From the San Diego Automotive Museum to the Sawgrass Nature Center and Wildlife Hospital in Coral Springs, Florida, participating museums across the country are again offering free admission to military personnel and their families, starting May 21.

The free admission program runs through Sept. 5, Labor Day. The Blue Star Museums program is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and Blue Star Families, working with the Defense Department and museums around the country. The list of participating museums includes museums from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The program is open to those currently serving in the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, Space Force, members of the reserve, National Guard, U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps, NOAA Commissioned Corps — plus up to five family members. Those eligible must show their Common Access Card, dependent ID card, or the Next Generation Uniformed Services (Real) ID card for free entrance into participating museums.

The venues range from art museums to children’s museums and zoos and aquariums. Among those on the list are the Denver Art Museum, Utah’s Treehouse Children’s Museum, and Albuquerque’s Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. In the past, more than 2,000 museums have participated in the program.

Not every museum in the country participates in this program, so service members and families are urged to check the list for participating museums, and plan ahead for visiting days and hours, and other information. You can also see the admission prices, and how much you’re saving through this free program. By doing some research, you can map out your excursions throughout the summer, visiting museums near your home, on the way to your next duty station, or during your vacation. The Motor Transport Museum in Campo, California, for example, is about 60 miles east of San Diego.

Museums may join the program all summer, so families are urged to check back frequently for new additions.

“Participating museums offer military personnel and their families an opportunity to feel connected to their community and to explore the world through the power of the arts, culture and design, contributing to each person being able to live an artful life,” said Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, in an announcement about this year’s initiative.

The program began in 2010 as an effort to improve the quality of life for military families.

The program is a lifeline for many military families, said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families, “offering them the opportunity to connect with their community, explore new space, enjoy the arts and make lifelong memories.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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