Veterans Curation Project: Those Who Make History Help Preserve

By Dooley, Alan | Soldiers Magazine, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Veterans Curation Project: Those Who Make History Help Preserve


Dooley, Alan, Soldiers Magazine


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THERE is a link between mountains of prehistoric and historical artifacts, documents and records and Soldiers transitioning to civilian life.

The Veterans Curation Project, which helps Soldiers become successful civilians, while meeting the need to properly curate some of the nation's historical treasures, is that link.

Using $3.5 million in seed money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has established three pilot VCP projects in areas home to large numbers of wounded and other veterans. Centers have been established in Augusta, Ga., St. Louis and Washington. Additional funding in fiscal 2011 would allow the project to continue for at least one more year.

The project was conceived by Dr. Michael "Sonny" Trimble, director of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Center of Expertise for Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections, located in St. Louis. It is being conducted with cooperation from the Department of Veterans Affairs and organizations such as the Central Savannah River Area Wounded Warrior Core Project. Project participants are employed, earning full-time or part-time salaries as they learn.

The VCP has two goals. First, veterans receive valuable training from professional archaeological laboratory management specialists in technical skills such as: digital photography, scanning, cataloging, database and records management, preserving historical documents and making all the information available to researchers and historians online.

Second, veterans are helping the Corps of Engineers work through a backlog of artifacts, images and records from decades of engineering projects. "We estimate there are materials, stored artifacts and other items, that would fill 30 semi-trailers--and this is in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alone," Trimble said.

"This isn't 'make-work,'" he emphasized. "Properly documenting these items is required by the National Historical Preservation Act to preserve them, and their information, for study and educational purposes. It is unfinished business. It's federal law and it is our responsibility.

"We aren't trying to turn these Soldiers into archaeologists or anthropologists," he added. "But the skills they are gaining, the processes they are learning, relate directly to the growing field of record keeping in medical, insurance, financial and other professions."

Project participants in St. Louis praised the program.

"I have held a metate in my hands. That's a stone Native Americans used to grind grain," said eight-year Army veteran, Walter Sinnott IV. "When they ground the grain, tiny, abrasive flecks of stone would mix with the food.

"I have also held the flattened teeth of the people who produced and ate these foods, which ground their teeth down over years. It all became very real--not just intellectual, like a picture or a text about prehistoric America. I felt the connection between their tools and their lives. I felt I was able to touch these people."

Sinnott served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a ire support specialist. He spoke as he carefully smoothed wrinkles in an aging table-sized chart and map that had been tightly folded for 40-plus years. "We humidified this chart with hot water vapor for an hour. Then we dried it between blotter paper and I manually smoothed the folds. I'll repair any damage and then I have to figure out how best to preserve it for the future."

Sinnott said that after being discharged three years ago he first studied to become a computer engineer, but realized he wasn't suited for the work.

"I didn't want to spend my life in a cubicle; I have always been fascinated by outdoor characters like Indiana Jones. …

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