World’s first women service members museum coming soon

By Jody Conrad | Special to the Press Gazette

Disabled veteran Michelle Caldwell had a dream over a decade ago, and today she is on track to make that dream a reality.

In fact, her vision of a museum and monument dedicated to the nation’s female service members has evolved into including a center where all veterans returning to the workforce can find vocational training, certification, and job placement.

The old Amtrak building will be the future home of the world's first female veterans' museum

“We have three goals,” said Ron Spradling, chief operating officer for the program. “First, we want a monument dedicated to women because there isn’t one anywhere in the world. There are memorials to fallen female service members, but no monuments.” 

To meet that goal, Caldwell formed MWVets, an organization that honors women veterans past, present, and future. MWVets has already hired Elizabeth McQueen, a world-renowned sculpture, to prepare the monument.

Ron Spradlng is the face of the CSME, a partner of the MW vets organization.

The second goal of MWVets is a museum, which will be housed in the lobby of the old Amtrak building on Heinberg Street in Pensacola.

The third goal necessitated the formation of the Center for Strategic Military Excellence. CSME will be the driving force behind a training program for vets in the areas of construction, hospitality, culinary arts, and IT.

“To do this, we’ll partner with local businesses to help our returning vets establish careers in these areas" Spradling said. "Our goal is to both help heal our labor pool and to train vets for careers where there just aren’t enough workers.”

This is an artist's conception of what the memorial to women servicemembers will look like when completed.

Spradling has many ideas in mind for utilizing the full space of the building.

“When I re-entered the work force after 20 years of service, I was that clueless guy who had no idea how to go about establishing my own business until one person helped me," he said. "Now, I want to be that one person for other veterans. Many leave the service and have no idea how to file for their benefits or navigate the VA system, let alone start a business. CSME will be the dot connector.”

The lobby of the old Amtrak building will soon feature exhibits dedicated to women servicemembers.

To meet these goals, CSME and MWVets are partnering with local construction company Everdean.

“They’ll be our master developer and private investor,” Spradling said. “Business partnerships, financial support, and in-kind donations are our biggest needs right now. We’re ready to form these partnerships to help us take this to the next level.”

An opening date for the museum will be announced at a later date.