Fort Deposit National Guard Armory on way to closure in 2017
Published 6:19 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2015
By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
Fort Deposit is among 19 Alabama National Guard armories slated to close by 2017.
According to the Alabama National Guard, years of sustained funding shortfalls for its operations and maintenance budget have reached a critical juncture.
The Alabama National Guard announced Wednesday, Sept. 30 that its facilities Master Plan includes closing and consolidation of 15 armories between fiscal years 2014 to 2017. And by reducing six additional armories, the National Guard said it effectively reduces the facility operations and maintenance costs to meet the State budget given by the Legislature for 2016.
According to the Alabama National Guard, two of the first 15 armories, Albertville and Monroeville, have been closed to date. The 13 remaining armories are located in Sheffield, Scottsboro, Vernon, Jasper, Aliceville, Sylacauga, Camden, Fort Deposit, Jackson, Brantley, Elba, Geneva and Hartford.
The six additional armories that will close include Huntsville, Winfield, Alexander City, Demopolis, Marion, and Eufaula.
Fort Deposit Mayor Fletcher Fountain said it will be “devastating” if the closure takes place. He also said the Fort Deposit Town Counci will try to sign a resolution calling for the armory to remain open.
“It will be devastating to the town of Fort Deposit to close the armory,” Fountain said. “A lot of people here and around, they depended on the armory for subsidized income. And the town, we depended on it for those meeting days for spending that money here with us.”
Fountain continued that the town had a “sense of safety by just having that armory in our presence.” He said it is considered part of Fort Deposit. “It will hurt us if they close it,” he said.
However, he said, if the armory does close, the town would be interested in acquiring the building and property “because the town could use it as a civic center.”
He said the people will be shocked if it is closed, but that he understands that some things have to be cut to make the government work.
He said the town will “try to sign a resolution asking them (whoever made the decision) not to close it.”
Thomas Ellis, co-owner of Priester’s Pecans and Chairman of the Lowndes County Economic Development Commission, said of the news, “Something that has been here in Fort Deposit for many, many years, as the National Guard Armory has, and the history behind it… it’s a sad day to see them declare to close that, especially in a town like Fort Deposit.”
Ellis said, “Fort Deposit is a town that is struggling to create economic development.” He said, “It doesn’t need another vacant building… much less do we need to lose the sales tax dollars,” which he said the people who use the armory bring to help make economic progress.
“I’m disappointed to hear that,” Ellis said.
In January of 2013, the Alabama National Guard 781st Transportation Company came home to Fort Deposit from nine months of active duty in Afghanistan.
The 781st was returning from a February 2012 deployment of 120 Alabama National Guardsmen in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During the welcome home ceremony, Brigadier General Allen Harrell said the unit has been deployed three times in the last 20 years, including Operation Desert Storm, to foreign fields of battle.
Harrell, who serves as director of the joint staff of the Alabama National Guard, said the 781st “wound up dong a security mission,” which he called “one of the most dangerous.” And, he said, they did “a tremendous job.”
Harrell said he received a note from a brigade commander in Afghanistan “telling us what a wonderful job these people were doing.” He also said the company was known as the “go to company.”
According to Harrell, the company did more than 85 combat logistical patrols to more than 20 forward operating bases in two different areas, had six Bronze Star recipients and received the Meritorious Unit Award.
According to the Alabama National Guard, “In the past six years the Alabama Army National Guard has received over $126 million Federal dollars for the MCA Master Cooperative Agreement) Federal share obligation of which only $16 million was provided by the State budget to match these federal funds.
“The lack of state matching funds resulted in investment of federal match funds to be allocated to lower priority and fully federal funded facilities rather than armories. This funding shortfall in deferred investment also forces the deliberate closure and consolidation of armories until a consistent and adequate long term funding solution can be achieved, allowing the state to meet its minimum obligations to the MCA.”
The Alabama National Guard also reports closure of armories in the National Guard is not an instantaneous action and will require up to 24 months to complete. And it reports the drilling guardsmen and full time service members are it number one priority.
LTC Shannon Hancock of the Alabama National Guard said the Fort Deposit armory was built in 1957. He said, “The 781st Transportation Company has four full time soldiers, and the total numbers for the overall unit is approximately 168 Soldiers.” He also said the whole unit will move to a new location.