FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- "Every Soldier has a story to tell, and this museum will allow their stories to be shared with all Americans through their eyes and ears and voices," said Army Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper during a visit to the construction site of the National Museum of the United States Army here on Tuesday.

Now more than ever, telling the Army story is important because there are so few veterans in society and many Americans don't know or understand the Army or the Soldiers who have served and sacrificed so much to protect the nation, Esper said.

That story of service and sacrifice begins with the earliest militias, prior to the founding of the republic, he said, adding that the history of the Army is the history of America.

He added that a wish is for the museum to inspire future generations of Americans to learn more about the Army and appreciate the Army's role in the nation's history and its role in safeguarding its security.

Esper, who served in the regular Army, the Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve, said he's particularly pleased that planned exhibits for the museum will include Soldier stories from all three components.

As the secretary walked through the four-story structure, he said he will be eager for a return visit when the museum opens in about two years, and to visit the quiet reflective area known as the Medal of Honor Garden, which will be located on the third floor.

Other features he said he looks forward to seeing are some of the tanks and a fighting vehicle that will be on display.

Those macro artifacts are actually in the museum already. Tammy E. Call, the museum director, pointed out some very large plywood crates housing two tanks, an LCVP, and a Bradley fighting vehicle.

The reason they are already inside the museum is because they would have been too big to fit through the door, she explained. So they were put in place early and the museum was erected around them.

Esper said another part of the museum that he is eager to visit is the Army and Society Gallery, which will include stories of Soldier innovations. He said Soldiers were involved in so many groundbreaking science and technology advances throughout history, from aircraft to trauma medicine. "Their innovations span virtually every industry," Esper said.

Lastly, "I hope that the museum will inspire others to consider the Army as a career or at least to appreciate it for all it's given back to society," he said.

In addition to Army-related exhibits, Call said the museum will have an Experiential Learning Center where students can study science and technology through such things as bridge building, satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, and Army medicine.

Within that center, she said, there will be a special hands-on area for younger children called "Fort Discover." Here, children will play with and learn about things such as radios, jeeps, and rockets. Inside, there will even be a miniature military fort in which they can play in and climb on.

There will also be a 300-degree viewing theater that can seat 128 guests, she said. The film shown there will create an immersive experience and introduce the Army and the museum to visitors.

For groups of visiting Soldiers and others, the museum galleries will provide opportunities for professional development where they can study lessons learned in warfare and changes to equipment and tactics over the Army's history. She noted that this understanding will contribute to current readiness.

The 185,000-square-foot National Museum of the United States Army is being built on 84 acres of property at Fort Belvoir, Va. Visitors to Washington, D.C., will find that the museum is just a short drive away, only 15 miles south of the Pentagon, and just six miles from Mount Vernon -- home to President George Washington. The museum is also accessible via public transportation.

The Army Historical Foundation is constructing the building through private funds, Call noted. The U.S. Army is providing the infrastructure, roads, utilities, and then installing the artifacts and exhibits that transform the building into a museum.

The Army will own and operate the Museum and admission will be free.