The United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) has decided to close the Special Warfare Museum located on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This action is a very controversial move – especially within the Special Forces community.
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Current and former Green Berets are aghast at the closure of the museum that showcases past operations and missions of Special Forces individuals and units. Social media in particular has been overwhelmingly critical of the fate of a highly revered institution that has served the special warfare community since the early 1960s.
The Special Warfare Museum featured the past history of the Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations, and Special Forces units and organizations. The exploits of members of this community were on graphic display in the small museum located on Ardennes Street, on Fort Bragg. The Museum was located at the long-time center of the special warfare community – and easily accessed by those Soldiers on Fort Bragg who wished to visit.
The reasons for the closure of the museum are unclear and USASOC has not been very forthcoming with information. The first instance of something happening was when the museum was closed ‘for inventory’. Then the rumors began to fly about what was happening to the museum.
Announcement of the ARSOF Museum
A January 24, 2020 press release by the USASOC Public Affairs Office provided an explanation of sorts. The article, entitled U.S. Army JFK Special Warfare Museum becomes Army Special Operations Forces Museum, said that the “. . . U.S. Army Special Operations Command initiated a plan to reinvigorate the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum.” It said the museum would temporarily close to the public while an inventory was conducted to identify and catalog items. The museum would reopen at the end of February 2020 after inventory was complete. The new museum would widen its focus to include other entities within USASOC – the 160th Special Operations Air Regiment based at Fort Campbell and the 75th Ranger Regiment based at Fort Benning.
This news of the establishment of the “ARSOF Museum” led to a great deal of consternation within the Special Forces community. It was felt that the SF heritage – as well as that of Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations would be diluted. The addition of exhibits and displays incorporating the Rangers and ARSOF aviation would take the place of some displays presenting the long history of SF and other special warfare units currently on display.
On January 25, 2020 SOF News published an article entitled Army Special Operations Forces Museum. The article acknowledged the concerns of the SF community. The article’s opening sentence was “Old time Special Forces Soldiers may be forgiven if they feel a little bit of history is slipping away.” The SOF News article goes on to describe the history of the Special Warfare Museum and the changes that would take place as it became the ARSOF Museum. The closing paragraph of the article, upon reflection, was off the mark – it was too optimistic of how SF and ARSOF history was to be remembered by USASOC.
There is No Museum
The museum has not reopened. It is doubtful if it ever will – even with the name of “ARSOF Museum”. The latest press release on this topic published on April 24, 2020 by the USASOC Public Affairs Office Army raises more questions than it provides answers. The article, entitled ARSOF History: Embracing the Future, does not mention the “ARSOF Museum” at all. It is as if the museum no longer exists.
The article basically says that USASOC will preserve ARSOF history by leveraging technology through “virtual historical exhibits and graphic displays” to make ARSOF history more accessible to everyone. In addition, “Mobile Assistance Teams” will advise units how to display significant artifacts through exported historical print products. The April article explains that the USASOC History Office will retain and preserve artifacts and will work with the Airborne and Special Operations Museum (ASOM) in downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina to display some exhibits.
The author spoke with someone with knowledge of the museum transformation. He cited that some of the factors considered in the closing of the Special Warfare Museum included cost savings, the expense of putting the museum in a new building, and the ability to provide greater accessibility to ARSOF history. He indicated that artifacts have been inventoried (the process could still be ongoing) and that there are no ‘current plans’ for the transfer of the items to other museums or organizations. When asked if there ever will be an ARSOF Museum he couldn’t say.
What Does the Future Look Like?
So apparently the USASOC History Office, utilizing assets available within the USASOC command, is going to set up a website with pictures of the displays that one used to be able to see in person at the Special Warfare Museum. Or perhaps they will just point us in the direction of the existing website they maintain called The ARSOF Story: US Army Special Operations History. It is hard telling not knowing. Let’s hope that they don’t take the step of renaming the online site the “ARSOF Museum”.
In addition, the USASOC History Office will, as much as a small staff is able to, export printed materials to ARSOF units for their use. They will likely be able to provide the occasional small team of personnel to units located at Fort Bragg and across the country that would help with the set up of displays of artifacts that had been part of the Special Warfare Museum. The downtown Fayetteville museum will likely benefit from the temporary displays of ARSOF historical items. While the ASOM is a fine museum it is basically about Airborne and not so much about ARSOF.
Certainly current and former members of Special Forces are being slighted. How the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations community views the closing of the Special Warfare Museum is not known to this author. SOF News welcomes their feedback.
It would be refreshing to learn exactly what the plan is for the future of ARSOF history. Will there be a physical museum or is it destined to be a website? Will the artifacts be handed over to the downtown Fayetteville museum?  Perhaps the USASOC History Office could provide a little bit more information. Thus far, the office has been less than forthcoming. The Special Warfare community deserves better.
From this vantage point – it feels like a lot of history is slipping away.
Top Image: The original Special Warfare Museum on Ardennes Street, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.