May 13, 2015 Edition

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WR Armory faces
possible consolidation

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

A meeting called by Major General Mark Berry and Colonel Greg Bacon Tuesday morning revealed the possibility of the local National Guard Armory being shut down and consolidated into the Newport center.

Many officials attended the meeting, including Mayor Charles Snapp, County Judge Dale Freeman, Rep. James Ratliff and Senator Blake Johnson.

Snapp spoke against the closing of the armory at the meeting. "I am 100 percent supportive of the Guard and I'm 150 percent against losing our armory," Snapp said.

The briefing explained that due to budget constraints, both the Walnut Ridge and Rector based armories are facing being closed. However, the decision is still two to three weeks out and in the meantime, many local officials are encouraging community members to write Gov. Asa Hutchinson in support of keeping the armory open.

"I've already got my letter written and in the governor's box," Ratliff said. He said he also encourages sending letters to U.S. Senator John Boozman and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford. "The armory is a big asset for our community and we should keep it in Walnut Ridge where it is centrally located."

At the meeting, Snapp proposed that if two armories had to be closed, then the Newport and Rector armories should consolidate into the Walnut Ridge site, which is located between the other two.

In addition, the local armory would aid the Walnut Ridge Regional Airports disaster relief efforts as it becomes a staging area for natural disasters and other emergencies. Snapp said the airport would not only serve Northeast Arkansas, but would provide relief to a multiple-state region and the National Guard would help to secure it.

Walnut Ridge Alderman Jon Walter commented after the meeting, sharing some of the history of the armory, which was built in 1955, and the Guard's local efforts.

"We have had a National Guard presence here since at least the late 1890s, when WK Surridge led a contingent of men from Hoxie and Walnut Ridge to support the 4th Infantry Regiment in the Spanish American War," Walter said.

Should the armory be closed, officials said the building would be left to the city, however Snapp said that would do little to make up for the loss.

"The Guard is more important to us than that building ever would be," Snapp said.

Since the meeting, several officials have started to reach out through social media to rally people to write letters.

"This is not a done deal," Walter posted on Facebook. "If you have time, write a letter to Governor Asa Hutchinson, and plead the case to keep the National Guard in Walnut Ridge, he is the ultimate decision maker on this."

Hutchinson's address is Governor Asa Hutchinson, State Capitol Room 250, 500 Woodlane Ave. Little Rock, AR 72201. Additional contact information and an online submission form is available at governor.arkansas.gov/contact-info.

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