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Monuments Man Lt. Frank P. Albright, Polish Liaison Officer Maj. Karol Estreicher, Monuments Man Capt. Everett Parker Lesley, and Pfc. Joe D. Espinosa, guard with the 34th Field Artillery Battalion, pose with Leonard da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine, upon its return to Poland in April 1946. Photo: Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art.

US Army Creates Cultural Heritage Task Force

The United States military is establishing a group of specialists that will help protect cultural heritage in conflict zones, the New York Times reports. Unlike the Monuments Men—the famous group of 345 men and women from fourteen nations who helped recover millions of artworks seized by the Nazis during World War II—the US Army’s new initiative will focus on educating troops about the whereabouts of important artworks in an effort to prevent looting and avoiding airstrikes and ground fighting near historic sites.

The initiative was announced on Monday at the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art in Washington, DC. Developed by Army Reserve Colonel Scott DeJesse and director of the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative Corine Wegener, a retired Army reservist, the task force will work with the Smithsonian to train recruits, mainly curators, scholars, archivists, conservators, archaeologists, and other arts professionals who are commissioned officers of the Army Reserves. New enlistees with suitable backgrounds will also have the opportunity to join the group, which will be based at the Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

The Smithsonian will hold its first five-day boot camp in March 2020 with the aim of having twenty-five reservists ready to apply their knowledge to the field at the end of it. The team will most likely be deployed with forces fighting in war zones. In addition to safeguarding cultural treasures, the group will be able to help nations following catastrophic events such as the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, which buried thousands of artifacts.