Budget cuts forced the closure of the base museum, where artifacts told the story of the Air Force’s largest career field and a Hall of Honor memorialized those killed in the line of duty in war and peace.
Officials have tried to assure present and former security forces airmen — known as air police and security police over the decades — that their proud history is not going anywhere. A yet-to-be-built enlisted heritage and character development center that would include those artifacts and memorials as well as represent other Air Force jobs could open as early as 2017. In the meantime, the museum is open for training and by appointment until the best exhibits are put on display at an interim facility sometime next year.
But none of that appeased many security forces alumni who said they felt blindsided — and marginalized — by the closing. Thousands joined a “Save the Security Forces Museum” Facebook page and signed a White House petition pleading for a reversal of the decision.
“My idea was let’s just create a new museum because we don’t know what’s going to happen to the artifacts,” said retired security forces Tech. Sgt. John Shanks, the virtual museum’s founder. “We really don’t need a building to have a museum in today’s virtual and digital world. We can do it online. By doing it online, it opens the doors to so many people to experience everything the police field has to offer.”
The purpose of the website is twofold: Document the history of the career field from World War II to the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and remember the fallen, said the founder.
The new online memorial includes the names and dates — and in many cases the photos — of those killed.
“One of the things that’s gone that should never be gone is the security police memorial,” Shanks said of the mostly-closed base museum. “That to me resonated huge. These men and women who have died in the line of duty whether stateside or in combat — all of a sudden their memorial was closed and nobody could visit. If you had a colleague who died, you wouldn’t be able to visit that memorial or learn about their story in the museum.”
Two weeks after the closing, Shanks and five other security forces veterans purchased the domain name www.usafpolice.org and went quickly to work, downloading photos and images in the public domain.
Shanks enlisted in 1978 at age 17 as a security specialist. He retired in 1995 at Lackland, where he’d taught at the security police academy.
“It’s been a lot of fun for me to learn even more than I already knew about Air Force police history,” Shanks said. “The things that have happened since I retired, which is a lot, I’m learning about that, seeing how the young men and women that are in the Air Force are representing us and protecting our country and serving overseas and stateside. It’s pretty remarkable.”
Shanks and the rest of the six-member board put a call-out on Facebook for stories, pictures and video links to include in the virtual museum and memorial.
One story Shanks has received was from an airman who was on patrol with Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Jacobson, the first female airman killed in the line of duty in Iraq, on the day she died.
“It’s that person’s personal account of everything that happened that day. [The airman] did a great job honoring her service and sacrifice,” Shanks said. The story will soon go up on the website, which he described as a work in progress.
He hopes to get more like it. “If you want to send a photo or video or have a story, you can submit it right through the website. It’s also really important for us if we got something wrong, please let us know. We want to make sure we get it right,” Shanks said.
“Even now more than ever do we need a virtual museum and virtual memorial,” the founder said. “Our focus is to have more than just a picture and a name, to have stories and allow people to leave tributes and for families to be able to hear and read what their fallen airmen’s colleagues had to think about them. I felt that was very, very important.”
Others seem to think so, too, he said. The feedback so far has been positive; in the first hour of the website’s launch, it received more than 1,500 hits, Shanks said.
“The museum is gone away and we have to live with that,” he said. “Let’s take this bad and turn it into something positive. That positive is building a virtual museum.”
By Kristin Davis