CARLISLE — K.C. Kirkman found common ground after only a few minutes spent talking with the Army Ranger from the French and Indian War.
The two men were outside chatting about the detail they put into bringing their era of military history to life.
“We realized that in the realm of the combat soldier, it has not changed that much,” said Kirkman, a World War II re-enactor from Martinsburg, W Va. “Living in a hole ... living in the environment, the effect on the man is all the same ... physical exhaustion.”
The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center was overrun Saturday with 150 living historians from 42 re-enactment groups that represented armies spanning five centuries.
The third annual Re-enactor Recruitment Day was their opportunity to connect with one another and with the general public, said Karl Warner, a program and education coordinator at AHEC.
Dressed in a variety of period uniforms, re-enactors set up equipment displays, answered questions about their era and provided information to prospective recruits.
Two years ago, William Kesler, of Carlisle, visited the event in search of some answers. A recent transplant from Louisiana, he was open to what the groups had to offer.
“I wanted to do re-enacting, but I didn’t know how or where to start,” Kesler said. “I didn’t have any details. This filled it in for me. It allowed me to put my foot in the door.”
Today, Kesler is a first sergeant with the 4th North Carolina Cavalry Co. B, a Confederate re-enactment group based in Adams County. The unit he represents served under Brig. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart during the 1863 invasion of Pennsylvania and kept the road open for the Army of Northern Virginia to retreat following its defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Kesler spent part of his Saturday trying to recruit new members while networking with other re-enactment groups about upcoming events.
For re-enactors like Kirkman, the recruitment day was a chance to interact with groups he would otherwise have no contact with because they specialize in different time periods. Call The Ill Tempered Men, his living history group specializes in presenting accurate impressions of America’s military past from the Civil War to Vietnam War era.
Rich Heinick, of Mechanicsburg, came to AHEC Saturday already involved in a different kind of historical re-enactment. He is a pitcher and arbitrator with the Keystone Baseball club of Harrisburg, which plays the sport using 1864 rules.
The club is planning a festival for this spring and it was Heinick’s job to approach various Civil War re-enactment groups. “I thought if I can get some of these folks to attend, it would lend some authenticity to the event,” Heinick said.
Seated nearby was Chris Aleo, of Fredericksburg, decked out in the kilt and khaki uniform of the Black Watch, a Scottish infantry unit.
“Most of us have British roots,” said Aleo, a member of the Soldiers of the Queen, a group that re-enacts the Royal Army during the reign of Victoria. “We like all things English.”
On Saturday, the group represented soldiers that fought in the Boer War of 1899 to 1902 during which the British Army was trying to quell a rebellion by Dutch settlers of South Africa.
“It was a period of transition from the romance of the Victorian era to the hard realities of war,” Aleo said. “The Boer War was one of the first modern wars where soldiers used machine guns and barbed wire.” To Aleo, re-enacting history is as much about the telling the little stories through personal items as briefing the public on the grand events that moved on the world stage.
“This is about the soldiers, not the politics of the era but the individual guys that went out on the sharp end,” Aleo said. It is their story that we like to talk about.”
Saturday’s recruitment day also gave AHEC staff the opportunity to meet with leaders of re-enactment groups as planning continues for Army Heritage Days scheduled for May 17-18, Warner said.
A spring event held for years at AHEC, Heritage Days was cancelled in 2013 due to federal budget constraints. “We are bringing it back bigger and better this year,” Warner said.