Thursday, May 26, 2011

Army Heritage Days at the AHEC

This past weekend (May 21st and 22nd) was “Army Heritage Days” at the Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Sheila, Meaghan, and I went on Saturday, of course, along with about four thousand fellow military history buffs. It was awesome.

The event was held mainly on the Army Heritage Trail, that I recommended you visit last September. However, the AHEC Foundation also unveiled a new building at the complex that houses a multi-purpose meeting room, and new museum area, and…wait for it…a museum shop and bookstore!

This event drew reenactors from every era of American Military History. Some, naturally, were better than others. But everyone did a great job and shared their enthusiasm for their favorite period of history. My special favorites were the World War I reenactors. Why? First, they were not overweight, [sorry reenactors, you’ve got to look the part, there are way too many chubby Civil War soldiers out there.] Second, they were dirty, [if you are bright and clean, you are not looking realistic, unless of course you are reenacting being in a parade or something.] And third, they really knew their subject [some of you German soldiers were a little weak, hit the books!]

I have traveled around quite a bit, and I have never encountered another place like the Army Heritage Trail, where people can look at, climb on, and immerse themselves in, military history like this. The WWI trench is my favorite; I also like the Vietnam Firebase. I also get to look at a WWII era tank destroyer, which I encountered in my research for my book on the 509th Parachute Infantry during WWII, but had never seen one before.

AHEC Under Threat of Closure

So why would someone want to close this facility? That’s right, the AHEC has been placed on a list for consideration to be closed. The archive materials would go to the Center for Military History at Fort McNair (who says they don’t have room for it) and the museum collection would go to the planned Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir (which hasn’t been built yet and still needs to raise close to $50 million in additional funds to complete). If the AHEC is indeed closed, it will take effect in the 2013 budget year.

Normally, I try very hard to not be political. Oh, I have opinions, but I don’t like to debate because I find that most people argue with their emotions and are pretty short on facts. I must make an exception in this case, however. It is true that I am biased in favor of keeping the AHEC open. I do research there. I enjoy visiting there. But there are valid reasons to protect this facility from the budget ax.

The AHEC provides jobs for Cumberland County. The AHEC brings tourist dollars to Cumberland County. Moving the research material to congested downtown D.C. is in fact inhibiting access to it. Removing the exhibits on the Army Heritage Trail will sadly remove a valuable, one-of-a-kind education resource. Here’s one more for you: It reportedly costs $6 million a year to operate the AHEC. In the recent spending cut mania our country finds itself in, it sounds like that would be big savings. But as the DOD budget goes, that’s like one of us regular folks buying a pack of gum. We’d be able to run the AHEC for years if we would just bring our forces home from Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya, a few days early. Why are people crying out to save a few dollars by closing facilities that add to the quality of life, yet ignore our troops overseas and the massive debt we are piling up in order to accomplish…what?

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