We often brag about it, but it’s a fact: the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center is a world-class facility. What we didn’t appreciate — until now — is how much our visitors and supporters agree with us.
People from all across the country rallied in our support when they learned about the museum’s nomination for Best Free Museum in USA Today’s 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards. We heard from soldiers’ families who breezed through the museum during a graduation trip to Fort Benning. We heard from designers and builders whose work turned dreams of a new museum into reality less than a decade ago. We heard from philanthropists whose generosity paid for those dreams. We heard from visitors who simply love museums, the Army, or both. We heard from CEOs and general officers and historians and drill sergeants. And of course we heard from locals, who enlisted their support as surrogates drumming up votes, with wildly enthusiastic stump speeches filling their social media feeds.
We’d be lying if we said we aren’t patting ourselves on the back for being named the Best Free Museum in America. We work hard to create a memorable and inspirational experience for our visitors, and it’s nice to have that work acknowledged. We’re excited about the extra national attention we’ll get, hopeful that the affirmation will help us grow, and optimistic about the favorable economic impact this could have on our community’s tourism and business recruitment efforts.
But the significance of this win goes even deeper when you think about what it says about soldiers. There were 20 museums in the competition, nearly all from metropolitan areas significantly larger than Columbus, with visitation counts far exceeding ours and collections of art and artifacts that rival the world’s greatest museums. Yet it was a museum that honors soldiers and their legacy of valor and sacrifice that inspired people.
If you followed the month-long contest, you know the National Infantry Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art battled back and forth for the top spot. With two weeks left to vote, the NIM sat firmly in second place and no matter what we did, it appeared we’d never retake the lead. But, like good soldiers who never quit, our supporters made one final surge with just hours left on the clock to take the objective. While we don’t know how many votes were cast, we know the margin was slim, and we can say with confidence that every vote mattered.
Thank you for joining the fight, and for recognizing that the National Infantry Museum is indeed a community treasure that we all should be proud of.
Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Carmen Cavezza, former Fort Benning post commander and former Columbus city manager, is chairman and CEO of the National Infantry Museum Foundation.