A gleaming building on 84 acres welcomes visitors to the National Museum of the United States Army at Ft. Belvoir, Va. where construction first began in 2017.
The museum serves as the first comprehensive display of the Army’s more than 245-year history and represents a joint initiative of the U.S. Army and the Army Historical Foundation. The Foundation secured privately donated funds toward the building’s construction while the U.S. Army provided the infrastructure, roads, utilities and exhibit works.
Upon entering the museum, visitors receive a brochure with a layout of the expansive facility and a stylus that activates interactive displays. A wall with the Soldier’s Creed serves as the backdrop to “A Soldier’s Gallery” with 41 stainless-steel pylons featuring individual stories from among the Army’s finest.
In fact, if you look closely, you may see one pylon which reveals a young soldier in his uniform before he became an international superstar – Elvis Presley.
“The gallery is a random selection of soldiers from all eras,” said Susan Smullen, public affairs officer for the museum. “There are stories of ordinary people who did extraordinary things.”
Americans in the Heat of Battle
The “Fighting for the Nation” galleries represent a collection of six individual conflicts beginning with the colonial period through today, each depicting a sense of realism that’s impossible to ignore.
Tanks, boats and other vehicles can be seen in each scene including one tank with more than 1,300 bullet holes that it received in actual battle. To add to the realism, full-size cast figures of soldiers in the throes of battle dominate each scene, some even armed with weapons or operating equipment.
“Those that want to read text panels, we’ve got that,” Smullen said. “For those who want to control the information, this is where you use the stylus to touch a screen.”
She emphasized the attention to detail that can be seen on the faces of each soldier. One of the most striking depictions, featured in the Cold War gallery (1945-1991), includes the expression of a Black soldier in Vietnam. Smullen said it gets a strong reaction particularly from former soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War.
The museum does not shy away from controversial issues — from segregation that affected both male and female soldiers to the growing role and acceptance of women, particularly in positions of authority.
Other highlights among the exhibits include the Experiential Learning Center (ELC) which tests one’s military decision-making through participation in a variety of scenarios. The ELC has skill-building games that could be ideal for school groups or families. The Center also provides a better understanding of the Army’s contribution to geography, science, technology, engineering and math (G-STEM).
A 10-minute video in the Army Theater gives viewers a sense of being alongside soldiers. The experience resembles a mini-version of an IMAX theater with a 300-degree screen and external sensory elements that surround viewers with sight, sound and movement. And yes, even the chairs move.
It will take more than one visit to see everything at the National Museum of the United States Army, which remains open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day except Dec. 25.
For more information including the use of masks or to schedule a timed-entry reservation, visit the museum’s website https://www.thenmusa.org. Admission to the museum is free.