Museum at Barksdale Air Force Base is flying high



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SHREVEPORT, Louisiana — More than five years after it survived frowning reviews from its parent museum, the Global Power Museum at Barksdale Air Force Base is soaring.

Known as the Eighth Air Force Museum until late 2012, it has been repurposed to share the story of Barksdale the man and the base and its missions, with its displays refurbished and restructured.

One popular exhibit is built around the lectern from which President George W. Bush addressed the nation in the first frantic hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. With it are clocks and appointments that formed the backdrop to that dramatic, historic moment and, with audiovisual enhancements now form an interactive display.

"Not only can you see it, but folks can actually come up behind and take a picture at the wooden podium," Museum Director Amy Russell said. "They can stand in a place where a president has stood. Not a lot of people can say they've done that."

In less than two months, Russell says, the museum's seven renovated rooms and their displays will be ready.

Already essentially complete is an art gallery room that features a number of military aviation-themed original art pieces on loan. Russell and her staff also have enhanced and improved a room begun by her predecessor and museum founder-director, the late H.D. "Buck" Rigg, that memorializes Hoy Barksdale, the Air Service test pilot who is the base's namesake. The room depicts the Barksdale family home in Brandon, Missouri, and includes original appointments gleaned from the now-derelict mansion by Rigg and Air Force/museum volunteers.

"We've worked hard around here to make it look pretty," said Russell, who has a staff sergeant to help her and a "pretty steady flow of casuals who come down here and work with us. There's a pretty steady flow of help."

When she arrived in June 2012, she formulated a five-year strategic plan that was first implemented the following spring.

"We've completed everything on that plan in the last year and a half," she said.

Sequestration had negligible impact, she said.

"We have been very blessed and very lucky that through sequestration, through the furloughs and government shutdown we didn't drop in visitorship at all, we had actually gone up. I don't know (whether) that is the case for a lot of other museums in the Air Force."

The museum now is one of the top five most-visited attractions in the Shreveport-Bossier City area.

Russell has set up an audio tour and smartphone app that allows visitors to self-guide through the air park and alerts visitors driving near the facility. It also allows tracking and interpretation of the time visitors spend at particular aircraft or displays to help planners determine the museum's main attractions.

No secret: The air park with its bombers, fighters and sleek, sexy SR-71 spy plane above all, are popular.

Michele Levine, from Virginia, was at Barksdale recently to watch her son, a navigator with the 96th Bomb Squadron, deploy this week.

"My son is taking off in a little bit, and because he's flying out we're going to try to find safe place to park and watch him go over our heads. And this is a great place to see some of the history of our military."

In 2008, the museum had suffered from a dearth of staffing and the cumulative effects of occasional neglect from revolving-door changes of command at the 2nd Bomb Wing, under which it falls in the base command structure. Commanders change every two years or so and while some wing kings took an active interest in the facility, others rarely visited, some not at all.

That year, the museum failed to gain accreditation from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force after an unsatisfactory inspection and faced the loss of major airframes in its signature air park. Its Vietnam and Global War on Terror B-52s, World War II B-17 and B-24 and Cold War British Vulcan and Boeing B-47 bombers all were threatened with removal or salvage.

"The team found the level of historical property care and conservation to be poor," the 2008 report states. "The inability or unwillingness to address the backlog of donations needing processing has led to items being stacked wherever convenient or possible owing to a lack of adequate processing or storage space. ... It is crowded, congested and disorganized."

The museum's budget, which ranges from $35,000 to $38,000, comes from the 2nd Bomb Wing with assistance from the Barksdale Global Power Museum Association, a nonprofit support group. The association fills a critical need for the museum because it can solicit funds and public support through activities that include events such as an annual Charity Golf Tournament, set this year to be Sept. 19.

New wing leadership is behind Russell and the museum.

"The staff at the (Barksdale) Global Power Museum (is) an integral part of Team Barksdale," says new wing commander Col. Kristin Goodwin. "They tell our story, both past and present. We intend to give them the support they need to keep advancing, keep innovating and honoring the sacrifices that shaped the history of our country."

Following an earlier visit, an inspection team from the mother museum removed more than 40 historic items considered endangered, including a uniform coat that had belonged to air power pioneer Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell.

That has changed, Russell said.

"The national museum is very happy with the work we are doing down here," Russell said. "We are back in their good graces."

Plans to move the museum, which opened almost 35 years ago in the basement of the old 2nd Bomb Wing headquarters but now occupies a building just inside the base's North Gate, have been abandoned.

"We are here for now," Russell said. Also on hold are plans to acquire any further airplanes for the air park, such as a B-45 Tornado bomber, the Air Force's first jet bomber, or a C-124 Globemaster II. Both airplanes were long associated with the base but are quite rare.

"I don't think we can look at acquiring anything until we can fully take care of what we have," she said. "The problem is everybody wants to see more aircraft put here, but nobody wants to put the money or the time in to help keep those up. It's not fair to the aircraft to bring them here (and) not take care of them."

And while the air park herd could thin as the museum's mission and message become more focused, the threats to the B-24 and Vulcan bomber are now largely gone, Russell said.


Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com

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