By Mr. James Brabenec (IMCOM)February 1, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla.-- 696th Forward Support Company Soldiers recently helped Army Air Defense Artillery Museum personnel move 23 artifacts, most to the new temporary facility, an old aircraft hangar at Building 4908 Post Road on Fort Sill.
Jon Bernstein, museum director and curator, said work will commence to renovate the temporary buildings at 1505 and 1506 Bateman Road. Meanwhile the museum will continue to meet its primary mission.
"We are here to train Soldiers, primarily those going through professional development schools," he said. "Learning about ADA history gives them a sense of where they came from and who served before them."
Their main visitors will be Advanced Individual Training Soldiers and officers in either the Basic Officer Leadership Course or Captains' Career Course. Bernstein said those visits will happen on a fairly regular basis, but the general public is welcome, too.
Though exhibitwork continues, the new temporary facility is open and its hours are Mondays through Fridays from 1-5 p.m.
Throughout its display area, ADA equipment will show technology's advance from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
"A lot of the equipment Soldiers use today are much more user friendly than what Soldiers operated during World War II," he said.
But equipment forms just a backdrop to the museum's true intent that Bernstein received from Col. Donald Fryc, Army ADA School commandant and chief of ADA.
"Colonel Fryc wanted the museum to focus on the people not just the weapons systems, which falls right in line my vision," said Bernstein. "You don't have history of stuff, you have history of people and that's something we're really going to emphasize."
Mannequins garbed in uniforms specific to the particular war will portray significant Soldiers and their stories. Reaching across time those predecessors may speak to the young enlisted Soldiers and officers who tour the facility.
"If visitors can make the connection to somebody in the Army's history, we've done our job," he said.
Much of the moving work required the 696th FSC Soldiers to operate an M88 A1 Recovery Vehicle, itself a product of the Vietnam era.
Working smartly and efficiently, they prepared a 29.5-ton M1 120 mm anti-aircraft gun for its move from the temporary museum to a nearby garage on Bateman Road.
The massive "Stratosphere Gun," so nicknamed because it fired shells 10 miles into the sky, seemingly shrank next to the leviathan M88 tracked vehicle Spc. MacKenzie Pirnat operated.
His "ride" tipped the scales at more than 55 tons, but with the assistance of his two ground guides, Sgts. William Hearn and William Hagg, he drove it with "100-percent confidence."
"Usually I go out to the field and get a vehicle, hook it up to a tow bar and bring it back," he said."This happens in big, open spaces with plenty of room to turn around or pivot."
The conditions he faced definitely took a turn from business as usual.
Pirnat drove the 11.25-foot-wide M88 out the temporary museum through a 16-foot-wide garage door, into and out of a second matching garage, then entered a third one where the field gun would stay until the renovation's completion.
"I feel a great sense of accomplishment to move through these confined spaces," he said.
Adding to the specialists heavy equipment driving skill, Bernstein said some of the ADA equipment had only inches clearance from the door tops and less than a couple feet combined from side to side.
Safely inside the third building, Pirnat still needed to get his own hulk back out of the garage to complete his task. Because of another enormous artifact already parked inside, he couldn't just unhook and drive out the opposite door. Instead, with his ground support duo, he pivoted on the sure-footed tracks around the other artillery piece and deftly exited the way he entered.
"It's not just about me being a good driver, I need good ground guides, and my NCOs did great," he said. "It was just as much their job as mine to move this equipment and get my vehicle out."
Hagg said Pirnat began driving the M88 in August, and quickly developed skills typical of Soldiers who work at Fort Sill.
"I believe the quality of Soldiers we have is amazing," he said. "Specialist Pirnat is a great Soldier and a quick learner."
Hearn, recovery section NCOIC, supervised the eight Soldiers who completed the moving that included loading the artifacts onto flatbed trucks for a roughly four-mile haul to the new temporary facility. There, Soldiers unloaded the artifacts and helped park them in the old aircraft hangar.
"Any time we can come out and do something like this and help out Fort Sill, it's a great opportunity," said Hearn. "We got to hook up to a lot of different equipment, things we don't normally work with. It was very good training for all my Soldiers and a definite morale boost."
Zane Mohler, an exhibit specialist with the Army Field Artillery Museum here, operated a forklift to assist the Soldiers. He and Bernstein kept a close eye on each item moved out of the Bateman facility to other temporary locations.
"As a former Soldier, it's great seeing them in action doing their jobs, especially when they love what they do," said Bernstein. "These Soldiers were so enthusiastic, asking questions about what each piece was and what it did, I love that."
He added the museum staff has a plan in place to duplicate the exhibits being built in Building 4908. Bateman expects the exhibits will move back to the Bateman Road facilities in August or September.
The permanent ADA museum, like its FA counterpart, requires private funding for all construction related activity. Once raised and construction ended, the ADA facility will reside near the FA museum in a campus with outdoor parks for artifacts too large or numerous for indoor display.