Armory closure a loss for city

Published 11:52 am Wednesday, November 9, 2011

By January, the City of Greenville will no longer be home to an Alabama National Guard unit.

Officials with the Alabama National Guard have confirmed that Fort Robert E. Steiner, Greenville’s 56-year-old National Guard Armory, is one of 13 armories across the state slated for closure.

Maj. Gen. Perry G. Smith, Alabama National Guard adjutant general, said a variety of factors, including the age and condition of the facilities, ability to respond statewide to disasters, cost analysis and the locations of units in relation to their headquarters were considered when determining which armories would be closed.

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Apparently the age and condition of Fort Robert E. Steiner was the primary factor in its closing.

Gen. Smith said that this wasn’t a decision that was made lightly and that the impact the closings would have on the 13 communities was considered.

We trust that’s true.

He also said he knew of old armories that are being used as churches and community centers and that he hopes “that communities will capitalize on these opportunities and use these facilities for good.”

It sounds like our city officials already have a plan in place to do just that. Mayor Dexter McLendon wasn’t willing to share details just yet, but he did say the closing will “bring something bigger and better.”

We have no doubt that the building that housed the 117th Field Artillery Battalion won’t go to waste. While it does need some work to repair roof damage, it’s a great space that could be used for any number of things.

But losing our National Guard unit is about more than having a vacant building. We’re losing a number of citizen soldiers who were committed to serving our community. Obviously these soldiers were ready to respond in the event of a natural disaster or some other domestic emergency, but they did much more for our city.

Last year, Staff Sgt. Chris Stinson and the 117th Field Artillery Battalion, held the first-ever Helping Hands Toy Drive to collect toys for children who might not have received a Christmas present otherwise. According to Stinson, approximately 4,000 to 5,000 toys were collected as a result of the drive.

With the holidays approaching, Stinson was planning to start working on this year’s drive this month. But the unit’s move to Montgomery is likely a fatal blow to the toy drive. With the unit’s full-time staff set to move to Montgomery in mid December there will be no one to administer the drive.

That’s just one example of how this closing is about more than just an empty building. It’s about a void that will be left in our city. Let’s hope that our city officials’ plan includes doing whatever they can to bring our unit back to town.