Senior Army leaders, past and present, broke ground Wednesday on what will become the site of the National Museum of the United States Army.
Located on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the 80-acre site will feature a 185,000-square-foot museum filled with about 30,000 artifacts and 15,000 pieces of artwork from the service's 241-year history.
Funded through donations, the museum will cost about $200 million to build and is expected to attract up to 750,000 visitors per year.
"I am proud to say that three years from now, in 2019 ... the Army will finally have its long-overdue national museum," retired Army Gen. Gordon Sullivan, chairman of the Army Historical Foundation, said during a ceremony at the site.
"This will be the museum of the entire U.S. Army ... through first-hand accounts -- soldier accounts -- never-seen before soldier artifacts, dramatic and dynamic venues, state-of-the-art technologies and high-quality soldier artwork," he said.
"It will take visitors on a fascinating journey throughout the history of the United States of America that will engage their imagination and curiosity, depicting the Army's contributions not only to the nation's defense but also to America's social, cultural, scientific, technological and economic growth," Sullivan said. "In short, Army history is American history."
Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning continued on the theme of the Army shaping American history.
"It was the Continental Army's founding general who went on to become our first president," he said. "It was an Army captain and second lieutenant -- Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who led the first team to cross our continent, and it was the Army Corps of Engineers who would build the national roads, rails, canals and bridges to connect that continent.
"This museum will chronicle this history, the history of how the Army's people have always been our nation's pioneers," Fanning said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the audience that the new museum will offer an experience "free of charge" that cannot be found on the internet.
"Although you can Google it, and you can Google a lot about American history, you can never truly connect unless you can see the weapons they used, the uniforms they wore, the stories they told, the letters they wrote, the equipment that kept them alive," Milley said.
"This museum will enhance what all of us have learned in school about America, about our Army, about the cost, the pain and the sacrifice of war -- not in dollars but in lives," he said.
The museum will feature three main galleries -- Soldier Stories, Fighting for the Nation, and Army and Society. The Fighting for the Nation Gallery will be broken down into six sub-galleries that cover a different periods in the Army's history, starting with the Revolutionary War and ending with the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The outside grounds of the museum campus will include a memorial garden, amphitheater, parade ground and trail. Space is being planned to accommodate ceremonies, re-enactments, reunions, lectures and educational programs.
"Recounting the history of an institution as old as our nation -- actually older -- and in celebrating the service of over 30 million American men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Army … requires a unique national education destination," Sullivan said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.