The Brief

“Our Customers Are the General Public and the Soldiers”

To learn more about the National Museum of the United States Army, south of Washington D.C., its inception, and its mission, we sat down with Tammy Call, who has been directing the institution since 2014. A former officer herself, she led the design and construction of the museum.
Tammy Call, October 2020. © Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist

France-Amérique: The U.S. Army will be celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2025. It is the oldest branch of service, yet it was almost the last to build its own national museum.* Why?

Tammy Call: The creation timing of the museum was influenced by many different factors, including fundraising. Over 400 million dollars were needed, a combination of public money and private donations. The latter, collected through our non-profit organization, the Army Historical Foundation, included contributions from the major donors whose names you see in the lobby, and grassroots donors who were sending 25 dollars at a time. It took some time, and the 2008 recession impacted fundraising. But in 2014, the Foundation notified the Army that they were ready to go. This time allowed our team to put a lot of thought into the content of the museum. To tell the complete story of the U.S. Army, with every unit, we would have to be ten, twenty times as big! So we decided to focus instead on sharing the overarching history through individual soldiers, those we know from our textbooks, our heroes, but also the lesser-known soldiers.

In 2022, the U.S. Army fell short of its recruitment goal by 25%. Is the museum, with its dramatic staging, immersive theater, virtual reality simulators, and interactive Learning Center, a way to reach new candidates?

We are not an overt recruiting tool, but we encourage our recruiters to bring interested people here to learn more about the Army. We are a strong touchpoint for someone thinking about serving. The gallery where we are sitting specifically, “Army and Society,” explores the symbiotic relationship between our citizens and the Army. As an organization, the Army is full of possibilities. It allows individuals to change the course of their lives if they choose to serve. People can come here to gain a broader understanding of the Army, but our mission is a public one. We are free and open 364 days a year – we’re like the Army’s Smithsonian. Our customers are the general public and the soldiers.

The museum’s Experiential Learning Center, open to visitors of all ages, explores G-STEM (geography, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in a military setting. © Duane Lempke/National Museum of the United States Army

Can you tell us about your background in the military? I read that you started as an officer.

Yes, I was a second lieutenant in the Ordnance Corps and I served for a short time during the Cold War era. I managed a motor pool at Fort Benning, Georgia – that’s where wheeled vehicles like deuce-and-a-half trucks would get fixed, loaded up, and prepared for a convoy. When I left active service, I quickly became a Department of the Army civilian, and that has been the bulk of my career. Prior to becoming museum director in 2014, I was selected for a joint program of the Department of Defense and attended the Air War College [in Montgomery, Alabama], where I earned a Master’s in Strategic Studies. Before that, growing up, I was an Army brat. My father was a career soldier and served in Vietnam with the 4th Infantry Division. As you can see, I’ve never not been associated with the Army – it’s been part of my life from the very beginning!

*The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, near Dayton, Ohio, opened to the public in 1954, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy, in Washington D.C., in 1963, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps, in Triangle, Virginia, in 2006. The National Coast Guard Museum is scheduled to open in New London, Connecticut, next year, and the U.S. Space Force, which was founded in 2019, is still too recent to have its own museum.

Interview published in the May 2023 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.