Jason B. Cutshaw
Digging into the past can have many benefits for both scholars and Soldiers.
The Legacy Resource Management Program has selected Fort Drum and its archaeologist to take the lead in a new program to train U.S. forces how to protect historical sites and ruins, possibly while under fire.
“The new program is funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense Legacy Program, which has given us funds to try to develop Soldier training materials for the troops on the ground in foreign theaters of operation so they understand how to do the least damage when in archaeologically sensitive areas such as Babylon in Iraq,” said Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum cultural resources manager.
Congress established the Legacy Resource Management Program in 1990 to provide financial assistance to Department of Defense efforts to preserve America’s natural and cultural heritage. One challenge is to develop a program that protects and enhances these resources while supporting the military mission during both training and wartime.
Legacy projects may involve regional ecosystem management initiatives, habitat preservation efforts, archaeological investigations, invasive species control, Native American consultations, and monitoring and predicting migratory patterns of birds and animals.
“I was driving to work one morning and heard a story on the radio about all the damage in Babylon, and the Army was getting beaten up in the global media for some of the errors which had been made,” Rush said. “I realized in my capacity here at Fort Drum that I had the opportunity on a regular basis to teach Soldiers about cultural property.
“We do an environmental compliance officer class where I discuss the importance of cultural resources, and 99 percent of the Soldiers I meet understand, and care, and don’t want to do any damage to historical relics,” she added. “The piece that seemed to be missing was the information and educational piece of how to do this safely.”
DoD is the steward of approximately 25 million acres of land in the United States. These lands possess a variety of natural and cultural resources. Threatened and endangered species, critical habitats, sensitive ecosystems, historic structures, and irreplaceable archaeological sites are all integral parts of our national heritage. The Legacy program was founded to help preserve those resources for future generations.
When talking about training Soldiers around sensitive areas, Rush said it is necessary to start getting troops familiar with them here at home before sending them to overseas missions.
“One of my strong feelings is that if you manage cultural property at home by not letting Soldiers anywhere near it, you can’t expect them to spontaneously know how to occupy a cultural site overseas,” she added. “It seemed like we dropped the ball in terms of our site protection and were failing to teach them. Now, maybe we can help rectify the situation.”
The program was set in motion not long after Rush’s successful work on the preservation of the 660-acre Sterlingville site on Fort Drum. After being contacted about the new training program, she started talking to several local units about training their personnel.
“We started the process in April and started planning for the process with the Air National Guard,” Rush said. “Aerial gunnery is an issue because sometimes excavated sites in the classical world look like fighting positions because they are excavated in nice trench shapes. People sometimes use them because they are relatively safe.
“The Air National Guard has crews going overseas, and they want their pilots to know the difference. They teach them to avoid certain targets while aiming at others,” she added. “We will soon be constructing a mock cemetery on Range 48, and that will be one of the avoidance targets. And because the funding is from the secretary of defense and not just Army money, we will be reaching out to all branches of service.”
While building the new avoidance targets, Rush and several post directorates also will note which target construction methods work better in the conditions of summer, rains and the harsh northern New York winters.
“We will be building several targets on different Fort Drum ranges with different scenarios for the Soldiers to train on,” said Ian Warden, Integrated Training Area Management program land rehabilitation and maintenance coordinator. “The prototype cemetery on Range 48 should be completed in July with other ranges being finished shortly thereafter.
“Once the prototypes are up, we will continue developing and experimenting with materials and construction to see which ones work and which ones do not work as well,” he added. “An advantage of being stationed at Fort Drum is that the extreme climates will allow us to know which material works best. If it will last here, it will last anywhere.”
As the post archeologist, Rush said she would be able to add to the training of America’s warriors and gain an appreciation for the mission.
“Everybody involved is pretty excited about the opportunity to start the project,” she said. “From training to Range Control to myself, everybody wants to contribute to the mission. A lot of times, post archaeologists have the reputation for taking land out of training and hindering the mission. As a patriotic citizen, you meet the Soldiers and develop an appreciation of being a part of their training.”
She also noted that not many Americans know the Army has dedicated archaeologists who are proud to serve the nation and help people understand the country’s past and protect it for the future.
“While listening to the radio, it was obvious that no one had any idea that the Department of Defense had any archeologists at all,” Rush said. “Then I started e-mailing people, telling them that I’m a military archaeologist and I can talk to Soldiers. There are many classical archaeologists who are wonderful scholars, but most don’t know how to talk to Soldiers. What they are missing is a practical method of teaching Soldiers.
“What we are trying to do is create products that, through the long term, will help the Army create a program the nation can be proud of,” she added.