National Guard November 2011 : Page 34
Why We Must Tell Our Story By Cathleen Pearl Many Americans know the Guard by only a handful of past events. And few are aware of all that the force is doing today. This is more than just an academic problem ESS THAN TWO miles from the National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., sits one of America’s most prestigious museums. The Smithsonian’s National Mu-seum of American History receives millions of visitors annually and is home to objects that deﬁne a wide range in the American experience. The Greensboro lunch counter that helped launch the civil rights move-ment of the 1960s, Kermit the Frog and Edison’s light bulb all help illus-trate the highs and challenging lows of our collective history. And so does a National Guard riﬂe ﬁred at Kent State University more than 40 years ago. L 34 | Na tional Guard
Why We Must Tell Our Story
Many Americans know the Guard by only a handful of past events.And few are aware of all that the force is doing today. This is more than just an academic problem
LESS THAN TWO miles from the National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., sits one of America’s most prestigious museums.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History receives millions of visitors annually and is home to objects that define a wide range in the American experience.The Greensboro lunch counter that helped launch the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Kermit the Frog and Edison’s light bulb all help illustrate the highs and challenging lows of our collective history.
And so does a National Guard rifle fired at Kent State University more than 40 years ago.
One core exhibition, “The Price of Freedom,” examines America at war throughout its history. The Smithsonian’s account of our nation’s conflicts does include the National Guard.
Citizen-soldiers protecting the colonies and fighting for our independence?
Check. The 26th Division in World War I? Present. The 165th Infantry charging the beach at Makin Atoll during World War II? It’s there.
But Guardsmen served so seamlessly that there is no mention of them being National Guardsmen.
Curiously, throughout over three centuries of military history, the contributions of the Guard are presented in the exhibit through images and generic descriptions, but the name National Guard is cited only three times.
The first clear mention of the National Guard is in the Vietnam gallery. A short paragraph describes a photo of soldiers, bayonets raised, facing a flower-wielding protester. The description of the photo identifies the soldiers as Guardsmen.
Close by stands one of the rifles fired by soldiers during a demonstration at Kent State in May 1970 in which four civilians were killed and nine wounded.The rifle is portrayed as an iconic symbol of the troublesome times.
And museum curators have clearly labeled it as belonging to a National Guardsman.
That the Guard and Reserves have been used frequently in the Iraq war is the final reference to the Guard in the “Price of Freedom” exhibition. Just that one short sentence and the two Vietnam- era references are all visitors to the nation’s premier history museum find to explain the National Guard’s service in the military history of America.
This underscores the importance of the National Guard Educational Foundation and its mission to tell the Guard story. If we don’t tell it, no one will.
Or, worse, perhaps, as the Smithsonian shows us, someone else will.
There is no better time than now, while celebrating 375 years of service, to reflect, take stock and get the word out. Happily, that’s being done, at least in a few places.
Every year, thousands of people descend on Lower Manhattan in New York to hear firsthand about the events on Sept. 11, 2001, from volunteer guides at the Tribute World Trade Center Visitors Center. Since 2004, the Tribute Center has provided guided tours around the site led by people who survived, lost someone or were involved in the response and rescue or the recovery and rebuilding.
For seven years, the Guard’s story went untold. That changed in September.
“I do it as a service to others,” Paul Fanning, a retired New York National Guard lieutenant colonel, says of volunteering as a guide at the Tribute Center.
He does it, he says, “in remembrance of those that were lost and for everyone in the Guard, because everything they have done in uniform for the past 10 years is rooted in what happened on that September Tuesday a decade ago.”
Fanning’s one-person account of the Guard’s response to the attacks has had a profound impact on visitors, as well as the Tribute Center staff.
Nancy Gamerman, Tribute Center volunteer coordinator, was surprised to learn the depth and scope of the Guard’s responsibilities.
“I didn’t know they performed state and federal active duty,” admits the New Yorker.
She also reflects on the fact that many Guard troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan also responded on 9/11 in some capacity.
“Having the Guard share their stories reminds me—reminds visitors—That September 11th is not just in the past, it is our present,” she says.
