COLUMBIA, S.C. –
Enter the headquarters of any Army unit and you will find the walls filled with dedications to its history and heritage, from the storied Airborne Divisions of World War II, to basic training companies that have never deployed. Most Army bases have a museum which celebrates the contributions of the installation and its units to previous war efforts. What most Army units do not have is an exhibit celebrating their history in a civilian museum. The 360th Civil Affairs Brigade does, at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, within the state museum in Columbia.
The result of over a decade of dedication and hard work by 360th veterans, South Carolina State Museum employees, and supporters in the community, the exhibit opened with a gala reception at the museum the evening of November 17th, 2017. In attendance were former 360th brigade commanders, former soldiers of all ranks, community supporters, current 360th soldiers to include the command team, and friends and families of those involved.
The idea for the exhibit was born in 2005 from retired Lt. Col. Russell Wolfe, a 360th veteran. He was familiar with the State Museum and its Relic Room, the state's official military museum, and he knew the museum's director. "I approached the museum director, Allen Roberson, and said 'you know there's a great story, this 360th civil affairs brigade has been a part of Fort Jackson and South Carolina for years and it's one of the most deployed units in the reserves.' He thought that would be a good idea," to have a 360th exhibit in the Relic Room. The brigade had a reunion coming up later in the year, and Wolfe pitched the idea to retired Col. Tom Boland, a former 360th deputy commander and the reunion's organizer.
Boland liked the idea of the exhibit, as a way to honor his comrades and to tell the unit's story, but also as a way to keep in touch. "I love the people I served with and that's why I was trying to get them all back together," said Boland.
Boland took the lead on the exhibit, hunting down artifacts from the 360th's history from his friends and comrades who were there. He enlisted Wolfe in the effort, which paid off when Boland moved to Georgia in the midst of their efforts upon retiring from his civilian career. "Tom started it and he gathered a good many artifacts and he started gathering photos and stories. He asked me to work with him on that, and we were working on this exhibit and then Tom retired and moved to Georgia. Tom kind of let me be the local guy, and Tom was the long distance guy," said Wolfe.
The men worked hard at not only resourcing artifacts for the exhibit displays, but to gather the story behind the items. They assigned themes to each display to give the exhibit a narrative flow that would carry a visitor through the high points of the unit's history. "We tried to pair the artifacts with the various departments and even give a theme," said Wolfe. "For Bosnia we used mine awareness as a topic, even though we were there to support elections. The Superman comics are a good artifact because you get a lot of kids; school children come and I think they appreciate the comic more so than than the election. It tells a story."
Reception attendees were treated to the grand opening of the brigade’s exhibit in the Relic Room, where the unit took it's place among South Carolina's long martial history from the Revolutionary War to present day. The exhibit begins by describing the brigade's founding in 1950 by South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, then a Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. Thurmond's continued involvement with the 360th throughout his life resulted in the brigade's nickname, "Thurmond's Brigade." Through 1983, the 360th participated in multiple training exercises and supported the South Carolina Disaster Preparedness Agency to develop plans for disaster response, among other events. Era boots, a helmet, canteen, pistol holster, and can opener tell the story of that time.
The next stop in the exhibit covers the unit's activities through 1993, including deployment in support of operations in Grenada in 1984-85, deployment to Panama for Operation Just Cause in 1989, deployment to the Middle East in support of Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990-91, and its support of Hurricane Andrew relief efforts in Florida in 1992. The display for this era consists of desert boots, a desert uniform top, a Kuwait Liberation Medal, and a Kuwaiti Flag made by a refugee and presented to a 360th soldier.
1994 saw the 360th deploy to Haiti as part of Operation Restore Democracy, where it established Civil-Military Operations Centers in Port-au-Prince and Cape Haitian. In 1996 the unit was deployed to Bosnia to support NATO in Operation Joint Endeavor, where it helped the country execute peaceful general elections. In 2001, elements of the 360th returned to Bosnia as part of Task Force Eagle, charged with liaising with intergovernmental agencies and international partners in supporting the ongoing peace process. On display are a Superman comic book and a coloring book, both used to educate the local populace on mine awareness, one of the key dangers facing the area after the cessation of hostilities.
The next display features a manikin of an Army airborne soldier in full regalia, ready to jump, as well as a blown-up picture of the 360th after an airborne operation. Though the unit no longer carries the official "airborne" designation, the unit was founded as an airborne unit and carried the designation for most if its existence. Select members of the brigade command team and staff are still required to maintain airborne proficiency, and the unit has airborne battalions under its control, of which it exercises oversight of their airborne programs. The brigade's parent command, the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, is an airborne unit. Suffice to say, despite losing the designation, the 360th is still very much immersed in airborne operations and culture.
In 2002, the brigade was mobilized and deployed to Afghanistan, where it served as part of a combined joint civil-military operations task force and helped set conditions for the growth of democracy in the country. In 2004 the 360th was again mobilized for Afghanistan, where its soldiers held national-level advisory positions in Kabul, and led Provincial Reconstruction Teams in 14 Afghan provinces. In 2007, augmented by Navy and Air Force personnel, the unit was deployed to Iraq where it conducted civil-military operations across the country, from Mosul to Basra. Unit project teams implemented over 38 large-scale reconstruction projects throughout Iraq. The display for this era features a uniform from Master Sgt. Gripkey, a 360th veteran. Other items include a newspaper developed by the unit in Afghanistan, Iraqi art brought home by the unit, a civil-military operations magazine featuring the 360th's exploits, and the uniform top of Lt. Col. Weir, another 360th veteran. The exhibit concludes with a painting of U.S. Army paratroopers exiting a C-130 military aircraft, an ode to the 360th's long history as an airborne unit.
The magnitude and uniqueness of the exhibit was not lost on unit leaders. The current commander for the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade, Col. Jeremy Crist, scheduled the unit's November duty weekend to give his troops the opportunity to attend the reception. "To have our soldiers here, it was nice because they're the future of the 360th, so it's neat to see the past, the present, and hopefully some of these young NCOs and officers could be the future sergeants major or commanders of the 360th."
Crist was touched by the effort and humbled that the state of South Carolina was recognizing his unit in its official military museum, an honor not many units get, let alone Army Reserve units. "I'm impressed that the state of South Carolina chose to do this and I understand a lot of hard work went into this from former members of the unit. Not every military unit is fortunate to have such an honor and a little piece of their history that's preserved for the public to come and see, and forever we'll have this little piece of the South Carolina State Museum that's dedicated to our unit. It's just a special thing to be a part of."
More than 60 years of contributions to the nation’s defense from the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade are on permanent display in South Carolina's State Museum. The current and former soldiers of the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade will always have a place to meet with their comrades and those who came before them, where they can celebrate their shared sacrifices and service. However, to the veterans of the 360th, the importance of the exhibit is what it says to young people about service in the Army Reserve. "We would like people to realize how a citizen soldier contributes not only to his community but to his country, and I think this will help bring that out and get the young people to realize what reserve duty is, because it's not easy but it's rewarding," said Boland. Now, visitors to the Relic Room will be able to gain a small glimpse of the contributions of the U.S. Army Reserve, both at home and abroad, through the story of the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade.