Guard armories modernize as others close
December 18, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. (Dec. 17, 2009) - The National Guard's standing armories - iconic centers of stone and brick where the nation's citizen-Soldiers muster to defend state and nation - are weathering a storm of change, officials here said this week.
Base Realignment and Closure law, budget restrictions, rising energy standards, post-9/11 force protection issues, technology needs, and mission demographics are some of the challenges that states and territories now face to find the best use and location for their facilities.
Some armories, many decades old, will close their doors for new construction or consolidate with other reserve components; others will be refurbished.
Still other armories will be turned over to the local community and then go up for sale to bring in much-needed revenue, while some are seeing new life as community centers and museums.
The Kansas National Guard recently announced it will close 18 of 56 armories, and consolidate its units into the remaining 38.
"These closures are necessary due to reductions in the state budget and to ensure the long-term sustainment of our existing armories," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Tod M. Bunting, Kansas' adjutant general, in a press briefing this week.
Other Guard officials pointed out that armory closures could improve unit cohesion.
Bunting thanked the community for their service to the Guard and acknowledged the effect the closures would have on them.
"We clearly understand that if this is your community and your armory, you are disappointed by this action," he said.
Bunting explained that the decisions regarding which armories to close involved a comprehensive, strategic analysis of all their armories and considered federal and state missions, demographic shifts in population, the ability to consolidate operations, the conditions of current facilities and the ability to expand properties for new missions.
The general said the closed facilities would be returned to the communities once federal requirements were met. It is unclear what will happen to the armories after that time.
What happens to an armory depends on who owns the land and the building, said Hallet Brazelton, deputy director of installations here at the Army National Guard Readiness Center.
"In the majority of cases, it's going to be state-owned," he said.
Brazelton said the states reuse the buildings as their policies and procedures dictate, and the federal government also has processes in place to reuse federally-owned lands and buildings that the Guard no longer needs.
"They are used for a lot of things," he said, adding that some states share their armories with schools or as community centers.
One historic armory in Saratoga, N.Y., found new life as the state's military museum.
Constructed in 1889, the completely refurbished Saratoga Springs Armory displays and archives a massive collection of military artifacts, photos and records, including one of the nation's largest collections of military flags. The armory itself is an historic property.
"It's really something that the state works through; they make those decisions," said Brazelton.
One of the most iconic images ever of a Guard armory being used by the community was that of Manhattan's Lexington Avenue Armory, immediately following 9/11, said historians here.
"Certainly in the wake of 9/11, you could see how vital that armory was to the surrounding community, even though it is located in the heart of America's largest city," said Army Lt. Col. Les' Melnyk, a National Guard historian and former member of the New York Army Guard's 69th Infantry Regiment, who was in New York during the days following the attacks. "In addition to the Soldiers of the 'Fighting 69th,' tons of supplies were stockpiled there and hundreds of aid workers were stationed there to give assistance to thousands of grieving family members."
The armory also served as a meeting place for victims and families. The interior stone walls were strewn with photographs, candles and makeshift shrines to those missing, and the 69th Infantry Regiment was dispatched from there to the disaster's rubble piles and security perimeters.
The Lexington Armory and others like it continue to serve as joint meeting places for Soldiers and the community, but it will get harder and harder to maintain them over the years.
Brazelton explained that the states look at their demographics and missions, and they consider the energy and technological efficiency of their armories before making decisions on armory improvements.
"These are facility decisions and stationing decisions for facilities, and they aren't necessarily related to force structure issues," he said.
Aside from the smaller number of historic armories, Brazelton said that there is a larger number of armories constructed during the mid-20th century, like those closing in Kansas.
"They are getting to an age where you really have to look at them and say, 'does it make sense to keep investing money in this facility, or does it make sense to start looking at replacing it,'" said Brazelton.
Kansas officials said that the number of Soldiers who once drilled in the '50s and '60s at many of their facilities has also dropped by nearly three-fold, so consolidating armories is another reason for the statewide closures.
In New York, officials said the state has recently mothballed several armories in Glens Falls, White Hall, Staten Island, Newburgh and other cities to reduce their number to 55.
"The goal, of course, is to put people into newer, modern buildings, whenever possible," said Eric Durr, spokesman for the state's Division of Military and Naval Affairs.
Durr said New York is choosing to share new facilities with the Navy, Marine Corps and Army Reserve in armed forces reserve centers, which saves the state dollars.
A new armed forces reserve center is being constructed in Farmingdale, on Long Island, which the Army Guard will operate.
"We will close six armories ... and move everybody into the reserve center there," said Durr.
But, he said, giving up armories - many filled with historic photographs and trophies and other Guard relics - should not mean sacrificing the Guard's heritage for modernization.
"You move into these new buildings and you don't have that, so what we're trying to do is make these historic displays in the new facilities ... with great air conditioning and heating and computer systems and telephones and state-of-the-art classrooms and fantastic gymnasiums, and bathrooms where the ceilings don't fall down on you."
(Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith writes for the National Guard Bureau.)