Virginia Senator Mark Warner pledged his support for the Dahlgren Heritage Museum when he met with the project's board at the University of Mary Washington's (UMW's) Dahlgren Campus on May 21.
Members of the Dahlgren Heritage Board highlighted how the museum will go beyond its primary, historical mission to benefit the community as a promoter of science, technology and environmental stewardship.
"We feel that the museum and the benefits of the foundation for the community are tremendous," said Rudy Brabo, member of the King George County Board of Supervisors. "[The Dahlgren Heritage Museum] is the first of its kind and is going to be the model for future military museums."
The Dahlgren Heritage Museum will be located at a site on loan from the Virginia Tourism Corporation for "10 bucks a year," according to Dr. Robert Gates, fundraising chair for the museum and a former technical director at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division (NSWC IHD). The site, which currently houses an old visitor center, will serve as a tourism gateway to the Northern Neck.
The museum will feature indoor displays inside the 3,000-square-foot facility and a walking trail to outdoor displays, which will include historic naval guns.
While Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren is well known for its role in the development of naval guns, Warner had not heard about its work at the dawn of the computer age. Gates described the room-sized Aiken Relay Calculator brought to Dahlgren in 1947. The machine famously failed due to a moth in the relays, the first instance of a computer "bug."
The story impressed Warner and the board did not have to wait long to receive his endorsement.
"What can I do to help? he asked. Gates presented the board's concerns regarding the museums fund-raising, as well as the uncertainty surrounding its site at the old visitor center. Maryland's plans to renovate the Harry Nice Bridge involve the same ground, though that project has stalled due to the state's budget situation.
"The rate of speed that Virginia, Maryland and the country is moving on infrastructure right now, it may be some time," said a half-joking Warner, who later spoke at length about Congressional gridlock.
Warner pledged work with potential donors, such as defense contractors and utilities, and said he would include language in the Senate version of a future National Defense Authorization Act supporting the museum. He also noted that federal funding for projects like the Dahlgren Heritage Museum may not be forthcoming.
That fact was well understood by the board, which has had to explain to potential donors that, contrary to popular belief, the Dahlgren Heritage Museum is not federally funded.
That led to a frank discussion about the situation in Washington, which has weighed heavily on the minds of federal employees and service members in the region in recent months. "Until we can get Democrats to agree that we've got to reform our entitlements, until we can get Republicans to agree we've got to reform our tax code, nothing is going to get fixed," said a clearly-frustrated Warner.
When asked about the prospects of solving the federal budget gridlock, Warner said a solution would come due to sheer necessity, but pointed out the obstacles. "The institutional forces, the interest groups, the lobbying folks, they don't want to get it fixed," he said. "Or, they say 'we want to get it fixed, but don't touch mine.'"
Political headaches aside, Warner praised the effort to make the Dahlgren Heritage Museum a reality. "I think it's a great vision," he said. "Dahlgren has played an important role for many, many years in the national defense. This would be a great place to highlight that."
After the discussion, Warner and members of his staff drove on board Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren for a tour of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division's (NSWCDD's) electromagnetic rail gun facility, the Surface Warfare Mission Package (SUW MP) and the Gun Mission Module (GMM). Warner also met with leaders of the Joint Warfare Analysis Center.
Warner was briefed on the programs' progress and capabilities before leaving base, but not before he told command officials that he would return.