Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TOP STORY > >Armory gets funding from House; Bush will sign bill

Leader staff writers

The Defense Department’s $10.8 million share of a new Cabot National Guard Readiness Center — they used to be called armories — is on its way to the president’s desk, part of a $600 billion continuing defense resolution.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, who was in Washington last week trying to get support for a north interchange when funding for the armory was approved, pointed out that the project is moving much faster than anyone predicted it would. It should have taken up to five years, but in one year, the land was purchased and money for engineering appropriated. Now, the federal money to build it has been approved.

“It’s hard work paying off,” Williams said. “On big projects like this, you have to stay focused and maintain relationships. It takes perseverance.”

Nearly $1 billion of the $1.98 billion worth of projects and construction in Arkansas headed for the president’s desk is for rearming the military with rockets, mortars and missiles manufactured in Camden, East Camden and Texarkana, but about $14.8 million was earmarked for Arkansas National Guard projects in Cabot and in Jacksonville.

Representatives Vic Snyder, Marion Berry and Sen-ators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor helped secure funding for the 38,000 square-foot Arkansas National Guard readiness center in Cabot.

“Our men and women in uniform protect and defend this country with honor,” said Berry. “This funding will further their mission through university research, equipment purchases and facilities construction. We must ensure that the armed forces are the best equipped and trained in the world.”

The readiness center will include an assembly area, administrative office space, supply and storage areas, classrooms, latrines, kitchen, military parking and a maintenance training bay.

“Right now, we don’t show it to be constructed within the next five years,” said Capt. Chris Heathscott, public information officer for the Arkansas National Guard.

Heathscott said Little Rock architects Lewis, Elliott, McMorran and Vaden were recently awarded the architectural bid. He said the same firm did the design work for the Cabot and Beebe school systems.

“This is listed as the number one priority for long-range construction for the Arkansas National Guard,” he said.

The bill also contains $4 million for a properly sized and configured engine inspection and maintenance facility for the 189th Air Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville.

It is intended to better support the maintenance and training mission of the 189th Airlift Wing in support of its nine C-130J aircraft.

The facility will include aircraft engine inspection space, maintenance areas, tool and equipment storage as well as appropriate office, bathroom and locker space.

“It is important for Congress to support these worthwhile military projects,” Snyder said.

These projects have been approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and lack only the president’s signature, said a spokesman for Berry, a Gillette Democrat.

Williams said those who started working on the project in 2001 included Jason Carter, Fred Campbell, Moose Cullins, David Hipp, former Mayor Joe Allman, former school superintendent Don Elliott, Charles George, Bill Devoss and Gary McMillian.

The readiness center will replace the temporary facility that opened in the industrial park on Hwy. 367 late in 2006.

Currently, 137 National Guard members are from the Cabot area, though not all are members of Cabot’s Foxtrot Company, which is the part of the 39th Support Battalion.

But that large number was one of the reasons Cabot was a desirable location for a new armory, Lt. Col. Shillcut said.

The local match, provided by the city and state contributed, about $400,000 for the purchase of 15.5 acres for the new center.

“Arkansas’ military installations, universities and companies play a critical role in our national security,” said Pryor. “This funding will ensure our men and women serving in the military have the resources they need to accomplish their missions and meet emerging threats.”

“A strong national defense requires the very best in military training, equipment, and technology, and Arkansas’s military installations and growing defense industry are key to achieving America’s national security goals,” said Lincoln. “These state and local priorities will boost our state’s economy and allow Arkansans to continue to play a critical role in strengthening the U.S. military.”