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39th finishing its armory pullout

Feelings mixed as it exits its home since 1967, heads for camp

By Cammie Bellamy

This article was published August 3, 2014 at 3:37 a.m.


Spc. Daniel Ridling waits for a forklift to move a shelf Saturday morning at Ricks National Guard Armory in Little Rock as the 39th Infantry Brigade moves to North Little Rock’s Camp Robinson.

Carefully packing chairs, shelves and military radios, members of the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Arkansas National Guard were clearing out the unit's old headquarters Saturday as part of their final drill at Ricks Armory in Little Rock.

Shifting the unit out of the building it has occupied since 1967 has taken weeks, but by Saturday armory storage facilities were mostly empty. Saturday's drill was the last of its kind -- next month, Guardsmen will report for their drills at North Little Rock's Camp Robinson.

"That'll be the first time the 39th headquarters would have been reporting for a drill somewhere other than Ricks since '67," brigade spokesman Capt. Nathan Perry said.

"We started moving about two months ago, and we expect to be completely moved out sometime by the end of September," he said.

Though the brigade's nearly 50-year history with the armory carries nostalgia for many, Maj. Christopher Scherey, who has served 15 years with the unit, said he looked forward to working out of Camp Robinson.

"[I'm] mostly excited to get to the new one," he said. "It makes perfect sense for us to be on Camp Robinson as one of the premier brigades, and it's an awesome building we're moving into."

The move will shift the 150 personnel assigned to the armory to Camp Robinson, including 20 administrators who will work day jobs at the camp. Unit members will be spread across a few buildings while renovations are underway at a larger, permanent headquarters at the camp. State National Guard officials hope to have that building ready for the brigade by early next year.

"It's going to be a larger facility, and it's also going to be a lot newer," he said. "We're moving into buildings that were built maybe in the '90s, 2000s. Some of the facilities we're going to be moving into are going to be really nice."

Perry said that although the move had long been planned, roof damage from a June storm accelerated the relocation. The armory's future isn't definite, but negotiations are ongoing on a plan for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the building's owner, to sell it to the nearby University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Sgt. First Class Kathryn Braden, who enlisted with the National Guard in 2003 before going to Ricks Armory in 2005, is a Little Rock native. Braden said trips to Arkansas Travelers baseball games at the now-defunct Ray Winder Field next to the armory first introduced her to the building's familiar dome.

Perry said leaving the armory is a mix of happy and sad feelings.

"For us to move from Ricks -- which is a great armory to be at, and it's kind of historic for the fact that we've been here so long -- but we're moving to a facility that's been recognized by [the National Guard Bureau] as one of the top training facilities in the country," he said.

"I think there's a lot of history and tradition that people kind of can associate with Ricks because of the heritage, but I think the soldiers ... are going to be more excited about moving into camp than nostalgic."

The move itself has been no small feat. Arkansas National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Matt Snead said the brigade was responsible for transporting a wide range of equipment.

"Everything that you find in a normal office building, like printers and copiers, to military equipment like Humvees, tents, military computer systems and equipment, weapons -- though it's more small-caliber things," Snead said.

Perry said it was hard to quantify the amount of equipment stored at the armory.

"Over 47 years in the facility, you're going to accumulate a lot of stuff," he said.

Braden said she'll miss the familiarity of the armory, but thinks the brigade will be well-suited to Camp Robinson.

"Just the fact that I've been here for nine years, I mean, you get accustomed to it," she said. "It's kind of like leaving a home that you've lived in your whole life. But you know, it's time to move on and time to start bigger and better things for our brigade."

Metro on 08/03/2014

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