This presentation is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
by James Bartlinski and Denise M. Wald
As one of the most populated military bases in the world, Fort Bragg is largely responsible for putting the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina on the map. This military installation, along with the 57,000 military personnel, 23,000 military family members and 11,000 civilian employees, are the reasons that Fayetteville ranks as the 5th largest city in the state. Without the existence of Fort Bragg, Fayetteville would most likely be little more than a rural farming community.
The impact of the Army installation on the surrounding community has not always been a positive one, however. From the mid-1960s to approximately 1970, more than 200,000 soldiers from neighbouring Fort Bragg trained at the installation before deploying to Vietnam. As a result, bars, massage parlours, and strip clubs sprung up in downtown Fayetteville to cater to this influx of soldiers. Its connection with Fort Bragg, coupled with a growing crime rate, spawned the city’s unflattering nickname of “Fayettenam.”
Although the U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum is located approximately 10 miles off Fort Bragg, in downtown Fayetteville, it is still considered part of the military installation. While the Museum’s primary mission is to educate soldiers about the U.S. Army’s Airborne and Special Operations history, it has had a significantly positive impact on the surrounding civilian community as well. Since its establishment in August of 2000, the Museum was and still is the catalyst for a resurgence of the downtown area. Fayetteville has effectively overhauled its prior notorious image, into one of a vibrant historic and cultural hub for the region.
In the nearly two decades since the U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum opened, so have emerged a number of other museums, businesses, restaurants, cafes, parks, cultural institutions, theatres, high-end condominiums, along with a state-of-the-art Minor League Baseball stadium and a luxury hotel. There are continuous efforts by local developers for pursuing the adaptive reuse and preservation of historic buildings, as well as environmental clean-up in the city. Fayetteville is now known as the “All American City,” due to this renaissance sparked by the Museum.
The U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum successfully bridged the gap between the military and civilian population by basing itself off of the military installation and within the community, essentially making the institution the public face of the Army and Fort Bragg for the region. The Museum is a model for other military installations wishing to foster a positive relationship with their communities.
Jim Bartlinski has been the Director of the U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum (ASOM) in Fayetteville, NC since 2010. Jim earned his MA in Historical Studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 1998. He brings to his position a diverse range of museum experience in both the private and public sectors. Additionally, over the course of his twenty year career, Jim has taught history at the secondary school level, worked as a research historian, as well as served as a consultant for various historical sites and committees.
Denise Wald currently works as the Collections Manager for the U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She holds a master’s degree in Public History from Royal Holloway, University of London, and a master’s certificate in Museum Collections Management and Care from George Washington University. Her previous professional experiences include the Imperial War Museum, London; Benjamin Franklin House, London; Coronado Historical Association, California; and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Virginia. She lives outside of Fort Bragg with her husband, Rob, a JAG officer in the U.S. Army, and their two daughters, Charlotte (5) and Bridget (4 months).