National Guard Representative Visit Rector
Representatives from the Arkansas National Guard, including Adjutant Gen. Mark Berry, met Tuesday afternoon with Rector City officials and concerned citizens to discuss the possibility of closing the local armory.
It is the second such meeting in recent years, with the earlier session leading to a decision to keep the Rector armory open.
National Guardsmen from the local unit would be assigned to another armory for drills and the facility in Rector would be donated to the city, said Chief of Staff of the Arkansas National Guard Gregory Bacon.
The city would be able to use the building for whatever they deemed necessary. As examples, Charleston has turned the armory into a city hall and Berryville is considering using their armory as an educational facility.
No decisions have been made yet, but Tuesday's meeting was one of eight throughout the state in which local communities are visited to determine reaction to the cost-saving measures. Information and public input will be submitted to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for a final decision.
The concept being proposed is to close down facilities in Rector and Walnut Ridge with Guardsmen then being relocated to Newport for regular drills. Rector is authorized for 41 soldiers, but currently houses 28. Walnut Ridge is authorized to hold 90 soldiers, but only houses 74. Newport was shut down last August and its unit was moved south to Beebe, but Bacon says the facility at Newport is newer and the recruit capability is higher.
The decision to look at potential closing of Rector and Walnut Ridge, along with Berryville, Brinkley, Wynne, West Helena, Crossett and Blytheville was made after the federal government hired a national contractor to conduct an independent analysis. The findings were constructed by looking at the fore-structure of the Arkansas National Guard and the 2010 census information combined, and an efficiency rating was determined based upon the engineers' findings. This is known as the Jacob study, which is a readiness center transformation master plan.
At this time there are 62 armories in Arkansas with the majority located along interstate highways.
The analysis came about because of the decrease in the military budget two years ago.
Clay County has a population of 16,000, and the number of possible recruits is only 3,557, which makes recruitment difficult, the Guard representatives said. They added that new standards in place by the federal government also make recruitment harder than in years' past. The score to pass the AFAB recruitment test previously was 31; now it stands at 50. The $10,000 sign-on bonus has been removed.
Costs to keep the Rector facility open last year were $37,000, Bacon said.
Adjutant Gen. Berry said he has to look at the process from a business model perspective, and he's trying to do what is best for Arkansas as a whole.
Several city officials and residents, including mayor Teresa Roofe, voiced their concern and unwillingness to let go of the armory. They cited the local economic impact and the need to preserve as many institutions as possible in the small community.
State Rep. Joe Jett asked what it would take to keep the armory open, but he received no specific answer. He pledged to continue looking into alternatives to closing the facility.
Also in attendance were Diane Holm and Nathan Davis, representing U.S. Sen. John Boozman; Andrea Allen, Deputy Chief of Staff for Congressman Crawford, and State Sen. Blake Johnson.