Via The Washington Post, August 11, 2022
The Smithsonia Museum in the (fictional) country of Pinelandia was about to be attacked by (pretend) enemy forces. Pinelandia’s president asked the cultural heritage specialists at the (also made-up) joint military task force to assist the museum staff in evacuating the museum’s priceless (!) collection.
Wearing neon-yellow vests over their Army combat uniforms, 21 specialists who are actually Army reservists packed up the artifacts (a motley assortment of thrift store vases, paintings and tchotchkes) for transport to a safe location three kilometers away (really at the edge of the museum’s entrance plaza). As the mission progressed, a soldier (not) accidentally stepped through a painting, ripping it from its frame, and the reservists were forced to use pieces of the museum’s (not-so-precious) textile collection when they ran out of protective wrap. Meanwhile, word arrived that (nonexistent) townspeople were alarmed that American soldiers were looting the museum. Work stopped to quell those (imaginary) fears.
For five hours on Wednesday in a large conference room at the National Museum of the U.S. Army in Fort Belvoir, Va., the reservists — who in their civilian lives are archivists, art historians, archaeologists and professors — completed a tense role-playing exercise to train for the evacuation of priceless artifacts from a museum under threat. The drill was the centerpiece of the 10-day Army Monuments Officer Training program, a new partnership between the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative and the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command that aims to boost the ranks of the Army’s corps of cultural heritage specialists, the modern-day version of the famous World War II Monuments Men. The partnership was formalized in October 2019, and the first session was scheduled for March 2020. The pandemic delayed it until this week.