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NEWS | July 15, 2021

Preserving JBLE history

By Onyx Taylor-Catterson 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.  – Many U.S. military installations employ people to preserve historically significant artifacts and document history. On Joint Base Langley-Eustis, an archaeologist and historian document and preserve our history.

Dedicated to preserving Fort Eustis’ priceless possessions, the JBLE cultural resources team is led by Christopher McDaid, 733rd Mission Support Squadron archaeologist and cultural resources manager.

McDaid’s interest in history began in 5th grade, when he found a rare 1840s coin.

“That just intrigued me that somebody had been standing right there, where I was standing that long ago,” said McDaid.

McDaid’s main responsibility is to ensure that installation activities, such as training and construction projects, happen in compliance with laws that protect the archaeological sites and historic buildings at Fort Eustis.

In accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act, all federal agencies should know what significant historic and archaeological sites they have and how their day-to-day operations or projects will affect them, McDaid explained.

The Fort Eustis cultural resource team is responsible for monitoring the 234 archaeological sites, and reviewing how installation functions will affect these sites.

According to McDaid, some of the earlier sites are about 10,000 years old and one of the installation’s most popular sites is the Matthew Jones House.

“The Matthew Jones house, as near as I can tell, is the oldest building that the Department of Defense owns and occupies,'' he said. “It was originally built about 1715 or 1720.”

Working with community partners is just as important as being good stewards of the environment.

McDaid works with eight federally recognized Native American tribes; six that are resident to Virginia, one in South Carolina and one in Oklahoma. He explained there is evidence of these tribes living on Fort Eustis dating back 10,000 years.

One of the team’s latest projects is protecting and preserving an archaeological site containing Native American burials from erosion caused by the James River. The team is partnering with the Army Corps of Engineers to design a solution.

McDaid identifies community outreach as one of his favorite job functions. He likes to give tours and educate the community about the areas of historical significance in their own backyard. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, tours have temporarily been suspended.

“I just want folks to be aware that they have these resources right here; once we are allowed, we will be glad to arrange tours,” said McDaid. “There's no point in keeping, protecting and preserving these places for the American people if the American people can't come and see them.”

As the result of a 1903 presidential directive requiring military departments to prepare reports of operations, the Air Force History Program was designed.

An Air Force historian is responsible for collecting, preserving and interpreting the memory of their assigned area. For the 633rd Air Base Wing on JBLE, that person is Ryan Collins. Collins is the Air Force historian responsible for collecting, preserving and interpreting the memory of the 633rd Air Base Wing

Collins credits his grandfathers for his love of history. “They had me reading early, took me to historical sites and kept that fire burning,” he said.

Both of Collins' grandfathers served in the U. S. Army, one during World War II and the other in the Kentucky Army National Guard.

“When one steps onto a historical location or holds an object from the past, one can easily imagine life as it was for the individuals who may have been there or used such items in their activities”, said Collins. “It is a special feeling.”

As the wing historian, Collins’ primary focus is to generate a comprehensive annual historical report detailing the activities of the 633rd ABW. These reports are the organization’s official history maintained by the historian and at the Air Force Historical Research Agency on Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

A typical day for Collins may include researching past events such as various operations, mission changes and policy updates, as well as examining the benefits and challenges that came with them.

In addition, he manages the unit’s heraldic emblems and works with unit leadership to generate approved permanent heraldry.

These emblems are a visible representation of an organization's esprit de corps, morale, and a sense of heritage. Collins works with the organization in choosing colors, animals and other iconic elements; every aspect of the emblem has a meaning.

“One of the joys of the career field is getting to know the Soldiers and Airmen from around the wing,” he said.

Collins also answers inquiries from wing customers, the major command, Air Force headquarters, and Congress.

Collins, himself a prior service member, understands that learning from the past is an important component to military readiness.

“It is critical that we each have a general understanding of where our units and career fields came from,” he said. “The more things change, the more they stay the same. As such, we can incorporate lessons learned from past experiences while remaining innovative and precise.”