By Mrs. Melody Everly (Drum)August 31, 2017
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- When Sgt. 1st Class Charles Leonard retired from the Army in 2009, he said he was proud to have spent nearly a decade of his Army career serving with the 10th Mountain Division (LI). From working as an enlisted aide, to teaching winter warfare and air assault classes at the Light Fighters School, to his final assignment with the 642nd Engineer Company, Leonard performed a variety of roles during his two tours of duty at Fort Drum.
Leonard has always been a history buff, and his time in the Army instilled in him a passion for military history, specifically. When he hung up his uniform for the last time, Leonard said he was ready to follow his dream of finding a career that would allow him to pursue his passion.
"My wife brought home a flyer from Columbia College," he said. "I knew that getting my degree was the first step toward reaching my goal, so I got my bachelor's in history."
Leonard said that his ultimate goal is to work as a curator or historian. While his bachelor's degree provided him with the foundational knowledge he would need for such a job, Leonard said he realized he had a lot to learn about the business management aspect of working within a museum setting.
"I did some research and found out Jefferson Community College offers an associate's degree in business administration," he said. "I decided it was a good way to expand my skill set."
One of the requirements of the degree program is for students to complete an internship. Although the intended focus of the internship was to be on business, Leonard spoke with his professor about his interest in history.
"I hoped to be able to find a placement that would give me an opportunity to learn about business and about history at the same time," he said. "My instructor read my resume and talked with me; then she made some phone calls and got me an interview with Dr. Rush."
Leonard met with Dr. Laurie Rush, cultural resources manager for Fort Drum Public Works Environmental Davison, just before last Christmas to discuss the possibility of completing his internship with the cultural resources team.
He said he was thrilled to learn that while the internship would provide an opportunity to learn about the business aspects of the museum and heritage profession, he also would be directly involved in helping to restore and preserve artifacts.
"Given the fact that we are a cultural resources management program with an artifact curation facility, the focus of our internship opportunities is the offering of hands-on experience in archaeological artifact identification, curation, cataloguing and conservation -- in addition to archives management," Rush said.
During the spring semester, Leonard was asked to take on three projects. The first was to sort through a large collection of archaeological material from a 19th century farmstead once located on Fort Drum.
"For the first five or six weeks of the internship, I was sorting through these huge boxes of items," he recalled. "When the installation expanded in the '80s and became what is now called Fort Drum, a lot of the items that were collected from the grounds were put in storage. There was a basic list of the items, but they were not thoroughly catalogued."
After being taught the proper way to clean and restore items, Leonard assisted cultural resources staff members in carefully examining each item to determine its age and origin.
Upon investigation, some of the items gave the team a chuckle, Leonard recalled, including a wadded up wire coat hanger that had been listed as an "unknown metal fragment." Others proved much more historically significant.
"Within the collection, there are a lot of extremely interesting items," he said. "Some of the artifacts date all the way back to the first people who settled this area. It was amazing to be able to restore these items -- it's a rewarding experience to be a part of preserving that history."
Next, Leonard was asked to take on the task of salvaging and organizing the Cultural Resources Program's large map collection, which Rush described as having been in a "state of crowded storage and disorganization."
Leonard said that the project required a delicate hand.
"The maps had to be handled very carefully," he said. "Some of them were quite old, and many of them were brittle and deteriorating due to their age."
Leonard spent approximately four months sorting, categorizing and preserving the maps.
"Over the course of the project, (Leonard) inventoried hundreds of maps and oversized documents," Rush said. "He also made sure that every single map was put away in the proper folder and -- when needed -- (protected by) acid-free tissue or encased in Mylar so that they will last as long as possible."
In addition to ensuring that the maps and documents were organized and properly stored, Leonard came up with parameters for categorizing them.
"I took what I had learned about cataloguing artifacts, and I modified this process to use it for cataloguing the maps. I made a spreadsheet so that they can search and know exactly where to find a particular map that they are looking for," he said.
Rush said that this spreadsheet is a valuable resource to the team.
"Historic maps are a critical asset for cultural resources land management on Fort Drum, and the ability to readily find and use these documents once again has been extremely helpful to the cultural resources staff," Rush said. "Having a functioning map archive is a very significant contribution. Thanks to (Leonard's) efforts, we can now find every single historic map in our collection using a simple keyword search."
The third large project that Leonard completed was the creation of a multimedia presentation for the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade to use in briefing Soldiers as they prepared to deploy to South Korea.
"An introductory knowledge of a different culture can assist Soldiers in being respectful and in avoiding embarrassing situations where they might offend someone without intending to," Rush explained.
Leonard, who had been stationed in Korea in the 1990s, said that he drew upon his own knowledge of the country's culture and incorporated information that he said he wished he had known before his arrival in country, to create a PowerPoint presentation.
"They didn't have presentations like this when I was getting ready to go to Korea," he said. "I was happy to be able to create a product that could help other Soldiers prepare to go into a new country."
Rush said that Leonard was an asset to the cultural resources team and the work he completed during his internship will have a lasting benefit for her staff members and the Fort Drum community.
"It is hard to imagine that SUNY Jefferson could have sent a better intern for our first experience," she said. "Charles has set a very high bar for internship performance."
Leonard said the internship was a great learning experience for him and he hopes to be able to work with the cultural resources team again in the future. He is continuing his studies, pursuing a master's degree in history through Southern New Hampshire University online.
"I'm planning to tailor it toward military history," he said. "This internship gave me a chance to take my love of history and my experiences in the Army and add to that the skills needed to work in historical preservation and museum operations. It was an amazing experience."