American Veterans Archaeological Recovery, American Battlefield Trust and National Park Service join forces to help veterans transition back to civilian life through archaeology and teamwork
(Saratoga Battlefield, N.Y.) — Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam veterans have returned to the battlefield. But instead of the Middle East or Southeast Asia, they are mustering at Saratoga National Historical Park where they will be applying their military knowledge and newly learnt archeological skills to conduct a field survey at the famous Revolutionary War battlefield.
Approximately 33 veterans will participate in the project created by the American Veterans Archaeological Recovery (AVAR) in cooperation with the American Battlefield Trust and the National Park Service (NPS). Working together, they will attempt to verify revolutionary-era troop locations during the 1777 battle while aiding participants’ transition back to civilian life. AVAR recruits veteran participants through social media, and specifically targets those who feel isolated and disconnected after leaving service; the organization predominantly recruits veterans from recent conflicts, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, with a young average participant age of 35.
“As a combat veteran, coming here was a pilgrimage,” explained Laly Cholak, who separated from the military after 14 years served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. “The moment you realize you excavated a musket ball that was last held by an American soldier 250 years ago is unforgettable. It is an honor and a privilege to work on this site, and it’s something I will never forget.”
Under the guidance of NPS archaeologists and Advanced Metal Detecting for the Archaeologist (AMDA), the four-week project will consist of two phases — a metal detector survey and limited excavation, followed by artifact cataloging and documentation.
“Archaeology helps us better understand the battlefields where our nation was forged,” said James Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust. “This archaeological project highlights a brotherhood of service, connecting today’s citizen soldiers with those who fought for America’s independence nearly 250 years ago. We are proud to give back to those who defended our freedom, past and present.”
“This project is meaningful to Saratoga National Historical Park for many different reasons,” said Amy Bracewell, superintendent of Saratoga NHP. “Our veterans bring with them extraordinary knowledge and skills that they acquired during their time in service, and we’re excited to have these talented individuals working with us to better understand the history of Saratoga.”
“The United States exists because people not so different from our AVAR participants risked everything on these fields two-and-a-half centuries ago, and we want to remind them that they’re still a part of that legacy,” said Stephen Humphreys, AVAR CEO. “AVAR works to build a sense of community for our returning veterans and allows us to be involved in telling a story that needs to be told. This important project allows us to empower veterans as they reconcile the differences between military and civilian life.”
Veterans approach historic battlefields with a different perspective than archaeologists, reading the terrain through the lens of their own military experience — bringing an important understanding to archaeological projects. AVAR builds a community for participants and provides veterans with high-level training, a therapeutic outlet and the opportunity to continue to participate in something larger than themselves. The Saratoga survey will let veterans see first-hand how their contributions make a difference to a mission that matters; the results of this work have the potential to change our understanding of history, a parallel to missions performed while serving.
AVAR’s work can also yield important historical insights. The site of this project, Barber Wheatfield, was host to the Second Battle of Saratoga, and participants’ findings could help clarify troop locations and movements that occurred as American and British forces clashed on the battlefield. It is work as integral in the analysis of the archeological record at Saratoga as it is invaluable to the wellbeing of our nation’s veterans.
About the American Battlefield Trust
The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to preserving America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educating the public about what happened there and why it matters today. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has protected more than 50,000 acres associated with the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War. Learn more at www.battlefields.org.
About the American Veterans Archaeological Recovery (AVAR)
American Veterans Archaeological Recovery (AVAR) uses archaeology projects to help veterans find a new sense of mission and purpose, build community, and learn vocational skills. AVAR has put over 60 veterans on excavations in the USA, UK, and Israel since inception, thanks to a National Geographic Education grant. Learn more at www.americanveteransarchaeology.org.
About Saratoga National Historical Park
Saratoga National Historical Park is a unit of the National Park Service and was established in 1938 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to commemorate the decisive American victory at the battles of Saratoga in 1777. Known as a critical turning point in the War for American Independence, the American victory at Saratoga became the first time in world history that the British army surrendered to the opposition. This victory also influenced France to provide support to the new nation for its independence. Visit us at www.nps.gov/sara.