Leader Blues

Monday, March 16, 2009

TOP STORY >> Guard HQ in Cabot will open next year

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

An architect’s drawing of the $8.2 million future home of the Arkansas National Guard’s F Company of the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s Brigade Support Battalion was unveiled in Cabot on Tuesday afternoon.

The 35,000-square-foot armory, officially called a readiness center, will be built off Arkansas Hwy. 367 near the new railroad overpass that is supposed to open next month. It will have a classroom large enough to hold 100 soldiers and kitchen large enough to serve 350.

It also will have a 5,800-square-foot drill hall, a physical-fitness room, administrative space, storage space and maintenance and storage areas for vehicles and equipment.

And according to the men who have worked for several years to make it a reality, it is the best thing to happen to Cabot since the air base opened in Jacksonville in 1955.

If all goes as planned and the weather cooperates, groundbreaking for the project will be held this summer and construction should be completed in 12 to 15 months.

Maj. Gen. William Wofford, adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard, said city leaders had asked for an armory several times in years past.

But the answer was always the same: Cabot just can’t support a unit. But the growth of the city combined with the number of military members (40 percent of the population) living in the Cabot area convinced the Guard to reconsider in 2006.

The armory was designed by Lewis Architects Engineers, a Little Rock firm.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams was on hand when the camouflage netting was pulled from the architect’s rendering of the planned facility. He called it “one of the biggest things to come to Cabot in a number of years.”

“When we started trying to plan this facility we figured it would take five to seven years to get the plan approved and the funding forecasted into the federal budget,” Williams said. “But, thanks to the hard work of many of the members of the planning board and our congressional representatives, we are nearing reality on this project.”

Also attending the unveiling were several of the original group who asked the Guard to locate a unit in Cabot: David Hipp, Joe Allman, Don Elliott, Wayne “Moose” Cullins and Charles George.

“It is a tremendous boost. It’s going to be a good thing. I’m enthused about it,” George said. “There are a lot of patriotic people around here. The armory is something people can see and hopefully young men and women will think seriously about being a member of the military. It is going to be up to them to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

The project will be mostly federally funded. In 2008, the congressional delegation announced that money for construction had been secured. In 2007, $840,000 in federal funds paid for design work.

The city bought the 15.5 acres in the industrial park where the armory will be built for $399,000. But much of that cost was reimbursed by the state.

The state has not built a new armory since September 2005 when a $4.25 million facility went up in Warren.

Maj. Jason Carter, a former Cabot city attorney and judge advocate with the National Guard, recently found documents from December 1900 that show Cabot had a Guard company organized over 100 years ago.

The group was organized as Company A, First Infantry on Sept. 9, 1893, and was led by Capt. George Granberry. The company was mustered to serve with a second company during the Spanish-American War.

Wofford said the new armory may not have been the first in Cabot, but it will be the best.

The new facility and the unit assigned to Cabot are expected to have an annual economic impact of a little more than $1 million to the community through payroll for unit members as well as general operations and maintenance expenses for the facility and equipment.