Celebrity

The New ‘Monuments Officers’ Prepare to Protect Art Amid War

Fort Belvoir, Virginia — Army Reserve officers worked with brisk efficiency.

For much of the afternoon, they meticulously documented and carefully packed artifacts from the Smithsonian Museum in Pinelandia. Their mission to evacuate important items from the museum was well underway.

But then an aloof, lunch-obsessed security guard accidentally stepped into a prized painting propped up on the table.

The room became quiet. The museum’s collections manager then acquiesced. The officer had a problem.

Captain Blake Ruhlwain, 40, of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, said, “Our military failed to secure the artifacts while we were dealing with them.

Thankfully for the cops, it was all just a training exercise set in a fictional museum and country. The instructor later said it would help him learn.

In reality, the trainees are 21 cultural experts with expertise in everything from African history to spatial computing. We have several international conservation officers here for training and networking. The remaining 15 of him are part of a cadre of academics and art curators turning Army Memorial Officers.

their responsibility? Like a World War II monument man who recovered millions of artifacts looted by the Nazis, he worked in military capacity to identify and preserve cultural assets around the world threatened by conflict. I’m here.

“There is no mistake,” he said. Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, partner of the 10-day training program. “We are all soldiers”

At Friday’s graduation ceremony, after a year-long bureaucratic delay, class members are expected to wrap up formal appointments as part of a new class of modern monument men and women, the first in a generation. I’m here.

The ceremony follows intensive training that includes basic courses in first aid and forensic documentation, emergency preparedness and war zone conservation – how to dry, handle and rescue damaged items.

“I am exhausted, but full of energy,” says Capt. Jessica Wagner, 34, of St. Louis, Michigan.

On Wednesday, in Smithsonia, as the clock ticked under pressure, officers developed a detailed inventory system to record items. One policeman carefully placed foam inside the china as a buffer, wrapped it in tissue paper, and covered it. Lacking additional paper, he used Boxhi’s cutter to shape a piece of cardboard on which the object could be wrapped.

Across the room, an anxious collection manager shouted at another police officer who was trying to secure the painting. this! ”

Once they arrive on the scene, the officers do not directly search for the missing works of art, but instead serve as a series of academic liaisons with military commanders and local authorities. For example, they may advise against airstrikes in a particular location, or suggest attempts to forestall looting in areas where ground fighting has begun.

“The ability of these new monuments to bring men and women to better understand their environment so commanders can apply resources in the right direction,” said Army Reserve, one of the leaders of the effort. Officer Col. Scott DeJesse said.

“If you want to build stronger partnerships, this is how you do it,” he added. “Through trust, through showing that we care about you.”

The specialist will be part of the Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, headquartered in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. As reservists, they are not deployed full-time, but are assigned to military units as needed. This may require working in conflict zones where team members may come under attack. Hence the training.

“The risk of putting yourself at risk to protect cultural heritage is worth it,” says Air Force Veteran Captain Ruhlwine, who works in education and outreach at the Naval War College Museum in Newport, Rhode Island. Told. and the value of art for all. ”

The effort recalls the work of the 345 Monuments Men (mostly men, but also dozens of women) who applied their artistic expertise abroad from 1943 to 1951. Their story was documented and relayed in the work of Robert M. Edsel, eventually forming the basis of his 2014 George His Clooney film Monument Men.

In 2019, the Smithsonian Institution and the Army’s Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command agreed to join forces to protect cultural heritage in conflict areas and develop training programs for Army Reserve civil affairs soldiers. did.

Training was set to begin in 2020, but the pandemic delayed adoption and bureaucracy slowed the process. During World War II, monument men were soldiers who were already enlisted and who happened to have the requisite expertise. appointed directly.

Another new class of experts could follow suit soon, Wegener said.

Wegener has worked as an arts, monuments and archives staffer for almost 20 years. In Baghdad as part of a very small team. She knew the military needed more highly trained civil affairs experts. And thankfully, officials agreed, she said.

“For me, this is my dream come true,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for something bad to happen. Now we have this network that we created. And they’re creating it to get to know each other and train together. We is helping to bring this capability to the world.”

Six of the current 21 Army Memorial Officer Class, including Captain Ruhrwein and Captain Wagner, I am a newly appointed director. Nine of his other participants were already in the Army Reserve when they enrolled in the training and have either transferred to command or are in the process of doing so. The final six of him are International Conservation Officers within their own country’s armed forces.

captain Wagner has been involved in teaching and public relations for several cultural institutions, most recently the United States Naval War College Museum. Years ago, in graduate school, she said she spent time studying World War II monuments, fine arts and archives for her thesis.

“Are you willing to do that?” she remembered asking herself.

In an email this week, she admitted that after a day of training, wearing a uniform still feels “a little sluggish for me.” Adopting such military habits can sometimes feel foreign. Also, Captain Wagner and his companions eventually have to pass his one of the Army’s physical diagnostic tests.

But Captain Wagner said he found his “person” in this group.

“Five years ago, when I joined the U.S. military and was sitting in uniform at the Smithsonian Castle, surrounded by military personnel from all over the world, would you ever ask me if I would ever discuss how best to protect cultural heritage in times of conflict? you couldn’t believe it,” she said. “But here I am.”

Graham Bowley contributed to the report.

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