War Signals Ukraine Needs New ‘Relic Officers’ Unit, Delayed

For months before the bombs fell, Hayden Bassett had been tracking Ukraine’s cultural riches – Kyiv’s cathedrals, Lviv’s historic buildings, museums around the country and ancient tomb sites located scattered over its steppe.

Using satellite imagery, Bassett, 32, an archaeologist and director of Cultural Heritage Monitoring Laboratory at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, has tracked and mapped much of the country’s national heritage as part of a civilian effort to mark sites that could be damaged by war.

This is the kind of work envisioned for a US Army unit created to succeed the Monument to the Second World War Man who recovered millions of European treasures looted by the Nazis. But more than two years later army, with some fanfare, announced In a new, old-fashioned effort by dedicated art professionals working in the military to preserve the treasures of the past, the show still doesn’t run up and down.

Corine Wegener, director of Smithsonian Cultural Relief Initiativea partner in the program.

“Having this ability,” she said, “the Army should have something that commanders don’t have at the moment.”

That lack of ability became urgent when Russia invaded, and explosions threatened the golden domes and ancient frescoes of Ukrainian cities. The pandemic has certainly played a part in the delays in hiring, but candidates wanting to join the unit, and the leaders who are shaping it, have also pointed to a host of other problems.

Several candidates describe an arduous process in which applications have been misinterpreted and Army review boards have been slow to decide whether to hire more civilian archaeologists, conservationists, and more. , museum experts and archivists have expressed interest or not.

One leader of this effort, Colonel Scott DeJesse, an Army Reserve officer and painter from Texas, said the military was determined to make this happen, but a large bureaucracy – there was Critical missions including emerging military threats are being asked for the first time to directly bring in civilian cultural heritage specialists into the military. During the Second World War, Monuments of Men were soldiers who had enlisted and happened to have art history or other majors.

“Listen, I plan to change the world with these people, and yes, I wish it had been done sooner,” said Colonel DeJesse, who does not direct the hiring process but focuses on the operation of the application. new said. “Are people pulling their legs? Is not. Is it a major priority? Is not. That was just the speed of an organization as large as the Army. ”

The new unit reflects the recognition that the military needs a pool of erudite experts to advise US commanders and local governments on how to protect cultural heritage, a recognition that has intensified since destruction and looting of antiques during and after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unit will, among other things, map out locations to avoid during air raids and ground combat, and mark places like museums that need to be protected against looting.

Beyond the inherent value of that conservation work, officials say the effort to protect cultural heritage has the power to unite locals and promote peace, once the shooting stops. And as a matter of diplomacy and soft power, the sight of American forces helping to save other countries’ cultural treasures can be a powerful tool in the battle for hearts and minds.

Andrew Kless, director of the global studies program at Alfred University in upstate New York, said: “The Monument to Men is one of the finest images of World War II. for a post of an officer; He is still waiting for news of his last date.

“This took longer than anything I’ve been through,” he said. “That hasn’t changed my mind about joining it. I am taking a long-term view. This is a new program. ”

Colonel Marshall Straus Scantlin, director of strategic initiatives, US Army Civil and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), said the pandemic has hampered the ability to convene review panels , which is usually done directly. “It just takes time and we want to make sure we get it right,” he said.

Some people who have watched the hiring process say they are worried that some qualified candidates have been turned down. And some civilian candidates have been assigned a rank and then demoted, a reflection perhaps of institutional opposition to accepting newcomers at the ranks that could lead to unemployed military officer. The two candidates wrote to their Senators to complain.

Colonel DeJesse said that Army officers told him it was sometimes difficult to equate seniority and work experience of civilian candidates with military ranks, and the ranks assigned to civilian hires. is being considered.

But he defended the quality of the candidates selected so far. As for those rejected, he said some applicants didn’t address the specific requirements of the job on their resumes. Others have had a good bit of experience, but not covered in the Army specifications, request 48 months of work experience in a specialized field after receiving an advanced degree.

In October, during a virtual meeting that included candidates for cultural heritage missions, Colonel DeJesse spoke with frustration about how long the process would take.

“We are right there with you and we appreciate your patience,” he said. “It’s important that you do your best.”

The officer is part of the Army’s Civil and Psychological Operations Command, which is headquartered at Fort Bragg, said Colonel DeJesse of NC, who has conducted missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. This position can number 33 experts, “the highest number of monuments officers since the late 1940s,” he said.

He said some of the professionals who were reserve have been successfully transferred to the new unit and some have worked – for example, training units that have deployed to Central America, Africa and other regions. on how to help countries identify and preserve their cultural heritage.

He said 12 other outside candidates have been selected and hopes the first five of them can eventually be “pinned in” – officially appointed – at an event planned at the Smithsonian. in August.

Twelve others will have their applications reviewed by a review panel in May, he said.

In the meantime, the candidates have continued to submit documents and prepare for the Army physical exam, which they will take once commissioned. (It includes six exercises — lifting 60-pound weights three times; throwing a 10-pound medicine ball; two-minute push-ups; sprinting and pulling and carrying weights; leg pulls or planks; and a two-mile run. run.)

Elizabeth Varner, a Experts in museum management and cultural property law, who was selected as a candidate, said she was delighted to qualify for a “much needed” service.

“Protecting cultural assets is an ongoing process,” she said. “It takes a long time to get ready to react and once the event really happens, you’ll fall behind if you’re not prepared.”

Currently, professional preparations for Ukraine are being carried out on a civilian basis by professionals such as Mr. Bassett, who has been selected as captain in the new reserve unit, until the last of the Monuments Officers. start to work.

For the past year and a half, the team at his lab in Virginia, part of a broader network of about 10 people, has been training soldiers deployed to East Africa to preserve the country’s cultural heritage. an area and used satellite imagery to monitor locations affected by nature. natural disasters in Honduras and Haiti, and due to armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Tigray region of Ethiopia, and Afghanistan.

Before the war in Ukraine, the supervision of Mr. Bassett’s team have included locations in the east of the country and in Crimea, areas that have since been occupied by Russian forces or by Russian-backed separatists. Mr. Bassett said the team not only discovered the devastation caused by the conflict there, but also the construction of new monuments. For example, Savur-Mohyla is the site of a Bronze Age burial mound, or kurgan. A World War II memorial built by the Soviet Union on the site was destroyed in the fighting in 2014. It is currently being rebuilt with Russian aid.

It is among the more than a thousand websites could be harmed by the ever-expanding conflict, according to the lab’s growing database, the kind of resource Bassett hopes could play a part in the Army unit’s work as it emerges. it works.

He said of the lab’s work in general: “This will allow myself and other upcoming relic workers to start running on the ground. “I am looking forward to that moment. Once we’re in uniform, we’re going to do this work in the US but also have the opportunity to do some things with the boots on the ground in a meaningful way.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/arts/ukraine-cultural-sites-art.html War Signals Ukraine Needs New ‘Relic Officers’ Unit, Delayed

Fry Electronics Team

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