NEWS | Feb. 2, 2021

Blueprints of the Past to Modernize the Future Force

By Ashley Bradford Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate

The origin of U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) has a fascinating history. Looking beyond the long history of operational activities, much of the story of the USAR can be told through the buildings and facilities that make up Army Reserve Centers (ARC) in communities throughout America. The USAR Cultural Resources Program leverages this historic information as a guide to protect the past, preserve significance, and safely modernize to meet current and future mission needs.

In 2006, the USAR Environmental Quality Team received a Department of Defense (DOD) Resource Legacy Grant to develop a study titled, “Blueprints for the Citizen Soldier: A Nationwide Historic Context Study.” Because many of the ARCs were built in the post-World War II period in response to the Cold War era troop build-up, many of the facilities were reaching the chronological threshold for a National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) eligibility assessment at that time. The NRHP is the federal government’s official list of cultural resources that have been objectively, consistently determined to be worthy of preservation or consideration when making planning and development decisions. NRHP eligibility assessments are required for all federal properties upon reaching 50 years of age as part of compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

Completed in 2008, the “Blueprints” study examines the historical trends, events, and people that influenced the development of the USAR and identifies the criteria that links USAR buildings and structures to these including particular design styles, methods of construction or association with an important architect or USAR personnel. In doing this, it outlines the framework needed to assess ARCs for inclusion on the NRHP. “In our role, we are dealing with a lot of Real Estate Actions, Disposals, and Real Property Exchanges,” explained Mary Schmidt, who serves as the contract support Cultural Resources Program coordinator at the Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate, Office of the Chief Army Reserve. “Because the Army has the largest inventory of historic properties in the DOD, we have a tremendous stewardship obligation. This document is important in helping ensure that the USAR is acting as good stewards and working to protect historic properties through compliance with the NHPA. It helps guide our actions, assisting in the identification of properties that have significant historic associations that make them eligible for listing on the National Register. This is particularly important for maintenance and facility renovations. When we perform maintenance and updates to USAR properties that are eligible for or listed on the National Register, we work to ensure those updates support the modernization of the facility while also keeping the historic integrity of the building. Additionally, it is important when we conduct real estate actions like Disposals. When a building leaves federal control, our job is to consider the way that can impact the building or features which give it significance and find a mitigation strategy so the building can be preserved. In doing this, we meet our stewardship obligations while also supporting mission needs.”

Beyond assisting with NHPA compliance, the “Blueprints” study captures the long and complex history of the development of the USAR. The concept of a volunteer army of citizen-Soldiers can be traced back to the American colonies in the seventeenth century. At that time, large standing armies were deemed expensive to manage and were viewed as a threat to the state. As a result, George Washington led both militia and army units under the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Over the years the United States was involved in many different conflicts and it was found that the state-backed militia system failed to provide an adequate military. In 1903, Congress passed the Dick Act that created the framework for the National Guard and subsequently the USAR. In 1908 the Medical Reserve Corps was established and the federal Organized Reserve Corps (ORC) in 1916.

“After World War II, there was a major shortage of training facilities. The ORC was using National Guard armories for drill which offered a savings benefit as defense budgets were decreased in the years immediately following the war,” expanded Schmidt. “However, sharing facilities limited space for ORC units and restricted training opportunities. It wasn’t until after 1948 that it was decided that new construction of reserve facilities would be necessary to meet the training needs of the newly formed reserve forces units across the country. In the 1950s, we see a shift from utilizing older armories and leased or temporary construction buildings, to the development of standardized architectural plans that provided new highly functional training facilities. Multiple generations of architectural plans were then borne out of the events to come during that time period including the Korean War, the Cold War, and the significant shifts in policy under the Eisenhower administration’s New Look military strategy, all of which informed the look and function of ARCs as well as the Force we are today.”

Schmidt believes the “Blueprints” study is an excellent jumping off point for additional studies done internally or even by historic preservation or architectural students, in addition to providing a holistic historic overview of the development of the USAR. “There is ample room to conduct further research between our current inventory and actual historic construction trends. Policy decisions often took years to filter down to actual construction, so the trends in construction style might not necessarily correlate to the exact time periods laid out in the historic context. Further analysis of individual ARCs at the state-level could be a great Master’s thesis. I would love to make this study more accessible to USAR Soldiers, students, and Communities that are curious about the facilities and the history of the USAR. Not only were these facilities designed to meet the needs of the mission but they have also functioned as spaces for civic organizations like the American Red Cross and scouting programs. They are places where Soldiers were recruited, trained, and learned critical skillsets. It’s where local Civilian employees were employed and bolstered economies in their hometowns. I’m proud that we’re able to continue to utilize and study these historic facilities that tell the USAR story. We are committed to helping our Soldiers be ready now as we shape the state-of-the-art facilities of tomorrow.”

To learn more, please contact Mary Schmidt, Cultural Resources Program coordinator.