Little by little, then, a few visitors at a time, the Guard story from 9/11 is getting out.
But much of the ongoing story remains a mystery to the general public.How many know of the Guard’s important State Partnership Program?How many are aware of the vital contributions of Agribusiness Development Teams in bettering the lives of Afghan farmers?
The sad answer is, very few.One effort to correct this is the recent partnership between the National Guard Memorial Museum and Panther Racing, owners of the Indy car sponsored by the Guard.
The museum, which is located in the NGAUS headquarters at the National Guard Memorial, and Panther Racing created a traveling storyboard exhibit showcasing the National Guard. The tall panels of words and photos made specific to each race site educate race fans about how their state’s Guard serves them at home and around the world.
More than 225,000 people visited the Indy Fan Village at 13 races during the recent racing season.
Pat Spencer, Panther Racing’s executive vice president for business development, says he saw firsthand the spark of realization as people stopped to examine the storyboards.
Referring to one group of fans he witnessed during a race weekend in Ohio, he says, “They had no idea the Ohio Guard had a [hazardous materials] team or that they performed so many state missions.”
According to Spencer, such revelations were not unique.
“Some people think the Guard just responds to a flood now and then and only responds to things in their state,” he says.
“They are surprised to find out what Guardsmen are doing in today’s world.”
While efforts to educate the public are chipping away at the stereotypes and ignorance, one soldier is taking on the chore of educating others who wear the uniform. His effort is unfolding 50 miles north of the 9/11 site in Lower Manhattan at the oldest continually operated military post in America.
Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point are offered a broad range in studies, from the sciences to liberal arts. Traditionally, there is no formal place in the curricula where these future Army leaders learn about the National Guard.
But in spring 2012, cadets enrolled in “The American State and the Soldier” class will get a National Guard 101 tutorial.
“Junior officers are more likely to find themselves working beside Guardsmen downrange now than they were prior to September 11th,” says Maj.John Griswold, an instructor in the American politics, policy and strategy.“I use my lesson on federalism and one of my lessons on the Constitution to discuss Article I, Section VIII, in considerable detail.”
That, of course, is the part of the Constitution that says one of Congress’ duties is to organize and arm the militia.
Griswold adds, “I talk about how the U.S. responds to disasters within its borders. Cadets are amazed at the way this works.”
He became interested in learning more about citizen-soldiers after crossing paths with Guardsmen while deployed to Iraq. For months, he has Been utilizing the NGEF archives and other Guard-centric sources in support of his research toward a doctorate.Information mined from these important historical resources also informs Griswold’s courses.
Griswold says, “The critical capabilities that the Guard brings to the fight must be fully integrated into plans and operations at all levels.Making cadets more familiar with the roles and missions of the National Guard, starting here at West Point, is one step towards achieving that integration.”
There are many attempts to tell the Guard story and tell it well. The National Guard Memorial Museum is planning to open next year the 9/11 Era Gallery that will encompass the many roles of the present-day Guard.
And at state museums dedicated to the Guard, visitors are offered a perspective on the efforts of their neighbors, friends and colleagues. Mark Whitlock is the museum liaison at theU. S. Army Center of Military History at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., but served as director of the Illinois State Military Museum for 16 years.
He recalls leading a group of visitors on a tour of the Illinois museum when someone asked him, “Have you ever been in the real Army?”
“I like to remind the [adjutants general] that their state National Guard military museums are their ‘visitor centers,’” he says. “If you want people to know who the National Guard is, the museum is where you can teach and show them.”
Telling the story of the Guard must be part of the mission of the Guard. Left to others, the force risks being presented merely as gun-toting killers of peaceloving students armed with flowers.
As we enter a future of reduced resources and hard decisions, we should remember that people care about only what they know about.
Cathleen Pearl is deputy director of the National Guard Educational Foundation.
She served in the Missouri Air National Guard from 1997 to 2003. She can be reached at (202) 408-5890 or at cathleen.Pearl@ngaus.org.
Read the full article at http://www.nationalguardmagazine.com/article/Why+We+Must+Tell+Our+Story/873257/86368/article.html.