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NEWS | April 20, 2016

Historical, archaeological archives move into new digs at Fort Pickett

By Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

The Virginia National Guard Historical Collection and archeological collection both moved into a new building with some help from members of the Virginia Defense Force March 28-31, 2016, at Fort Pickett, Virginia.

The historical collection includes documents, clothing, equipment and other artifacts which cover the history of the Virginia National Guard. The archeological collection includes broken debitage, manufactured stone tools and ceramic pottery found on Fort Pickett.

The new building will provide better protection for the items as well as the opportunity to display parts of the collection for the public.

“The collection is going to be in pretty good shape now that we have this new facility,” said Dr. Maria Christina Mairena, curator for the Virginia National Guard Historical Collection. “It had been stored in a warehouse and there were insect infestations and cobwebs. We don’t have those concerns in this building.”

The move would not have been possible without the help of the VDF, she said. Col. (Va.) Dennis Mroczkowski, Lt. Col. (Va.) M.Kent Brinkley, Lt. Col. (Va.) Payton Owens, and Capt. (Va.) Josiah Henson volunteered to help with the move.

“We have a real appreciation for this collection,” said Mroczkowski, the VDF historian and a retired curator with the U.S. Army Center for Military History. “It’s surprising that so few people know about it. It’s great to showcase this while we’re moving it and alert people to this resource and the priceless artifacts that are here.”

“It’s part of our heritage,” Brinkley said. “Virginia military history goes all the way back to 1607 and it’s important for people in the Virginia Guard and the VDF to know about it.”

Mairena added that the VDF has representation in the collection and there will be more coming in the future.

“I had no idea of the size of the collection when I first came here,” she said. “By the time I was done inventorying everything it was up to 2,600-2,700 items.”

They are still accessing more items and the total should be up to 3,000 soon.

Over the past two years they have inventoried all the items and did condition assessments on them. It took about seven months to rehouse the collection. Now everything is packed in new boxes, with clean tissues.

“We identified what’s moldy, what had moth damage. We had a textile conservator come down for a day and look at some of our worst uniforms,” Mairena said. “She told us modern dry cleaning methods will take care of the mold. So once those uniforms are clean we can put them up on display.”

Some items from the collection are currently on display at an exhibit at the Virginia War Memorial showcasing the Guard’s 1916-1917 service on the Mexican border. There are also plans to do a World War I exhibit at the War Memorial.

“We have some fabulous items from WWI,” she said. “At the Dove Street Armory they found a medical chest from WWI. It was in complete condition and still had every item, everything you would need to do surgery. I’d like to see that on display some day.”

The family of a WWI Soldier donated his leather identification tags. He was a motorcycle messenger in WWI, going from the front lines and back on his motorcycle, and they also have a number of postcards he sent home from Europe to his family.

The collection includes items from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam but not as much as she would hope.

There are a number of items from 1990 to the present, including items from the Virginia Air National Guard, Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“A lot of the uniforms we have, the insignia has been taken off,” she said. “It might be a beautiful jacket but without someone’s nametape and without some insignia it doesn’t say as much. Having that person’s history attached to it means we can tell that person’s story and people can relate to it. Otherwise it’s just a jacket and not about the individual.”

Items from the Historical Collection aren’t the only thing moving in to the new building. The archeology collection from Fort Pickett, which measures about 158 cubic feet and includes approximately 60,000 artifacts, will also relocate to the building.

Fort Pickett is about 42,000 acres and according to Chris Parr, manager and curator for the archaeology program, they have surveyed approximately 20%-25 % for archaeological sites.

As the Virginia Guard’s archaeologist, Parr assists works the Environmental Programs office and assists with environmental compliance.

“We have yielded about 500 sites and they cover every period of human occupation from Paleo-Indian from 13,000 B.C. all the way up to World War II and the founding of Camp Pickett,” he said.

From an archaeological standpoint, Parr said Pickett’s relationship with the prehistoric population is fascinating.

“It was a communal hunting ground,” Parr explained. “They would come out here to hunt and then go back to their respective quarters. So we have a lot of campsites but we don’t have any confirmed village sites at Pickett so far.”

Mairena gave thanks to John Listman and Bev Boyko, the previous curators, who helped establish the collection.

“They did an incredible job on this collection with limited resources,” she said. “It’s nice to be working with folks who care. There’s a lot of lip service to history. But I think that knowing your history really helps going forward.”

Photos: VDF helps move Virginia National Guard Historical Collection to new buildings– March 29, 2016

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