, "The Defense Appropriations Bill, which just passed, included $2 million to kick off this fund-raising effort." Moran was central to having that money put into the $308 billion bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday.
"This museum effort has been years in the making. It has been a vision. Locating the museum here, at Fort Belvoir, will offer visitors a first-rate view of the Army's history. It will also contribute to the entire revitalization of the Route 1 corridor," Moran said.
Col. T.W. Williams, garrison commander at Fort Belvoir, said, "This is a significant moment in the history of Fort Belvoir, and it is an outstanding example of cooperation between Fort Belvoir and Fairfax County." He also noted that Fort Belvoir itself was established in September, 86 years ago.
WILLIAMS CREDITED Mount Vernon District supervisor Gerald W. Hyland with "bringing together the community leaders who worked to bring the museum to Fort Belvoir."
On completion of the environmental impact study, the museum is planned for land just across Route 1 from Fort Belvoir's Main Gate.
Hyland acknowledged Williams' compliment by saying, "I look forward to continuing a good working relationship with Fort Belvoir." Hyland also recognized that "the Mount Vernon/Lee Chamber of Commerce played a major role in getting this museum here."
Hyland told the crowd, "I realized it was not going to be easy to bring this museum here. Carlisle [Pa.] was well ahead of us," making reference to the Army War College located there.
"It took more than two years for our task force to see the museum brought here. This was a prime example of cooperation among all the parties. Most importantly, we are indebted to our entire congressional delegation. For us in Fairfax County, this is one of the most significant events in our history," Hyland said.
Speaking for the museum, Judson E. Bennett Jr., director, National Museum of the U.S. Army, pointed out the museum will be designed to accomplish two primary missions — "honor our soldiers and veterans, and educate the nation as to the role of the Army," past, present and future.
IN ADDRESSING the partnership the Army has established with Universal Studios and Walt Disney Corp. to aid in the creation of the exhibits, Bennett said, "The byword is to be entertaining, but the ultimate goal is to be educational. We will create a total environmental exhibition."
The museum will emphasize the role of the soldier in the history of the Army. "Today's Army still depends on its most valuable asset — the individual soldier," Moran said. "This museum will focus on those soldiers."
When asked how this museum will be different from the many Army exhibits spread throughout the nation at various posts, Keane explained, "Although there are museums at many of our posts and camps, we do not have one centralized museum. This will connect all of them."
He also noted that a "virtual museum" will appear online "before the physical museum is complete." Keane promised, "We intend to set a new standard for museum design. We will realize our dream."
AS ENVISIONED by the Army, the museum will present a fair and objective vision of the Army's history from the American Revolution to the present War on Terrorism. It will include more than 100,000 square feet of gallery space, an auditorium, a possible IMAX theater, classrooms and other services, such as a gift shop and restaurant.
Present plans call for the museum to be a reality by 2009. Some of the exhibits it will house include heavy equipment such as LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel), olive drab service uniforms, the coat and forage cap worn by Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant during the Civil War, a 30-caliber semiautomatic rifle that was an early version of the M1 of World War II, and a World War I experimental steel helmet. Some of these were on display at Tuesday's ceremony.
The museum will be built by a partnership of the U.S. Army, the Army Historical Foundation and the American people, according to officials. The Army's Center of Military History expects to invest $95 million to design, staff and operate the museum. The Foundation is tasked with raising another $120 million to complete the project.
In addition to 100,000 square feet of museum, the site will encompass another 319,965 square feet, which will provide the opportunity to have "naming rights" on both outdoor and indoor facilities. The menu of available space has been coordinated to reflect the anticipated site plan and story line of the museum.