Overall Score: B
Cost: A (It’s free!)
Fun Potential: B
HOURS: Mon-Sat. 10-5; Sunday 12-5 (Research area closed Sunday, no research pulls on Saturday)
In the small town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, you can find the US Army War College. Part of the War College is the US Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC). Part research facility, academic library, archive facility, and museum, the USAHEC is dedicated to educating people on American conflicts and preserving the legacy of those who have served in our military.
Despite the presence of numerous historic materials available within the building’s archives, most visitors are here to see both the outside and inside museum displays.
The Army Heritage Trail is an outdoor, interactive trail with exhibits that showcase nearly every era of Army history. The trail is a paved one mile walkway on the USAHEC grounds. Walk the trail to take a tour through various structures that have housed or protected American soldiers throughout each war. The trail is educational and certainly entertaining for kids of all ages, as kids get to run into and around the exhibits. The Army Heritage Center Foundation has done an amazing job recreating the historic structures and arranging the outdoor exhibit. The Heritage Trail is open from dawn to dusk.
Here are photos of the various exhibits that you can explore while you walk the trail:
Used during the French and Indian War of 1754-1763, American and British soldiers stayed in buildings like these for eating, sleeping, and resting during marches.
A redoubt is a fort system used for defense. These are built using natural elements like earth and wood to create protection for soldiers. Fencing and wooden spikes protect the soldiers within its boundaries.
Both British and American soldiers used blockhouses as defensive structures. Blockhouses had small bottoms and larger, overhanging tops to shoot down on attacking enemies.
Fighting during the Civil War mostly stopped in winter due to muddy roads hampering troop movement. Soldiers were forced to protect themselves from the elements by creating homes with materials that were readily available to them.
During World War I, most of the allied troops fought in trenches like these. Dug deep into the earth for protection, these trenches had aid stations, command stations, sniper nests, and mortar pits for large portable weapons.
These camouflaged fortifications were used by German soldiers during both World Wars. They usually only had one entrance and had a few small openings to fire upon the enemy.
The recreation of WWII barracks and mess hall at USAHEC shows the living conditions of the WWII American soldier. Visitors can learn what life was like for soldiers living in these outposts. The motor pool is also featured due to the vital importance of vehicles during the war.
Pictured at left is the M-18 Tank Destroyer, also know as the “Hellcat.” These tanks were extremely effective in destroying German tanks during WWII. At right, the Allied Forces primarily used the M4 Sherman tank due to its speed and its rotating mechanical turret. Both are on display at the USAHEC.
During the Vietnam War (1961-1975), Fire Support Bases were used to support troops out in the fields. By communicating via radios and maps, the soldiers fired large artillery weapons from here to attack the enemy. The helicopter on display reminds visitors of the new important role helicopters played by evacuating wounded soldiers, providing supplies, and transporting troops.
When soldiers in desert regions need to protect themselves and do it quickly, they use HESCO barriers. A strong portable basket structure, lined with a felt-like fabric, and filled with any available earth (dirt, sand, rocks), these barriers have been protecting our troops in the middle east since the Persian Gulf War.
There are also outdoor exhibits on the Korean War and the Cold War that are not pictured here.
Within the Visitor and Education Center of the US Army Heritage and Education Center, you can find their primary exhibit, The Soldier Experience. From the Spanish-American War to current day, you can view military weapons, photos, information, stories, and hardships that soldiers faced. When you enter, stop by the information desk to pick up a “dog tag;” when you select a dog tag, you’re selecting a soldier from any of our previous wars. While you walk through the interactive exhibit, you will follow the story of your selected soldier during your walk-through. Simply scan the bar code on the dog tag in applicable displays to follow the path of your specified soldier and learn his or her fate.
The museum offered an interesting look at America’s history of war and the life of soldiers during each conflict. Visitors learn how each war was different, who the enemy was, how the war was fought, and how the role of soldiers changed for each conflict.
During my visit, I did not see the historic and research library, Ridgeway Hall, but it is open to the public. Here you will find one of the most extensive military historical libraries in the world. Millions of documents are housed here, including soldier diaries, photographs, books, periodicals, oral histories and more.
In addition, USAHEC houses a small cafe, a gift shop, and two large conference rooms.
The US Army Heritage and Education Center has plans for expanding the Army Heritage Trail and building a new Heritage Center. This new Heritage Center will feature many artifacts that pertain to the service of individual soldiers that have served in the U.S. Army.
For anyone interested in the military or our country’s history, this is a great half day excursion. Carlisle, Pennsylvania is only 30 minutes (20 miles) away from Harrisburg, the state capital. Remember, the Heritage and Education Center is free and is a family friendly museum. If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by the US Army Heritage and Education Center for a visit!