This week’s Navy Times article about a proposal on the desk of the Navy to build a joint, national maritime/Navy museum outside the Navy Yard couldn’t come at a better time. I read the article online and reviewed the proposal (also online) and I think it’s a wonderful and rare opportunity for the Navy.

In recent years, the Navy has elevated the issue of “community outreach” to a strategic level, engaging the highest levels of Navy leadership in the debate over how best to educate the American public about the mission of today’s Navy and the 330,000 people who wear the Navy uniform. Community outreach has traditionally been delegated to local commanders and their public affairs officers, who engage in mayoral duties of kissing babies and shaking hands, making speeches at the local Chambers of Commerce and Rotary Clubs, answering questions from the local media about the number of jobs that would be lost if the local installation were to close, and volunteering at local schools to tutor kids in reading. All politics is local, so that approach made sense.

So, when a 2006 Gallup Poll about the military showed that the public ranked the Navy last in its relevance and importance in today’s war on terror, Navy leadership realized that community outreach needed to have a much higher profile and priority. Since then, they have created and are in the process of executing “Outreach: America’s Navy,” a multi-tiered, multi-year program that involves every flag officer and commanding officer in community outreach events and establishes minimum levels of activities across all major commands – with metrics.

What is not addressed in this new OPNAV instruction is a strategy for using Navy museums and historic Navy ships in their outreach efforts. They could be some of the best weapons in the Navy’s community outreach arsenal. The problem is that most of the Navy museums house antiquated exhibits that are poorly interpreted and many of the museums sit behind security gates. According to this Navy Times article, the 12 Navy-run museums attract collectively 1.2 million visitors annually. By contrast, the recently built Marine Corps Museum attracted one million visitors in its first year of operations. Most of the Navy’s museums and historic ships (the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, the USS Midway in San Diego and the USS Intrepid in New York City are clear exceptions) do not take advantage of the state-of-the-art museum concepts that are employed by top-notch institutions around the country. But that could change.

The Navy has a rare opportunity staring it in the face right now. This article says that an offer is on the table to enter into a public-private partnership to build a National Museum of the U.S. Navy on the waterfront in our nation’s capital. With 25 million tourists visiting DC every year, having a world-class museum close to the National Mall could make a significant impact on the public’s awareness of the critical missions being performed by the Navy today, as well as an understanding of the rich maritime heritage of our nation.

But the window of opportunity offer is not open-ended. As the article points out, the developers will not wait in perpetuity for the Navy to decide how and when it wants to move forward. He who hesitates is lost. In my humble opinion, make the bold move and get our world-class Navy a world-class museum.

Posted by MilitaryHistoryBuffs in History, Navy
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  • Makes sense if we can swing it. The wonderful museums in the Navy Yard? Nobody outside the Navy can get to them, really, because they’re behind the gates. Plus, the Navy Yard neighborhood has been scary bad forever, and is beginning to gentrify–might be valuable to have the space.

    That said, the devil’s in the details; it’s all about the implementation.

  • Jay

    Actually, anyone with a photo ID *can* get into the Navy Yard. C’mon down & visit!

  • Danny

    I would agree with Chap. Implementation is what it is about. Looking over the proposal on the Navy Times website it looks like this is a PPV project. The Navy has done pretty good with PPV projects lately; cost savings and using the experience and knowledge of a private partner. I hope we can move forward, we have a great story to tell.

  • Hollywood

    I think the only surprising thing here is that the Navy doesn’t already HAVE something like what’s proposed. What doesn’t surprise me is that the bureaucratic machinations required to move this project toward fruition have the pace of molasses on Pluto.

  • Lamont Cranston

    Does the Navy realize that daily over 1 millon cars travel over the 14th St Bridge and guess what would be in full view..A magnificent Modern Naval Museum!!!

  • claudio

    Would be great to have a museum. Going to the USMC museum this weekend. Frankly didn’t know there was a Navy museum at the Yard. My fault for not digging further. A museum on the waterfront next to the mall and in proximity to the other museums would be a tremendous asset.

    Stop diddling around and build it.

  • The Bunny

    What is the Navy waiting for on this one? I’m scratching my head…

  • Capt John Wheeler

    This appears to be a golden opportunity for Navy Blue’s Golden history to become more available and apparent. Now is the time to join the bow wave of support for American Naval History.