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How the Airborne Museum in Fayetteville plans to keep operating with a major budget cut

A World War II-era C-47 hangs from the ceiling of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, N.C.
U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum
A World War II-era C-47 hangs from the ceiling of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, N.C.

For nearly 25 years, the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville has been telling the stories of soldiers who trained at nearby Fort Liberty, formerly known as Fort Bragg, and fought in every major conflict since World War II.

This year, Cumberland County Commissioners denied the museum’s request for $200,000 in local funding.

WUNC's Will Michaels spoke with Renee Lane, executive director of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum Foundation, about the museum’s future and its place in the community.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How has the museum historically gotten its funding?

"Our funding from day one has been through donations from the general public, from people who have served in the Army to Airborne and Special Operations. We've also received funding as a partnership, really, with the city of Fayetteville and Cumberland County. We are the number one tourist attraction here. We are one of the most visited museums in North Carolina, and are the only Army museum in North Carolina (located in a civilian community)."

What are the consequences of not getting what you expected?

"It kind of restricts the programming that we can do. We want to bring in authors and other subject matter experts to talk about today's military. And it's hard to do that, when you really have to worry about paying your staff, keeping the museum store open, keeping the grounds maintained properly, the statues conserved, bringing in exhibits, and replacing things that that might be broken in the gallery.

In February of 2023, a car crashed into our theater 244-seat theater. We lost operation of that theater. It still has not been repaired. And, that is not up to us. It is an army building. So, it's an Army funding project. Then, in November of last year, our motion simulator, which is a 10-minute ride through the airborne missions, broke down during a ride, and it cannot be fixed. So, we are kind of in a bind that way, because we've lost revenue from the simulator and we've certainly lost revenue from theater rental."

And I would imagine museums depend on things like that: events that bring people who have already been to the museum back to the museum.

"It's not the one-time visitor. It's the family that wants to learn more about the Airborne experience or the Special Operations missions that either one of their family members have been involved in, or the community is interested as a whole because of how the mission relates to maybe things going on in current events. This is an educational institution. Soldiers come here for training for educational purposes. The public comes here for the same reason."

You've been in your position for five years. What's one of your favorite experiences in that time?

"Well, I will tell you, the 100-year-old veteran visiting the museum who fought in the Battle of Corregidor door during World War II —"

And Corregidor is an island in the Philippines that was recaptured by the U.S. during island hopping in 1945.

"Yeah, and he's able to go up to a case in the museum and see a rock from Corregidor and have his picture taken. These are moments that you can't make up and it's really endearing stories like that, that make this place so special to work here and also to the community."

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville is not the only Army museum in the state, though it is the only one in a civilian community. There are two Army museums on Fort Liberty.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.