WASHINGTON – From Memorial Day through Labor Day, service members and their families can visit more than 2,000 museums in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and American Samoa courtesy of collaboration among the Blue Star Museums, the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families and the Defense Department.
At the Phillips Collection art museum here May 20, the kickoff of the sixth year of the Blue Star Museums featured the presentation of the colors by the St. John’s College High School Junior ROTC, remarks by leadership and a tour of the collection for military families.
Ellyn Dunford, wife of Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commandant of the Marine Corps, hosted the first Blue Star Museums event in San Diego six years ago. She said visiting museums can have long-range affects.
“Museums celebrate tolerance and freedom, teach respect for cultural differences, facilitate a sense of individual and collective identity and power through knowledge, nurture and understanding of our connections to the world and each other,” she said. “Military families spread messages throughout the world as they change duty stations as they move, and they eventually leave the military and go back to our communities and bring with them that wealth of knowledge and experience.”
Something for Everyone
Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said the Blue Star Museums program has something for everyone.
“Parents of young children tell us that they go to museums to learn new things and have family time together,” she said. “Blue Star Museums helps them do both; by helping military families learn about the cultural resources in their communities and offering a fun, high-quality experience that’s budget friendly, as well as family friendly. We’re proud to help connect museums to military communities nationwide.”
For Blue Star Families CEO Kathy Roth-Douquet, wife of retired Marine Corps Col. Greg Douquet, the Blue Star Museums program holds a special place in her heart.
“In 2010, when this program began, we had gotten a one week’s notice that my husband was going to go to Afghanistan for a year, so he packed his bag, shaved his head and went off. It was a tough year for all of us,” she said. “Museum-going enhances resilience. It’s a nice, free activity in a beautiful setting that uplifts you, and you’re also being told you’re important. When you go to into the museum, the folks behind the counter say, ‘We’re so glad you’re here. Welcome, this is yours for the summer. It’s free because we appreciate what you do.’”
Douquet said she and her children — Sophie, 17, and Charley, 13 — have been to 27 Blue Star Museums and plan to visit more with her husband.
A Welcome Break
For Patricia Ochan, taking a tour of the Phillips Collection is a welcome break from doctors’ appointments. She is the wife of Marine Corps Sgt. Jimmy Ochan, who is with the chemical and biological incident response force unit out of Indian Head, Maryland.
“This program is a great way for families to come out and spend time together,” she said. “We spend a lot of time in the hospital for my husband’s doctor’s appointments, so for us to be able to come out here is a huge break. We get to spend more time with our son and show him things. When he grows up and looks back, he’ll be happy and respect the fact his dad exposed him to these good things.”
During his three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Ochan suffered post-traumatic stress and injuries from an improvised explosive device blast.
The free admission program is available to any bearer of a Geneva Convention common access card, a DD Form 1173 ID card (dependent ID), or a DD Form 1173-1 ID card, which includes active duty U.S. military, National Guard, reserve, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and up to five family members.
Some special or limited-time museum exhibits may not be included in this free admission program. For questions on particular exhibits or museums, contact the museum directly. To find participating museums and plan a trip, visit the Blue Star Museums website, arts.gov/bluestarmuseums.