NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR – Some Arkansas communities will benefit when the Arkansas National Guard (ANG) shuts down seven armories later this year as part of a cost-saving plan to meet the reduced operating budget of the Army National Guard.
The move will affect National Guard facilities in Berryville, Blytheville, Brinkley, Crossett, Helena-West Helena, Rector and Wynne, the ANG said in a news release issued Tuesday.
Armories, or readiness centers as the ANG calls them, are the facilities in communities where guardsmen and women meet for drills, store equipment and train. The move will reduce the number of Arkansas National Guard readiness centers across the state from 62 to 55.
“This plan will help restructure, reorganize and rebalance the Arkansas Army National Guard (ARNG) to posture our force for future mission success,” said Col. Gregrey Bacon, ARNG chief of staff. “These locations were originally built in the 50’s and 60’s when the population was more rural. Since then our state’s demographics have shifted and now we are forced to realign our readiness centers in order to maintain strength.”
The facilities and property are scheduled to be returned to their host communities before the end of September. In Brinkley, the property will be offered for sale to the heirs of the original property owners. Equipment such as vehicles, office equipment and other state and federal property at the seven readiness centers will be turned in for use by other Guard units in the state.
The Budget Control Act of 2011, which mandated reductions in military spending, and the potential nationwide reduction of military forces, drove the Guard to develop the plan. The readiness centers in the plan were selected based on the consideration of a number of criteria including: facility age, the number of soldiers assigned and recruiting in the area.
The Guard also based its decision on a Congressionally-mandated study on readiness center transformation conducted in 2012. This study, also known as the Jacobs study, identified readiness centers as critical infrastructure. It gave Congress recommendations for National Guard facilities by analyzing readiness center age, location demographics, the missions supported and other factors.
Guard leadership met with community officials in the selected cities during April and May. The meetings allowed the community leaders to voice their concerns and provide information on the impacts of the plan.
No jobs will be lost as a result of the plan. The units and soldiers assigned to these facilities will now drill at other National Guard locations, according to Bacon.
“The Arkansas National Guard is not a facility or place. The Guard is our soldiers, your neighbors and members of the community,” Bacon said. “They will still have the opportunity to serve. In some cases they will be re-trained in other military skills, but either way we will take care of our soldiers while we rebalance our force.”
Maj. Gen. Mark Berry, adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard said the Guard has to look at these buildings from a business model perspective.
“These buildings aren’t being utilized like they used to be. Soldiers mostly drill at their headquarters unit in other cities or at Fort Chaffee or Camp Robinson,” Berry said. “It does not make good business sense to keep a building open that is not being used very often. The funding is just not there.”
Each facility costs about $30 thousand to $40 thousand annually in utilities, maintenance and other operating costs, according to Col. James Treece, Deputy Chief of Staff for Engineering for the ARNG.
Concerns were raised at the community meetings about the Guard being able to respond to natural disasters. Guard officials assured city leaders that should they be tasked for a disaster response mission the Guard would indeed have the capacity to respond.
“One of the things we considered when making this decision is our ability to respond to emergency situations,” said Berry. “We take our domestic response mission very serious. I assure you, when the Governor calls out the Guard, we will be there.”