No museum, public or private, can fully function without a group of reliable and dedicated volunteers that free the museum's staff from all of the numerous, time-consuming chores it requires to keep the doors open. The Patton Museum and the National Armor and Cavalry Museum are no different. To continue to grow and thrive, museums need workers that can restore historic items, document and catalog new acquisitions and provide a docent crew to educate and inform visitors of the vehicles, weapons, uniforms, equipment in their collection and their history. Volunteers of various ages and backgrounds can usually find some type of need for their skills and abilities.
The old Patton Museum on Old Ironsides Avenue used volunteers as general help, dusting exhibits and other basic chores for years. After the first stage of the new Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor was built in 1972, it was apparent that incorporating skilled workers, military and non-military, into the museum's functions was needed. In the mid-1970s the volunteer program was started. At that time, the museum began the first of many public events by having a vehicle drive-by day once a year which consisted of several vehicles paraded in Keyes Park behind the museum.
As the number of volunteers increased, the drive-bys became the famous annual July 4th battle reenactment were U.S. and German forces created a mock battle in Keyes Park. This event drew hundreds of spectators who enjoyed seeing these historic vehicles, with their infantry support, fire and maneuver across the battlefield. Because of the oppressive summer heat, the date was changed to Memorial Day weekend in May with more battles in 2001. The volunteers also participated in special events in the museum and on the road. For several years they attended the annual U.S. Army birthday celebration at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia, participated in numerous parades and public exhibits in towns around Fort Knox and presented exhibitions of their privately-owned weapons, uniforms and equipment inside the museum.
The Patton Museum volunteers brought skills from military and civilian life. Volunteers with mechanical and automotive skills, metal workers, welders and carpentry skills for building exhibits were highly prized. Yet even in these specialized roles, there was also the need for volunteers to help in other areas of museum operations. No job was too small. Over the years the volunteers contributed heavily to the restoration of many vehicles and weapons in the museum collection, most notably a rare German SdKfz
251D/9 half track, an M50A1 Ontos and an M4A3E2 Jumbo Sherman, "Cobra King," which broke through German lines to relieve U.S. forces trapped in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
Any military museum that restores and operates military vehicles should have a safety training program for all volunteers. The Patton Museum implemented a mandatory safety program for its volunteers with annual refreshers. If they were to crew a functioning vehicle, they were trained on how to do preventive maintenance checks (PMC) and how to safely operate any and all aspects of the vehicle. Volunteers were trained in ground guiding and were able to ground guide a vehicle when the operating environment is constrained or the driver has limited visibility because of the design of a vehicle. In doing restoration work they were instructed on proper procedures and use of machinery and power tools and know what to do in case of an emergency such as a fire or injury to a worker.
Following the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Committee report and the subsequent moving of the Armor School and the Patton Museum vehicles and weapons to Fort Benning, Georgia, the volunteers continued their support of the newly created General George Patton Museum of Leadership. They helped build exhibits, painted tanks and performed other tasks needed to get the museum re-opened. One of the most significant endeavors was the restoration of General Patton's command van, the truck he used as Third Army commander in World War II.
Today the volunteers continue their support of the Patton Museum while a new group supports the National Armor and Cavalry Museum at Fort Benning. They have already restored vehicles for use in an armor and cavalry exhibit in the National Infantry Museum as well as others. When the new museum is built in the future, its volunteer force will have much to do to create a world-class armor museum.