By Charmain Z. BrackettOctober 30, 2009
Sorting through broken shards of pottery and classifying them is something Ben Berkman believes he will not only enjoy but will help him as he looks for a new career.
"I got my associate's degree in history while I was in the Army," said Berkman, who is one of the first disabled veterans to take part in a new initiative of the Army Corps of Engineers called the Veterans Curation Project. A ribbon cutting for the laboratory in Augusta was held Oct. 20.
After serving two tours in Iraq and receiving a Purple Heart Medal, Berkman is retired from the Army and looking for a job, but he's been encountering problems finding one.
Using money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Veterans Curation Project has a multi-fold purpose.
It takes disabled veterans and puts them in a job-training environment. It's not just about sorting through artifacts the Army Corps of Engineers has collected over decades of excavating sites before construction. Disabled veterans will also be learning photography and computer skills as well.
The project grew out of the office of Michael "Sonny" Trimble, who is the director of the Army Corps of Engineers' Mandatory Center of Expertise for Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections in St. Louis.
One of the jobs of Trimble's office is to manage all of the thousands of artifacts collected by the Corps of Engineers on construction projects over the years.
"The Smithsonian Institution is the only group with a larger collection" of artifacts from federal projects, he said.
Congress first enacted laws in 1906 requiring archaeological preservation of sites, he said. Pieces excavated decades ago are not in "bad shape," but they have not been kept in optimal situations because of lack of funding.
Trimble, who spent three years in Iraq studying forensic evidence related to Saddam Hussein's activities in the country, also had a passion for helping the American Soldiers who guarded him and kept him safe during his mission.
One of Trimble's co-workers pointed out to him a natural way to help both the Soldiers he loved and the history he protected.
After seeing Laurie Ott, the director of the Wounded Warrior Care Project on MSNBC, Trimble knew the final piece of where to have one of the labs. There will be three labs in all.