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A Soldier waits to land on the beach in a Higgins Assault Boat in the Nations Overseas Gallery.

After decades of planning, and years of construction, the National Museum of the United States Army celebrated its virtual grand opening on Veterans Day. The moment was marked with no ordinary ribbon cutting.

In a recorded sequence, before a heavy rain descended on the Fort Belvoir campus, the Army’s Golden Knights parachuted to the front door, delivering a ceremonial sabre to Sgt. James Akinola, the U.S. Army Soldier of the Year. Akinola then presented the sabre to Museum Director Tammy Call, who cut the gold and black ribbon, flanked by the Army’s top leaders.

The museum serves as a reflective monument that will tell the story of 245 years of Army history. Since people are the centerpiece of the Army, the museum brings to life that history, in times of war and peace, as told through the eyes of Soldiers. The Museum also offers educational experiences illustrating the Army’s role in building and defending our nation, as well as Army humanitarian missions and technological and medical breakthroughs built on Army ingenuity.

The Museum is a partnership between the U.S. Army and the Army Historical Foundation. The U.S. Army provided the Fort Belvoir site, infrastructure, roads, utilities and exhibit work, while the Foundation constructed the 185,000 square-foot building with private funds.

Gen. James McConville, Army Chief of Staff, said everyone involved in the museum’s opening should be extremely proud of what they have done for the nation.

“The Army’s history is America’s history. The Army has been here since before the birth of our nation,” McConville said. “Our founding fathers recognized the need for an army to protect our freedoms and our way of life, and we have been doing that for over 245 years. The Army exists to protect the nation. That’s our job, and that’s what we work hard to do every single day, and we are proud to serve the American people.

“We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us; we strive to live up to their legacy every single day,” McConville added. “We are blessed to have men and women who are willing to raise their right hand and say, ‘send me’. They’ve been willing to sacrifice their lives to make us the greatest country in the world. These sacrifices will inspire everyone who visits the museum.”

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this country’s freedom has been paved with incredible sacrifice and commitment, from the Soldiers of the Continental Army to today, and that we cannot comprehend what they went through “unless we see the weapons they used, feel the uniforms they wear, hear the stories they told, or read the letters they wrote.

While most nations have an army, Milley said, the U.S. Army is unique.

“We do not take an oath to a king or a queen; a tyrant or dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. We do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or religion. We take an oath to the constitution. Every Soldier represented in this museum … will protect that document regardless of personal price. That is true across generations that are on display in this building,” Milley said.

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said the museum’s opening on Veterans Day is particularly fitting, as the museum salutes the sacrifices of those who served.

“This is a homecoming, of sorts,” said McCarthy. “Under one roof, we have the Army story, safeguarded and preserved for our children’s children, and for generations to follow. In doing so, we have the nation’s story captured as well, as they are inextricably linked.”

Jim Sherrick drove from Annapolis to see the museum, and was very impressed.

“It’s overwhelming. They did an amazing job. There’s seven primary galleries, and you could spend all day in any one of the galleries,” he said.

When asked about learning something new, Tamara Sherrick there was so much to absorb.

“We learned about Remington typewriters, and how they had to stop making typewriters to make the Remington gun,” she said. “How cool is that?”

Melanie Burton said one of the videos really struck close to home.

“I used to work with somebody, the coolest guy – very unassuming. He was a ‘Dustoff’ pilot in Vietnam (MEDEVAC helicopter pilot), and watching the movie in there, I saw what he went through and I had a whole new appreciation for him. To see what he must have gone through every day – that opened my eyes to him,” she said.

The museum is accessible to everyone off of Fairfax County Parkway at 1775 Liberty Dr., Fort Belvoir, Va. While admission is free, timed tickets must be obtained online at thenmusa.org.