The first military artifact made its way into the still-embryonic stage National Infantry Museum on Friday.
It wasn't something simple, like a musket or a mortar casing, an Eisenhower jacket or a K-ration, a shoulder insignia or even an Army Jeep.
It was a completely restored 25-ton Bradley M2A2 Fighting Vehicle, which saw extensive combat action in Iraq. And it took a huge crane to lift the it off the ground and onto what will be a permanent place of honor in the new $85 million facility.
"When I first saw it, it was full of holes," said National Infantry Foundation Chairman Jerry White. "But thanks to the fine work of BAE Systems, who spent several months restoring it, the Bradley looks brand new."
The vehicle, which has been a primary weapon system in the Iraq war, is such a major addition to the museum inventory that much of the main building is being constructed around it. It will help tell the story of the American infantryman’s role in the gulf wars in the museum’s signature exhibit, a ramp signifying the "Last 100 Yards" of an infantry fight.
"When you get to the end of that ramp, once everything is in place, I guarantee you will have tears in your eyes," said White, who added that significant icons from battles past will line the "Last 100 Yards" display.
BAE Systems, which is based in Arlington, Va., removed almost 15 tons of armor from the Bradley to make it "air worthy." It was lifted by crane onto a concrete and steel pad, carefully engineered to withstand the weight and ensure it remains fixed in place. The front left portion of the Bradley hangs over the eight-degree incline, and can be seen from the museum’s central gallery below. Because of the artifact’s special needs, it is being placed in the museum before the facility’s walls and roof go up.
"BAE’s support means the world to us," said White. "They have a long history of supporting soldiers, and now they can proudly say they’ve played a key role in honoring those same soldiers."
BAE Vice President Andy Hove said the company is extremely proud to support the museum and the Army in this way.
"We are confident that history will one day recognize the Bradley as the best combat fighting vehicle in the world," Hove said. "We manufacture combat equipment, and we are very proud of our success. However, we are more proud of the men and women in uniform who protect our way of life."
The company was the first from the defense industry to donate money to the cost of the museum when it gave $1 million at the start of the current campaign.
White made a promise to the several dozen invited guests at the museum site: "We'll have the ribbon-cutting on this building in November of next year."
The construction schedule is right on target.
The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park is a 200-acre tract linking Columbus and Fort Benning. The world-class facility will honor the 231-year legacy of valor and sacrifice of the Army’s largest branch, the Infantry. The project includes a museum, parade field, memorial walk of honor, authentic World War II Company Street and 3-D IMAX theater.