WASHINGTON, D.C. –
U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers and historical preservationists will be working together to protect cultural heritage treasures during military actions.
Officials from the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative and the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) signed an agreement to train and support Soldiers whose mission is to ensure cultural property is not destroyed or damaged during armed conflict.
The training continues the legacy of the World War II Monuments Men and Women, a group of curators, architects and other cultural heritage specialists who served in the Army Civil Affairs Division and were tasked to save many of Europe’s cultural treasures.
The signing took place at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C., the repository for many of the personal papers and artifacts of the World War II Monuments Men.
“We begin this effort of exceptional cooperation and collaboration with great enthusiasm and excitement,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey C. Coggin, deputy commanding general of USACAPOC(A), who signed the memo on behalf of the command. “This partnership will provide exceptional training for our Army Reserve civil affairs Soldiers as it relates to their military governance responsibilities in the areas of protection of cultural property and the rule of law.”
The training to follow will enhance the modern Soldiers’ ability to protect and preserve the same kinds of treasures during future conflict or war, Coggin said.
“We look forward to this for many years of cooperation,” said Dr. Richard Kurin, Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large, who signed the memo on behalf of the Smithsonian. “It’s not only a training program for military folks, but it’s also a training program for us.”
The program will help the Smithsonian, along with other archivists and historical preservationists, to understand what the military faces on the battlefield, he said.
“The Smithsonian has helped train USACAPOC personnel in the past, but this new collaboration will build real long-term capacity, starting with a Revitalizing the Monuments Men and Women workshop at the Smithsonian in 2020,” said Cori Wegener, Director of the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative and a retired Army Reserve officer who served as a civil affairs arts, monuments, and archives officer in Iraq.
The officers who enter into the program will become Military Government Specialists, a separate area of concentration (38G) under the Civil Affairs officer branch. It is only available to traditional Reserve officers.
These officers are technical experts in their fields, who use their civilian skills in a military context. They provide education, certifications and experience typically acquired in both the private and civilian sectors.
The 38G Area of Concentration is structured under five functional specialty areas: economic stability and infrastructure, governance and participation, justice and reconciliation, security, and humanitarian assistance and social well-being.
Within the five functional specialty areas are 18 Skill Identifiers that represent specific skillsets. Each 38G Officer is assigned an SI that identifies that individual’s specific experience.
This enables 38G's to directly advise and assist commanders while planning and executing military operations. They also can assist or direct their civilian counterparts with general support of interagency operations.
Among those skills is historical preservation, which has been part of the Army’s mission for generations.
Coggin cited a World War II memo written by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Italy campaign, which emphasized to commanders the importance of their responsibility to protect and preserve cultural treasures as they fought through Europe.
Also, during the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Roberts Commission, which helped to create the Monuments Men and Women, Kurin said.
Their legacy provided the inspiration for what is happening now, he said.
Near the beginning of the war, U.S. national artifacts, such as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, were moved out of the nation’s capital because of the fear the city would be bombed, Kurin said.
“The idea was that we understood the value of other people’s heritage because we understood the value of ours,” he added.
Historian Lynn Nicholas attended the signing ceremony. She is the author of “The Rape of Europa, the Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War,” the seminal work on the Monuments Men.
Participants in the German/American Provenance Research Exchange Program also attended. The program brings together museum professionals from both sides of the Atlantic who specialize in World War II-era provenance research and continuing issues from Holocaust-era art looting.