The Killeen-Fort Hood area’s planned museum needs a little push.

With the opening of the $36 million National Mounted Warfare Museum scheduled for sometime in late 2020, the project is still about $7.3 million shy of the amount needed to complete it.

That’s a significant sum, but one that Central Texans ought to commit to raising in order to making the museum a reality — for a variety of reasons.

First, the facility will tell the important story of America’s mounted soldiers and honor them for their contributions to our nation’s military history. Further, it would serve to honor the soldiers, families, civilians and veterans who played a role in the development of Fort Hood.

Secondly, the idea to build the museum originated with the late Gen. Robert Shoemaker — an icon of the Central Texas community — who first advanced the concept more than 25 years ago.

Finally, the building of a first-class museum just outside Fort Hood’s Main Gate will be a focus for tourism, drawing visitors from around the state and potentially from across the nation.

And a first-class museum is exactly what it will be.

When completed, the first phase of the Mounted Warfare Museum will be a 42,000 square-foot structure that will include 24,000 square feet of interactive permanent exhibits and more than 7,000 square feet of space for temporary exhibits. It will also feature a children’s discovery area, multipurpose conference/classrooms, simulation activities, administrative spaces and a children’s playground outside the museum building.

Future phases include an interpretive walking trail and outdoor amphitheater.

Importantly, the museum will be situated on a 17-acre plot of Army-donated land outside the post’s security perimeter — allowing visitors to access the museum without having to go through military checkpoints.

Such is not the case with the post’s current museums — the 1st Cavalry Division Museum and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment Museum — which are located in the heart of Fort Hood. Though the two museums are interesting and well-managed, they are housed in World War II-era buildings that are cramped for exhibit space.

The new museum will incorporate the contents of the current post facilities.

Even more importantly, the National Mounted Warfare Museum will recognize the 2nd Armored Division, which was inactivated at Fort Hood in 1995. The division was involved in pivotal European and North African campaigns in World War II and has a long and storied history.

But for now, that story — a big part of Fort Hood’s story — is not being told.

Fortunately, that will all change with the opening of the new museum, which will be operated and maintained by the Army.

Though 2020 may seem like a long way off at this point, it’s a short span of time from a construction standpoint — and from a fundraising perspective.

This is where Central Texans can  — and should — get involved.

Area residents have an opportunity to play a role in helping to recognize the people who have helped to shape the largest military base in the nation — as well as bringing to fruition a facility that can be a drawing card for the community and a source of civic pride.

The museum likely will be a popular destination for veterans, reunion groups and history buffs in general. In addition, the facility will be an important educational resource, providing valuable opportunities for students across Central Texas, and beyond.

Just as importantly, the museum is likely to have a significant economic impact on the area.

According to Bob Crouch, vice president of the Mounted Warfare Museum Foundation, the facility   will generate about $5 million a year for the local economy.

Crouch also suggested the museum’s cultural value could be a factor in luring business and industry to the community.

Large donors have played a major role in the fundraising campaign, but smaller donations are crucial to bringing the project to fruition.

Information on how to help can be found at the foundation’s website, www.nmwfoundation.org.

Crouch said no donation is too big or too small, noting that one donor has given the foundation $50 a month, every month, since 2011.

The foundation will offer naming rights to several features of the museum, including classrooms, benches and individual exhibit areas. A brick campaign is also planned, where donors can buy bricks with their names engraved to be incorporated into a walkway at the museum.

Crouch also said the museum will have a donors wall, with the names of larger donors on permanent display. A digital donors wall will list smaller donations.

The foundation is in the process of working out the details with the Army for the project’s groundbreaking, but Crouch is hopeful it will take place by the end of the year.

But there’s work to be done in the meantime.

Central Texans have a history of stepping up when called upon, particularly in recent years.

In 2015, with the proposed memorial to the Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood shooting victims behind schedule and lacking funds, the public responded with donations of time, money and other resources to see the project through to completion. The inspiring memorial opened next to the Killeen Civic and Conference Center in March 2016, more than six years after the tragic shooting.

Last year, as Killeen’s financially troubled civic theater faced closure after 40 years in the community, residents rallied behind the newly elected board members to help bring the Vive Les Arts Theatre back to profitability.

Residents now have an opportunity to bring a true destination activity to the Killeen-Fort Hood community.

Waco has several such attractions, including the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the Mayborn Museum Complex, Dr Pepper Museum and Baylor University sporting events.

Austin has the Bob Bullock Museum, the LBJ Presidential Library and the state Capitol, as well as University of Texas events and exhibits.

But Killeen, the largest city between Dallas and Austin, has nothing to hang its hat on.

The National Mounted Warfare Museum will certainly change that dynamic.

Building on the strong relationship between Fort Hood and the surrounding community, the museum will reflect both the long, proud history of the Army’s largest post and solidify the Killeen area’s long-standing commitment to our soldiers, their families and our veterans.

This isn’t just Fort Hood’s museum or Killeen’s museum. It’s our community’s museum.

It’s time to get involved and help make it happen.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

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