Notable battlefields, celebrated landmarks, and modern-day museums showcase historic moments throughout Pennsylvania. The Cumberland Valley region also has a rich and storied history that delights history buffs and invites them to explore and discover. One of our premier historical attractions is the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC), which is free and open to the public.

The numbers at USAHEC are impressive. Behind the scenes, the facility houses an extensive collection that includes over 16 million archival items, including the largest collection of Civil War photography in the world. This vast repository supports a wide range of education programs, changing exhibits, and research opportunities, ensuring the legacy of the U.S. Army is comprehensively documented and shared with future generations.

What makes USAHEC special is its focus on using these materials to tell the soldier’s story through personal accounts, journals, records, and artwork. The interactive and informative exhibits throughout the Visitor and Education Center and the outdoor Army Heritage Trail educate and inspire visitors on an intimate level.

USAHEC also hosts several events throughout the year, including a lecture series and a two-day Army Expo in September. Visitors can explore this impressive facility seven days a week. It is easily accessible off of I-81 in Carlisle.

Plan two hours for your visit to experience all that the center has to offer, and don’t forget to set aside additional time to explore other nearby Cumberland Valley attractions. Here’s everything you should know ahead of visiting USAHEC.

The Soldier Experience Gallery

USAHECInside the Visitor and Education Center, the Soldier Experience gallery allows visitors to see through the eyes of a soldier during some of the Army’s most prolific battles and exercises—from the Spanish-American War to current operations. In addition to hundreds of artifacts, guests can test their marksmanship at the digital shooting range, parachute into Normandy as part of the D-Day invasion, and experience a night attack during the Korean War.

Enter the War on Terror

This immersive experience enlightens the general public on those who served and are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. As visitors proceed down a hallway they will feel what it is like to be in a military cargo plane. They will hear the sounds of military aircraft, see expansive photos of the tarmac, and images of soldiers proceeding from the plans with their gear. During the second portion of the exhibit, visitors will hear soldiers’ voices and see images of them speaking to each other and receiving briefings. 

On Patrol

After walking through the Enter the War on Terror exhibit in the hallway connecting the Visitor and Education Center and Ridgway Hall, visitors emerge in the lobby area of Ridgway Hall. Located in this space, On Patrol builds off of the experiences of soldiers arriving in theater and performing their duties in the country. It showcases their experiences "outside the wire," during the conflicts of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The exhibit concludes with a hallway of large-format photos, showcasing units and families welcoming Soldiers home from their deployments.

Animals in the Army

Perfect for animal lovers and military history enthusiasts alike, the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center’s newest exhibit, “Animals in the Army,” pays homage to animal companions who have been critical to warfare and soldiers' experiences.

Throughout history, animals in the army have played a vital role in combat by detecting bombs, providing transportation, and delivering messages. Throughout its tenure, the U.S. military has used horses, mules, donkeys, and camels for transportation. Dogs, meanwhile, have sniffed out drugs and served as sentries. While this next part may come as a surprise, even dolphins and sea lions have conducted surveillance and located underwater mines for the U.S. Navy.

The new exhibit also gives a nod to the enduring mission of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, which maintains animal healthcare for all branches of the U.S. military. Yet while animals have been essential to actual warfare, arguably their biggest impact is on the soldiers themselves. By serving as companions and mascots, “man’s best friends” gave soldiers the strength to fight.

Ka-Pow Boom! Comic and Illustrative Art Exhibit

USAHECAs one of America’s most enduring art forms, comic and illustrative art has been a popular storytelling method of U.S. Army history for decades. This exhibit offers a curated glimpse into the U.S. Army soldier experience as told through the lens of these timeless illustrations.

From humorous to serious, U.S. Army comic and illustrative art captures the life of soldiers from as early as World War I and onwards. Exhibition artifacts include comics from Yank Magazine and Stars and Stripes, the comics of America’s Army and PS Weekly, and the 2005 Marvel and AAFES comic partnership. This exhibition is also available online for free viewing worldwide.

A Call to Arms

This exhibit highlights the history of the U.S. Army Reserve and the contributions and sacrifices of reservists. Photographs, artifacts, and large-scale graphics provide examples of the selfless service and sacrifice made by Army Reserve Soldiers for the security and safety of the United States.

Immersive Digital Experience

If you can’t visit the U.S. Army Education and Heritage Center onsite, the museum offers a vast, immersive digital experience that allows you to explore Army history from the comfort of your own home. Online you’ll find photos of artifacts, historical details, and timelines capturing the history of various wars. An academic resources toolbox provides resources for educators and students.

Army Heritage Trail

AHEC-69The mile-long Army Heritage Trail on the grounds of the USAHEC campus highlights nearly every era of Army history, including current operations, through 14 individual full-scale reproductions plus smaller exhibits, aircraft, and artillery. Walk through a recreation of a WWI trench system, touch a Hellcat tank destroyer, or climb to the top of a guard tower of a Vietnam Fire Support Support Base for a view of the entire trail. Leashed dogs are welcome along the trail.

Nearby Attractions

AT Museum-46If you want to dig deeper into Cumberland Valley's military history, take a self-guided walking tour of the nearby Carlisle Barracks, established in 1757 and the second oldest Army Post in the United States. The Barracks was the home of the controversial Carlisle Indian Industrial School and is the current home to the prestigious U.S. Army War College. 

Cumberland Valley boasts some truly unique museums that are perfect for any curious traveler. The Cumberland County Historical Society in downtown Carlisle reflects on more than 250 years of Cumberland Valley’s history. Or learn more about America's most famous hiking trail through the stories of its hikers at the Appalachian Trail Museum in Gardners, where exhibits celebrate the trail's pioneers and milestones. Don't miss the Rolls Royce Foundation & Museum  in Mechanicsburg, home to an impressive collection of Rolls Royce and Bentley motorcars that will delight any automotive enthusiast.

Hotels & Accommodations

Cumberland Valley’s hotels provide affordable accommodations with all the comforts and amenities visitors need for a pleasant stay. Alternatively, guests can opt for a more personalized service at one of Cumberland Valley's distinctive B&Bs, where you can enjoy a peaceful retreat and the warmth of local hospitality, ensuring a memorable stay.