Cost Estimate for Global War on Terrorism Memorial Balloons to $100 Million

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An Army flight media cares for a seriously wounded Marine on board a medevac helicopter.
U.S. Army flight medic Sgt. Jaime Adame, top, cares for seriously wounded Marine Corps Cpl. Andrew Smith following an insurgent attack on board a medevac helicopter Sunday, May 15, 2011, from the U.S. Army's Task Force Lift "Dust Off," Charlie Company 1-214 Aviation Regiment north of Sangin, in the volatile Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

The cost estimate for building the Global War on Terrorism Memorial on the National Mall has doubled to $100 million -- far surpassing the combined costs in today's dollars of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial, according to the foundation in charge of the project.

Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael "Rod" Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation, told Military.com that the new cost estimate doubling the previous one of about $50 million -- what the foundation called a "conservative" estimate -- was due to inflation.

The proposed memorial also must get past a complicated 24-step approval process involving several government agencies before a site on the National Mall can be prepared.

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Rodriguez said that the foundation thus far has raised only $5 million, with the largest contribution of $1.4 million coming from the Mission BBQ restaurant chain, but he was still confident that the memorial would have a groundbreaking in 2024.

"Our fundraising is always a focus and an area of concern," Rodriguez said of the rules requiring the foundation to have at least 75% of the estimated $100 million cost on hand before a shovel can be put in the ground. The money raised also has to come from private donations -- no U.S. government funding allowed.

The rising price tag for the GWOT Memorial contrasts with the costs for building previous memorials for the wars in Vietnam and Korea, and also the proposed National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial, which is expected to be dedicated in 2024.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial cost $8.4 million when it was dedicated in November 1982, which would be about $26 million in today's dollars; the Korean War Veterans Memorial, dedicated in July 1995, cost $18.1 million, about $25 million today. The projected cost of the Desert Storm Memorial has been put at $40 million.

Rodriguez said he expects that donations will pick up as national attention focuses on the one-year anniversary this month of the chaotic and tragic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, underlining the absence of a national memorial honoring those who served in the conflicts since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

In its mission statements, the foundation, which has former President George W. Bush as its honorary chairman, has stated that the GWOT memorial's message was intended to be strictly "apolitical" and focused on honoring those who served rather than the hows and whys of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Army Gen. Austin "Scott" Miller, a Delta Force veteran and last commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, offered a similar message in remarks he made at a July 2021 ceremony in Kabul's "Green Zone" before departing Afghanistan.

"Over time, our job is now just not to forget. With the families that have lost people across this conflict, it will be important to them to know that someone remembers, someone cares, and that we're able to talk about that in the future," Miller said.

The foundation envisioned the memorial as "an inclusive, reverent, and apolitical place of honor for all who have served and sacrificed in the ongoing Global War on Terrorism, as well as the countless civilians, family members, and others who have supported them. It will empower, engage and educate civilian and military communities to build mutual understanding with each other."

The foundation also will be attempting -- in a design yet to be conceived -- to honor sacrifices yet to be made, as the counterterror mission to protect the homeland against another 9/11-type attack continues in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan and other future battlefields where extremist groups are considered to pose a threat to U.S. national security.

In recent weeks, the continuing counterterror mission has been marked by the July 31 "over the horizon" drone strike that killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on the balcony of his Kabul apartment, retaliatory strikes Wednesday in Syria for attacks by Iran-backed militias that injured three U.S. service members, and stepped-up U.S. airstrikes in Somalia against the alShabaab group.

"We're doing something that's never been done before, building a memorial to a live war," said Rodriguez, a veteran of 10 deployments beginning in Somalia and ending with service in the 7th Special Forces Group in Afghanistan. "We are challenging everybody's perception of what a memorial is. We're in essence creating a memorial for the future."

The ongoing nature of the counterterror mission posed one of the initial hurdles to establishing a GWOT memorial under the rules in Washington, D.C., barring erection of a war memorial until 10 years after the conflict has ended. But in 2017, former President Donald Trump signed a bill authorizing a GWOT memorial on federal land somewhere in the District.

Then in December 2021, President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act, including an amendment to allow construction of the GWOT Memorial on the National Mall.

Although only $5 million currently is on hand, Rodriguez predicted that the GWOT Memorial would avoid the fundraising difficulties other memorials have experienced in attracting U.S. private donations as the project moves toward site selection and design.

The entire $22 million cost of the addition of a Wall of Remembrance to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated in July, was contributed by South Korea when U.S. donations failed to materialize, retired Army Gen. John Tilelli, chairman of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation, told Military.com.

Scott Stump, CEO of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association, also told Military.com ahead of a July 14 groundbreaking ceremony for the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial that there was a "lot of heartache" in getting U.S. donations before Kuwait, which was liberated in Desert Storm, stepped in to provide sufficient funding for the $40 million project.

The next step for the GWOT Memorial in the approval process is a series of meetings in the fall with the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission, Rodriguez said.

"Hopefully, by end of this year or the start of next year, we'll be able to point at a spot on the ground" for the GWOT memorial on the National Mall and then get started on a design for the memorial, Rodriguez said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Related: More Than 43,000 Names -- US and Korean -- on New Wall of Remembrance at Korea War Memorial

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