Army Special Operations Forces Museum

Old time Special Forces Soldiers may be forgiven if they feel a little bit of history is slipping away. The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum located on Ardennes Street on Fort Bragg, North Carolina is no more. It has been replaced by the Army Special Operations Forces Museum.

History of the “Old” Museum

The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum was established in 1963. The museum was the brainchild of Major General William P. Yarborough in 1961 – the commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Warfare School. It was housed in the one-story Colonel Arthur D. “Bull” Simons Hall located next to the John F. Kennedy Plaza in building D-2502. The building was situated on the corner of Ardennes Street and Riley Road. It was easily recognizable due to the small howitzers and mortars on display outside the building. The museum had a small Gift Shop with the proceeds from sales going to support museum operations.

For years the JFK Special Warfare Museum provided a historical record of Army special warfare units throughout all of this nation’s conflicts. Most members of Special Forces referred to it as the Special Forces museum although from its inception it always included PSYOP and CA. Many SF Soldiers contributed artifacts and donated money for the museum. [1] Those that visited often strolled through the museum’s gift shop to pick up challenge coins, t-shirts, books, souvenirs, and other SF memorabilia. These items are still available through the museum association’s web store.

Exhibits of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum included displays from World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War. Historical units represented included the First Special Service Force, Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and Detachment 101. ‘Modern conflicts’ were represented as well to include Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.

The old museum building (D-2502) had a small footprint – 1,800 square feet and could only house 20% of the artifacts. [2] The building has since been torn down to make way for the SWC campus. If you haven’t been to Ardennes Street for a few years you will not recognize it!

Currently the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum is located at building D-2815 on the corner of Zabitosky and Ardennes – directly across from the JFK Chapel. [3] Some may recall the building as the old TMC.

No Longer About “SF”

The Green Berets of past eras certainly have some concerns. They fear the history of Special Forces will become diluted as the new ARSOF museum becomes more inclusive of other Army special operations units. There is the strong possibility that many items exhibited that are ‘SF’ centric will be put into storage to make room for historical items from the Ranger Regiment and Special Operations Aviation Regiment. A brief visit to selected social media sites will reveal the concern expressed by the older generation of Green Berets.

The Green Berets that served in the 1960s and 1970s lived in a different time when many of them thought that special warfare mean’t Special Forces with a little bit of Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs mixed in (apologies to the PSYOP and CA crowd).

However, we now live in a new era. In the past the term special operations – if used at all – referred to Soldiers serving in the U.S. Army Special Forces Groups. [4] Now it is an umbrella term to refer to SOF units across all four services. Currently, U.S. Army SOF refers to several units to include Special Forces, Ranger Regiment, Psychological Operations, Civil Affairs, and Army special operations aviation units. Collectively these Army SOF units are referred to as ARSOF.

The “New” Museum

The ‘new’ museum will be reorganized under the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). While CA, PSYOP, and SF are trained at the USAJFKSWCS – Rangers and Army SOF aviators are trained elsewhere. Moving the ‘ownership’ of the museum from USAJFKSWCS to USASOC provides the ability to include the other two organizations. A recent press release by USASOC tells us that the new museum will “. . . fully represent all of USASOC’s equities.” [5]

The museum is one of 64 U.S. Army museums in the country and falls under the purview of the Center for Military History. According to an online post (accessed 25 Jan 2020) the museum had “. . . the mission to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret significant historical property in support of the proponencies, training and educational mission of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.” [6] This made it the regimental museum for the U.S. Army Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations regiments – including predecessor organizations from the American colonial period to the present.

The new ARSOF Museum will open at the end of February 2020 once a complete historical inventory is conducted to identify and catalog items. In addition, there will be a reorganization and change of authority taking place. Until a permanent facility can be funded and built it the new museum will likely occupy ‘several’ places on Fort Bragg. USAJFKSWCS issued a statement saying that the exhibits will be “. . . showcased throughout the command; however, instead of only having access to the history in one building, it will be available to our Soldiers, students, retirees and families throughout the command footprint.” Apparently, in the future, if you want to visit the museum you will have to drive to several sites on Fort Bragg. That does sound a bit problematic.

USASOC certainly has the organizational size to support the new ARSOF Museum. The museum will fall under the control of the USASOC Historians Office. If enough funding is available it will likely provide an improved experience to visitors in the future while equally representing the historical record of all five major components of ARSOF. Looks like another trip to Fort Bragg is on the calendar in a few years to see how this turns out!

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Footnotes:

[1] In the 70s the author donated $100 (big money back then) towards a Life Membership. With the passage of time I am sure my name has been lost on the roster; although there was a plaque at the front entrance years of the B-2502 building years ago with my name along with the many other Life Members. That is probably now stuffed in a cardboard box at this time. The museum was a special place for me starting with attendance at SFQC and later for the many return visits to FBNC.

[2] Letter from Major General Bennet Sacolic addressed to Museum Association Members, 2012.

[3] In researching this article it is not readily apparent where the ‘physical’ location of the museum will be. I suppose we will find out in the next few years. The museum has moved multiple times over the past several decades.

[4] The term ‘special operations’ was rarely used in early SF history. It may have seen its introduction in the early 80s when UW was deemphasized and SITCA (later SR) and DA became more prevalent in training exercises and doctrine. The term ‘special operator’ apparently was first used by SF in the 1950s. But then again, rarely used. See “The Special Forces Operator”, by Charles H. Brisco, PhD, Veritas, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2018.
https://www.soc.mil/ARSOF_History/articles/v14n1_creed_page_1.html

[5] “U.S. Army JFK Special Warfare Museum becomes Army Special Operations Forces Museum”, US Army, January 24, 2020.

[6] USASOC page on JFK Special Warfare Museum.

References:

John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum
https://www.soc.mil/SWCS/museum.html

US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum Association
https://www.jfkwebstore.com/

JFK Special Warfare Museum Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jfk-Special-Warfare-Museum-Ft-Bragg-Nc/212706605444953

Bruce, Robert, “Hidden Treasures of the JFK Special Warfare Museum”, Small Arms Review, July 2006.

U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum. This museum is located in downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina. It was privately funded and then donated to the U.S. Army.
https://www.asomf.org/

Editorial Notes:

The USASOC Historian’s Office has been contacted for further information; the article will updated once we hear from them. (Update: crickets).

Some minor edits were made to further refine this story based on comments from the reading audience and other sources.

It seems some readers do not recall the use of the term ‘special operations’ in the earlier SF days. Determining when and how ‘special operations’ was introduced into our vocabulary would make for an interesting research project. See more in footnote [4].

One reader wrote in that he recalls an ‘informal’ museum (he believes it to be the very first museum) that was housed in one of the old Orderly Room -type buildings along Gruber Road – adjacent to where 7th Group was located. SF Soldiers donated a bunch of stuff to the collection. (time frame 1965-1966).

Photo:

John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Photo credit to U.S. Army.


About John Friberg 130 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.