One Tank Trip: US Army Heritage and Education Center


The U.S. Army's history is our history, and you'll find it on a 56-acre complex in Carlisle, Cumberland County, home to the United States Army War College. It moved there from Washington, D.C. in 1951. Next door is the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center. The Army's archives are stored there.

Each shelf holds about 25,000 pounds of books, about 16 million pieces of Army history. An exhibit inside the museum takes what's in the books and puts it into The Soldier Experience.

"Each soldier that we follow has a different life circumstance while they are in the Army, and you find out what happens to your soldier at the end of the exhibit," said John Giblin, the center's chief of visitor and education services.

The experience covers the Spanish American War to current operations.

We followed two soldiers on our visit. A Vietnam veteran -- Specialist 4th Class Walter A Owens -- and Lt. Col. Reginald Neal, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in Afghanistan.

You'll get your soldier's dog tags when you arrive.

"Each one entered the Army for a different reason. Each one did their service for a different reason," Giblin said. "All of them, though, did their service. That's the key."

Each of those stories starts at home. At the homefront is where you, when you're visiting the museum, assume the role of your soldier, and shortly thereafter, meet your drill sergeant.

While you move through your training, there are more stories. The Soldier Experience moves through World War I. There's a tank with wooden wheels.

You'll hear the gas clackers alerting to attacks, and then you can parachute in for the D-Day invasion.

There are stops in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army has been collecting solders' stories from all of these for years.

At the end, you'll be reunited with the soldiers you started with.

We learned Owens, 20, never made it home. He was killed in action in Vietnam with less than 60 days to go before returning home; Neal completed his tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010, and he's still a soldier today.