The National Museum of the U.S. Army isn’t your father’s military museum, not by a long shot. This high-tech, modern museum connects America’s past with its present through soldiers’ voices, experiences and stories.
Within its walls, you’ll learn about the stories of innumerable individual soldiers — the men and women of all heritages who have proudly served their country. You’ll also explore the history of America, through the history of the U.S. Army and a variety of soldiers’ stories, which highlight their lives and experiences fighting for and defending America. Further humanizing the history are the mannequins, each a life-size cast of real U.S. Army soldier.
The museum honors America’s soldiers, preserves Army history and educates the public about the Army’s role in American history. This museum is THE official museum for the history of the U.S. Army.
What to Expect at the National Museum of the U.S. Army
You’ll encounter the soldiers’ stories even before you enter the museum. Freestanding pylons lead you inside. Each soldier’s story, spanning —each with an etched image of a soldier’s face and accompanying biographical information—are aligned in a formation, stretching from the museum’s exterior into the building’s entryway, through the lobby, and into the interior of the museum.
Start your visit by viewing the immersive short film. During the film, you’ll experience the wind from helicopter blades, the rumblings of distant battle and more. Although very rah rah — it sort of felt like a recruiting film — there’s footage of soldiers and current Army operations along with re-creations of some of the Army’s most significant battles. Overall, the film was well executed and worth your time.
Exhibits Reflect American History
After the film, start exploring the five sections of exhibits:
- Founding the Nation (Revolutionary War – War of 1812)
- Preserving the Nation (Civil War)
- Nation Overseas (World War I)
- Global War (WW II)
- Cold War (Korea, Vietnam, Europe)
- Changing World (fall of the Soviet Union, Iraq, Afghanistan)
These exhibits follow the timeline of Washington’s Continental Army to today’s Army. The compact spaces bring the museum down to scale and humanize the space, preventing visitors from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and artifacts. Some exhibits are immersive, walking you through a battlefield. Although there are static exhibits of artifacts, these compliment the interactive exhibits that allow you to choose how much information you see. Through out the galleries, historic macro-artifacts: tanks, landing boats and such, presenting tableaus recreating the history the artifact belongs to.
The Army and Society Gallery was fascinating. This exhibit explores the relationship between the Army, its civilian government, and American society. This exhibit explored women in the military, African-Americans fighting for America, as well as how Army innovation has influenced or changed society.
You’ll also want to find time to explore the Medal of Honor Experience and the adjacent Medal of Honor Garden, on the top floor of the museum.
The National Museum of the U.S. Army Surprisingly Kid-Friendly
Not all military museums are kid-friendly, but this one definitely is. You’ll want to bring your kids, whether toddlers or teenagers. The museum has devoted extensive space to highlighting what it’s like to be in the U.S. Army, be an Army brat (in other words, the child of a mom or dad who is in the Army) or what skills you might need to be in various arms of the Army. There are little movies, activities and hands-on items throughout the exhibits that make the museum very interactive for the whole family.
For the very littles, there’s an interactive climbing playground. Toddlers and elementary aged-kids will be intrigued by the video game-like consoles, perfectly kid size. Some of the games focus on what you need for an army base or coloring army equipment.
Teenagers can challenge themselves at four stations focusing on science, math, technology and engineering. For science, you have to try to identify the disease or ailment and then determine the best treatment — you play doctor, essentially. Test your engineering skills by designing and building a bridge — all digitally — and then testing it. For technology, you fly a drone over battlespace. And for math, you figure out the weight of the payload versus power and wind speed to drop off needed supplies via helicopter. It was very cool, and I could imagine the games could consume a teenager for hours.
Kids of all ages will find something to enjoy in the virtual reality and motion theater (there are fees). You can choose from among the Army Action Pod, the Tank Commander Transporter and Bunker Defense.
Know Before You Go
You’ll need to plan ahead a little bit — the museum requires you to obtain timed-entry tickets in advance. As you enter, you’ll pass through a security screening system similar to airport passenger security screening. Avoid bringing unessential items or bags into the museum.
A whorl-wind tour of the museum took a full 2 hours — that was simply walking through and catching the highlights. If you are a reader of all signs on exhibits, plan to some more time: 3 to 5 hours, or more. An onsite café makes a longer exploration possible.
Getting there: 1775 Liberty Dr, Fort Belvoir, VA
Hours: daily, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; closed December 25.
Looking for more to do in Fairfax County? Check out the articles below:
- Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve
- Exploring Fairfax County — COMING SOON!
- Gunston Hall
- Mount Vernon — COMING SOON!
- National Museum of the U.S. Army — COMING SOON!
- Pope-Leighey Frank Lloyd Wright House — COMING SOON!
- Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum
- Washington & Old Dominion Trail
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