Jackie Chavis looks at the new USAF Security Forces Museum exhibit honoring the eight Security Forces Airmen killed in conflict since 2005. Mrs. Chavis's son, Airman 1st Class LeeBernard Chavis, is among the Airmen honored by the exhibit, 'Into the 21st Century.' Airman Chavis was killed Oct. 14, 2006, while on duty in Baghdad. (Robbin Cresswell / Air Force)
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A plan to shutter the Security Forces Museum at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland this month — and reopen it as early as 2017 as part of a sprawling enlisted heritage and character development center — has left members of the Air Force’s largest career field feeling shafted.
On Tuesday, nearly 2,500 people had signed a week-old White House petition calling the facility’s closure and planned consolidation with another base museum “a sign of disrespect” toward security forces airmen. It also accuses Air Education and Training Command of making the decision unilaterally — and implores Air Force officials to “consult with and coordinate options with the stakeholders before marginalizing and boxing up our history.”
“Our guys are feeling very betrayed, for lack of a better word,” said security police veteran Greg Autry, who last week formed a Facebook group called Save the Security Forces Museum that had more than 5,100 members Tuesday.
The closing happened quickly and quietly and without regard for what the museum has meant to security forces airmen past and present, he said.
“Whoever made the final decision consulted with no security forces leadership,” Autry said. “They didn’t say anything to the Security Forces Museum Foundation [which helps support the facility] nor the Air Force Security Forces Association. Even after they announced it, I don’t think there was any real communication. We were left out of this entire process.”
In an email, AETC historian Gary Boyd defended the plans, which call for rolling the Security Forces Museum and Airman Heritage Museum into a future, 85,000-square-foot facility on the north end of the Lackland’s parade field.
Boyd also said representatives from the Security Forces Center and the museum foundations which support the facilities were at a June meeting at Lackland “after we received approval of the museums consolidation plans.”
The “current fiscal reality” left no alternative, Boyd said. The museums have historically been funded by special appropriations received by the commander at the end of each fiscal year — along with the support of nonprofit foundations.
“Because most wings have been under resourced, the museums have suffered,” Boyd wrote in the email. “There have been times when the museums have had to close due to lack of manning” and “there has been no actual long-term budget.”
Neither museum is incorporated into training curricula, Boyd said, and “we cannot continue to fund activities that do not directly support a training function.”
The planned, privately funded Enlisted Heritage and Character Development Center “will offer interactive, engaging exhibits that are inclusive and serve the entire Lackland community (including Security Forces) as well as the larger USAF and public,” Boyd said.
The new center will be part of the training curriculum, he said.
Recruits will spend part of their final week of basic training at the center to take classes, “meet wounded warriors, navigate scenarios, learn from veterans and see 60-plus years of tradition in one building,” according to an AETC news release.
The Security Forces Museum officially closed its doors Friday.