With 91 armories across the state, the N.C. National Guard has a physical presence in nearly every county in North Carolina.
It looks like that is about to change.
According to recent media reports, National Guard officials have told Guard officials in each state to downsize their facilities for efficiency.
This is related to rising maintenance costs of aging National Guard facilities at a time when the size of the nation’s military is being drawn down.
Consequently, North Carolina and some other states are looking for money to construct larger regional National Guard hubs while reducing costs by closing small operations with old armories and other facilities.
Construction of the current National Guard armory on Armory Road in North Wilkesboro was completed in 1955, and it was dedicated on Dec. 7, 1955. An earlier National Guard armory in North Wilkesboro burned down on Feb. 9, 1933. Another, located on what now is the Memorial Park property, was washed away by the 1940 flood.
Conley Call, former North Wilkesboro mayor and fire chief and former commander of the Guard unit here, said Wilkes has been at risk of losing its local armory during military downsizing after each of the nation’s recent wars. Each time our nation’s military was reduced in size, said Call, it ended up being a mistake.
The proposed regional hubs, covering up to 100 acres each, would be able to house thousands of troops and include facilities such as firing ranges that units now have to travel to military bases to use. Officials said they would bring other advantages.
In 2013, the N.C. National Guard announced plans to build eight of these regional hubs – called Regional Readiness Centers. Funding for these regional hubs still hasn’t been approved and officials haven’t said how many of the states’ 91 armories might be closed.
Last spring, a Wilkes County commissioner said he had learned that the National Guard Armory in North Wilkesboro would be closed. A short while later, a Guard spokesman said a study was being done to determine which facilities across the state should be recommended for closure as part of the shift to regional hubs. The spokesman said the list of facilities that should be closed hadn’t been determined.
North Carolina recently sold two armories back to local governments and there are plans to close a third.
In 2014, the National Guard said two-thirds of the 2,100 Guard facilities nationwide were in poor or failing condition, and proposed closing 600.
According to an Associated Press story, Guard officials said building regional hubs would help address problems with existing facilities.
For one thing, current armories are sometimes too small to accommodate larger modern equipment. Also, Guardsmen who are promoted often have to be relocated to armories where there is a spot for their positions, sometimes across the state.
The AP quoted a Guard spokesman as saying the state is focusing on maintaining its newer and better-equipped armories, based on the belief that they can support more troops and be better facilities to show off to new recruits.
However, having fewer armories would result in more Guardsman having to commute longer distances to regional hubs. How would that impact recruiting?
The state Guard is conducting or planning 24 capital improvement projects at 17 sites, at a cost of $8 million to the state and $21 million to the federal government. At the same time, less money is being invested in maintaining many of the older and smaller Guard armories.
The local guard unit is the 875th Engineer Co., part of the 505th Engineering Battalion.
It was organized and federally recognized in 1921 as part of the N.C. National Guard as Co. A of the 105th Engineers, an element of the 30th Division.
It was redesignated in 1942 as Co. D, 175th Engineers, and redesignated again in later that year as as Co. D, 2d Battalion, 175th Engineer General Service Regiment. The unit was inactivated in October 1945 at Camp Patrick Henry, Va., after being deployed during World War II.
It was reorganized and federally recognized in February 1948 at North Wilkesboro as Battery C, 112th Field Artillery Battalion, an element of the 30th Infantry Division. In April 1959, it was reorganized and redesignated as Co. C, 2d Battle Group, 120th Infantry, an element of the 30th Infantry Division.
The local unit went through a series of numerous redesignations in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, resulting in it being designated Co. C, 2d Battalion, 120th Infantry in March 1963, as the 1452d Transportation Co. in January 1968, as Co. B of the 230th Supply and Transport Battalion in May 1971, as the 1453d Transportation Co. in December 1973, as Co. D of the 505th Engineer Battalion in December 1975 and as Co. A of the 505th Engineer Battalion in September 1989.
The unit served in and around Fort Meade, Md., providing security in support of Operation Noble Eagle from September 2002 to July 2003.
The unit served for a year in Iraq, beginning in September 2005, working on construction assignments.
It was reorganized as the 875th Engineer Co. in September 2006.
The unit conducted horizontal engineering operations (excavation with heavy equipment) in support of Area Support Group Kuwait and Army Central Command from July 2012 through April 2013 to improve and maintain transportation facilities in Kuwait and Afghanistan.