Fayetteville, North Carolina
The City of Fayetteville has played a vital role in America’s military history since becoming the first city out of dozens to be named in honor of Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette, and purportedly the only one he every visited. Today, the city is probably best known as the home of Fort Bragg, one of the largest army installations in the country. It was also the site of the second Parachute Test Platoon in 1941 and is the permanent home of the revered 82nd Airborne Division and the famed Golden Knights parachute team.
Currently, motorcoach groups can tour the Airborne & Special Operations Museum, which opened its doors on August 16, 2000, the 60th anniversary of the original Test Platoon’s first parachute jump. Though it took nearly 20 years to go from dream to reality, the Airborne & Special Operations Museum has become a place to honor and preserve the legendary feats of the airborne and special operations troops who have contributed so much to defending America’s interests.
The Iron Mike Statue in front of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum stands at 16’4″ tall and weighs 3,235 pounds. It is meant to represent a paratrooper that has just jumped into battle in WWII. This version of Iron Mike is dedicated to all paratroopers: past, present, and future. He was sculpted by Leah Hiebert, appointed by LTG Sink, in 1960 and 1961, using SGM James Runyon as a model for the WWII-era Paratrooper. LTG Sink decided on the pose, uniform and gear that Iron Mike would wear, wanting him to resemble the artwork from the cover of Ross Carter’s book Those Devils in Baggy Pants. He is made from polyester strips dipped in epoxy that have been stretched over a steel frame. Originally installed at the southern entrance of Fort Bragg at the Knox Gate, he was later replaced with a bronze replica that now stands in the traffic circle in front of the Post Headquarters. On June 14, 2010, the original was refurbished and placed in front of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.
Also outside, on the Hay Street side of the museum, is the Reflection Garden, surrounded by lush magnolia, live oak and elm trees and bordered by seasonal flowers. The Sunken Garden, located in the central part of the Reflection Garden, provides a quiet place to remember veterans and a dignified place to retire U.S. flags.
Inside the museum, the 5,000 square-foot, five-story-high open lobby area is accented by natural light that streams from glass walls and surrounding windows. A dramatic exhibit of two fully deployed parachutes, a WWII era T-5 round chute and a modern MC-4 square chute, illustrate the development of airborne operations, and a wall is dedicated to the individuals who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions while assigned to airborne or special operations units.
The museum’s main gallery is designed as a self-guided tour through the history of airborne and special operations soldiers and their equipment. Arranged in chronological order, exhibits place visitors in 1940, the conception of the U.S. Army Parachute Test Platoon, and move them through time to today’s airborne and special operations units. Altogether, exhibits cover airborne and parachute operations during World War II; the Korean and Cold wars; Vietnam; and present-day peacekeeping and contingency actions, including the ongoing War on Terrorism.
The museum’s 235-seat Yarborough-Bank Theater puts tour groups in the center of the action, showing free admission films throughout the day that highlight U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations history. Two motion simulator experiences are available for more adventurous tour goers. In one simulator, a 24-seat viewing area moves as much as 18 degrees in concert with the film “Army On the Move,” providing an extreme taste of what the U.S. Army’s finest are trained to do: ski through snowy woods and cover rooftop insertions from helicopter gunships. In the other simulator, Experience the Legend, passengers experience such historic airborne and special ops missions as flying into Normandy on D-Day with the 101st Screaming Eagles and traveling into Southwest Kabul through a hot bed of action with the Ranger Regiment.
Motorcoach groups are welcome to visit Fort Bragg in addition to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum. Fort Bragg is easily accessible through the All American Gate, which is an eight-mile drive. The visitor coordinator will give tour planners specifics for entering the Army base when booking the visit. Buses can use the traffic circle to load and unload passengers at the front door and park for free in the far rear of the parking lot. While at Fort Bragg, tour groups may wish to visit the JFK Special Warfare Museum and the 82nd Airborne War Memorial Museum.
The Airborne & Special Operations Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and all federal holidays, except Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veteran’s Day. Admission is free but donations are gladly accepted. A General Admission ticket for the Motion Simulator costs $8.50 and can be purchased in the gift shop. Special rates are available for scheduled groups who wish to ride the simulator during their visit. School and military groups receive additional discounts but must schedule their visit at least two weeks in advance to be eligible. The Airborne & Special Operations Museum Gift Shop features a variety of items, including books, coins, toys, and clothing. It is recommended groups allow two to three hours to tour the museum and its grounds.
The museum has been designed for all to enjoy, so gently sloping walkways surround the building, and a wide sweeping path winds its way through the main exhibit area. The museum also has three wheelchairs available for those who require them. It is worth mentioning that the museum is located in the heart of Historic Downtown Fayetteville, just up the street from a variety of local shops and restaurants. For more information about the museum, visit asomf.org.
To schedule your group’s visit, phone Scott Pelletier, the Visitor Services Coordinator, at (910) 643-2787.