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Military museums offer thrills, noted collections

By Susanne M. Schafer

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 27 2011 9:50 a.m. MDT

This Oct. 24, 2011 photo courtesy of Midlands Authority on Conventions, Sports and Tourism shows the U.S. Army Basic Combat Training Museum at Fort Jackson, S.C. The museum offers visitors insight into how civilians are transformed into military men and women and the Army's training for basic combat with hands-on and interactive displays.

Midlands Authority on Conventions, Sports and Tourism, Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Military museums allow visitors to experience the rough and tumble jerk of a parachute jump, the barked orders of an Army drill sergeant or the segregated training endured by the first African-Americans to enter the Marine Corps.

Whether you are a hardened military veteran or one who's never worn a uniform, several military museums in the Carolinas offer extensive lessons in military service as the Nov. 11 Veterans Day draws near.

In Fayetteville, N.C., the soaring Airborne and Special Operations Museum attracts between 120,000 to 175,000 visitors every year and tells the story of how America's military developed the strategy of dropping fully-armed soldiers into battle from the skies. A 15-foot sculpture of the paratrooper dubbed "Iron Mike" stands guard at its glass-and-girder front entry, which evokes both the 250-foot "jump towers" that paratroopers use to train and the wingspan of the C-47 aircraft that dropped soldiers onto battlefields in World War II.

Located just minutes off Interstate 95 in downtown Fayetteville, N.C., the museum is holding a weeklong celebration in advance of Veterans Day, says Paul Galloway, executive director of the foundation that supported construction of the $25 million building.

"We'll be hopping and popping. We do a salute to veterans every year," Galloway said. A week of films about the Army and paratroopers will be held the week prior to the holiday, as well as other events to honor military men and women, Galloway said.

As soon as you enter the museum, you spot a World War II-era paratrooper in combat gear floating out of the sky under a yellow 28-foot-wide parachute. Behind him, another model drops from the heavens, a modern Army Ranger buoyed by a light green, honeycombed parachute used by U.S. Special Forces.

A wild ride can be had in the museum's 24-seat platform motion simulator, recreating the bumps and jumps of parachute drops and rides in military vehicles.

To highlight some of the major events of wartime paratroopers, visitors first stroll through a recreated village in Normandy. Recordings from the June 1944 Allied invasion to liberate France from Nazi Germany put visitors in the heat of the battle, with rockets and bullets screeching by. Overhead, a C-47 "Skytrain" aircraft hovers with a U.S. Army paratrooper poised to jump out an open door.

Walkways are papered with still photos, videos and murals that show the history behind U.S. forces that evolved into the famed Special Operations units, designated to take on unconventional warfare and special missions in foreign lands.

Displays from the war in the Pacific, the Korean War and Cold War are shown. In one display, soldiers jump from a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter into a jungle battle raging in Vietnam. Other displays detail the history of U.S. involvement in the Dominican Republic, Panama and Grenada.

America's conflicts in the Middle East are recalled with models of camouflaged soldiers crouching in desert hideouts in Iraq. Others depict U.S. Special Operations forces meeting for tea with Afghan villagers or medical centers where military medics tend to local children.

The latest addition to the Army's military museums is the Army's Basic Training Combat Museum located on Fort Jackson, in Columbia, S.C., which reopened in July after a two-year renovation.

More than 60,000 male and female soldiers graduate every year from basic training at Fort Jackson, which is the Army's largest training site. The museum offers guests and family members a taste of their grueling 10 weeks of indoctrination and combat training.

"The museum boasts a number of high-speed exhibits that zoom in directly on how civilians are turned into soldiers, interwoven with Fort Jackson's past," said the two-star general in charge of the post, Maj. Gen. James Milano.

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