FINAL PHASE - Completing the Circle
The National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC) already tells more than 200 years of the Corps' rich history, but it's still a work in progress. On March 27, 2015 the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, in cooperation with NMMC, broke ground for the 126,000 square feet that will complete the Museum's circle and tell the Marine Corps' story from post-Vietnam to the present.
“There are very few reflective moments in American life but the National Museum of the Marine Corps creates many such moments. The new galleries are an opportunity to tell the rest of the story for a new generation while they’re still here to experience it. A rich diversity of truly impressive Marines, all volunteers since Vietnam, have served country, Corps and God and now we’re telling their story,” Maj.Gen. Timothy Hanifen (USMC retired) said of the plans for the Museum. Hanifen is one of many advisors and collaborators for the Final Phase, the nickname coined for the build out.
The Final Phase historical galleries, scheduled to open in 2018, will include a continuation of the existing Legacy Walk, from which visitors will enter galleries that talk about common Marine structure and missions (e.g., NEOs, HA/DRs, MSG, etc.), the period from 1976 to 9/11, 9/11 as a standalone exhibit, 9/12 to present, the home front, and the Corps’ future. Not every Marine serves in combat, but the Museum recognizes that every Marine is vital to the mission and will honor all Marines.
These galleries will occupy a space that’s roughly the same size as the existing WWI and WWII galleries. Put another way, there will be 40 years of modern history in the same amount of space that tells 6 years of history. Additionally, the size of the equipment used to tell the story is much larger than the older tanks and planes. These factors will challenge the design team to find new ways to tell a complex story.
Telling such a big story in a limited amount of space requires creative thinking and planning. Doing more with less is certainly not a new concept to the Corps or to the Museum. Part of the solution involves using the second floor overlooks to present a different perspective than what the visitor sees from the ground level. From the overlook they will experience an augmented reality of sorts, using video overlays. One example will be in the Fallujah immersion, where from the ground level the visitor is walking down a street during the height of the battle and they can only see what’s happening at their level. However, from the overlook they’ll see the snipers and Marines on the rooftops. Through the use of multimedia technology it will be possible to present six different scenarios in one immersion so the visitor may have a different experience every time they visit. Additionally, the use of raw footage shot during combat and virtual camel spiders crawling across the walls will bring a very authentic reality to the exhibits.
“We aren’t letting limited space limit our vision for these new galleries. We’re using lighting, video overlays and sound to bring the spaces to life,” NMMC Exhibits Chief Chuck Girbovan says of the expansion. “Visitors will watch the activity at a FARP (Forward Arming and Refueling Point), where the helicopters rotors are still turning and the Marines, though static cast figures, are quickly preparing the bird for its next mission.”
Exhibits such as the FARP scene are an opportunity to showcase the importance of each Marine, performing their individual job while working as a team to accomplish the mission. The Museum’s mission is to honor the commitment, accomplishments and sacrifices of Marines, as well as, preserve and exhibit the material history of the Corps; which is why these final galleries are so important to the Museum and the Corps.
“History is essential for our survival. To remain relevant we must remember where we came from as a foundation for our actions today and our accomplishments tomorrow. Our past is a springboard for those who will carry our successes and our Corps,” Hanifen said.
Over the past couple of years the Museum team has been working on the storyline and artifacts, both of which have informed the concept development. These concepts were vetted by a collection of stakeholders and collaborators, including Colonel Joe Alexander, the historian for the first phase, History Division, Marine Corps University Officer and Enlisted Professional Military Education representatives, the Wounded Warrior Regiment, Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning, and other subject matter experts. The team received outstanding support from Headquarters Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs in identifying individual stories. Several Occupational Field managers and Military Occupational Specialty specialists have helped to make sure their communities are represented in the Final Phase.
The Museum team also received counsel and support from a diverse group of Senior Advisors, which are representative of the entire MAGTF. The “Senior Advisory Committee” was established to ensure these new galleries not only cover all the important historic moments in the Corps since 1976 but that “rich diversity of ... Marines” is also represented throughout the galleries. The committee is comprised of senior officers and an enlisted Marine, an African American, a female who was both enlisted and officer, as well as a non-military historian. Their experience and expertise will help ensure the Museum captures not only the historic facts but also the personal experiences of the Marines who made that history.
“I think the concept of presenting an ongoing set of events will bring the current generation into the NMMC and make them feel directly part of Marine Corps history. These new exhibits will get a lifetime involvement from them. The displays will evolve since this an ongoing conflict. It is important to pay attention to that,” Gen. Anthony Zinni (USMC Ret.) says of the Final Phase. Zinni continues to be instrumental in providing input for long-term historical views for the expansion.
The Museum team is also seeking input from another important source. The success of the expansion will depend in part on participation by Marines and sailors whose history is being told in the galleries, according to Charlie Grow, NMMC’s deputy director. “We ask for your assistance and input through Facebook at www.facebook.com/NMMCFinalPhase, and a Gmail account at NMMCFinalPhase@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you. Perhaps you or someone you know has an object, a personal photo, or verifiable first-person quote that will resonate with a half-million veterans and visitors per year at the Museum,” Grow says. “Please let us know your thoughts. To make the pending flood of input digestible, ALWAYS use the term “Final Phase” in your email title, and then add something that makes your message more easily searched and filed, such as “battle-damaged cammie trousers from the 1st battle of Fallujah.” This is a big job, and your specificity will be greatly appreciated.” The curators are especially interested in objects with a powerful personal story — something that’s really meaningful to the Marines who served. For instance, if a Marine made a special tool for detecting IEDs, or if a Corpsman has his medical bag with combat damage and blood stains — those are the sorts of stories the Museum is looking to highlight.
While the historical galleries are the focus of the development at this time, the Final Phase will include much more. There will be a 350 seat giant-screen theater, education suite with classrooms and children’s activity area, art gallery and studio, sports gallery and hall of fame, Hall of Valor, and a changing exhibits gallery. The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation has already begun work on the film for the theater and items are being sought for the Marine Corps sports gallery.
The new spaces will open in phases, beginning with the classrooms, lunchroom, art gallery, and theater in 2017, followed by the historical galleries in 2018. A gallery for the years between WWI and WWII will open in 2019. And finally, the sports gallery, hall of fame, and changing exhibits gallery will open in 2020
There is still much work to be done and visitors are already seeing some subtle changes as a construction wall is being built around part of Leatherneck Gallery. Most of these changes won’t impact the visitor experience and their experience may be enhanced. There are plans for visitors to the Museum and online to watch the progress of telling Marine Corps history.
“Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat mistakes. History is essential for survival, both in the present and in the future. These new spaces will touch hearts and focus minds to elicit the same level of competence as those from the past,” Hanifen says of the importance of the NNMC.
The Museum is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. It is located at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway in Triangle, VA. and is open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily except Christmas Day. Admission and parking are free. For more information, call 703 784-6107.