- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Big budget cuts are looming for the U.S. Army. So what does the Army do? Announce that it is building a big old museum down at Fort Belvoir, Virginia — it says it will raise private funds to do so.
The not-so-funny thing is that the Army already has a pretty damn good museum in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Nice big new building. Tanks and artillery pieces and even a Huey sitting outside. And it is considering closing or curtailing this facility, which still has that new car smell.
This is just stoopid. And the Army probably knows it. How do I sense that? They made the official announcement late on a summery Friday afternoon, the traditional time for Army public affairs to try to toss bad news out the back door. They have pulled this particular stunt too many times for me to think it accidental.
Army Announces Site for National Museum
Fri, 17 Jun 2011 15:22:00 -0500
And that’s just by way of announcing this guest column:
By “Townie 76”
Best Defense guest historian
The collective practice of gathering, archiving, and writing about the Army’s history is broke. There are too many entities responsible for the Army Historical program. The Center for Military History has become a professional bureaucracy who are great at issuing requirements in regulations and directives; but when asked to assist in providing a minimal standard for the staffing of Command history offices and obtaining those authorizations, they demure, saying, not our job.
In World War II, George Marshall had the Army actively recruit the best historians in graduate schools and history department in the U.S., with one of their missions being to write the initial cut of history soon after the action. Today that function is not being performed by the Center of Military History, but rather the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. A quick review of the CSI website shows the breadth and depth of their research and writings. It would seem that the CSI has assumed the role for which George Marshall envisioned the Center of Military History when he created it during World War II.
There is a new chief of military history, Robert J. Dalessandro. I do not know him, but he has a very fine reputation and is a retired colonel who I believe was previously director of the Heritage Center. I believe his focus will be the Army Museum, but I also believe he will work to improve the Army History Program.
The saga of the Army Heritage Center is only the tip of the iceberg of Army History. I offer some suggestions on some steps to restore the luster to the once bright and shining entity:
1. Make the Chief of Military History part of either the Army Secretariat or the Army Staff. Currently the Chief of Military History falls under the Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army.
2. Place the Army History Program under the operational control of the Deputy Chief of Staff G3/5/7. This will assist the CMH in establishing priorities based on the requirements of the Army.
3. Reorganize the Army History programs into four subordinate components under the Chief of Military History, with the Center for Military History focusing on in depth studies of the Army and its organizations, the Combat Studies Institute focusing on writing the “first blush” of history, the Army Museums Division responsible for all Army museums, and the Army Heritage Center responsible for the archiving of important Army documents and the conduct of interviews with all Senior Leaders upon their retirement. As part of this reorganization the Chief of Military History should once again be a General Officer with a background in History. The Army may want to consider bringing a retired general with a history background on active duty for a specified period of time (4-5 years, but not more than 10).
Finally, review the organization of the Military History Teams and Detachments, and consider a program to attract first rate historians to the Reserve Component’s Military History Detachments and Teams by offering to assist in paying for their graduate studies in History. Make the minimum standard for serving in the Military History Teams and Detachments a BA from an accredited College or University. Do not confine your historian pool to just those with a background in Military History; ensure you have a diversity of historical backgrounds and specialties.
These are just some ideas, some may or may not be feasible, but without a place to start the Status Quo will endure. It is a Status Quo that is not serving the Army and its Soldiers well.