Armories latest victims of cuts

TOPEKA — The latest round of state budget cuts has prompted the head of Kansas' National Guard to do his own version of base realignment and closure.

Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting plans to close 18 of the state's 56 National Guard armories. The moves will save nearly $157,000 in the fiscal year that ends June 30, and more than $260,000 in the following year.

"Even if we were to return to the funding levels we've had in recent years, we cannot continue to sustain viable operations in all 56 armories across the state," Bunting said. "This is a challenging time requiring difficult choices."

Bunting, the state's adjutant general, won't announce which armories will close until December, giving him time to meet with communities and notify National Guard members. He has been operating the Guard's armories with only 65 percent of the money necessary to keep them functioning for some time, he said.

Wichita has three armories.

The east armory at 620 N. Edgemoor has 222 soldiers assigned to it. Sixteen of those are full time. The others practice drills there once a month and two weeks a year.

The south Wichita armory, 3617 S. Seneca, has 322 soldiers assigned to it. Seven of those are full time.

The west Wichita armory at 3535 W. Douglas, has 167 soldiers, 13 of which are full time.

The state will still build a new armory in Wichita in 2011, which will be funded by the federal government.

The closure of 18 armories around the state means that 19 full-time National Guard soldiers will be reassigned to other armories, while 678 soldiers will have to go to other locations for regular drills.

The closures and consolidation of people and equipment is expected to be complete by June 30, 2010. The buildings, some of which were built in the 1950s, will be transferred to local communities for use and removed from state property inventory.

The changes affect only Army National Guard facilities and not any of the Air National Guard locations at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Forbes Field in Topeka or Smoky Hill Air National Guard Range in Salina.

Bunting said that it isn't likely that any of the armories would be reopened in the coming years as state revenues rebound and that additional closures and consolidations may be required. He gave similar statements to legislators when testifying in October during hearings.

"They will only be done as these were, after careful consideration of the impact of our mission, public safety capabilities and long-term sustainability," Bunting said.

With the cuts announced Monday, the adjutant general's budget is a little more than $5 million in state funds, not counting debt service and disaster relief dollars. Activities associated with the National Guard, such as salaries for soldiers and airmen, maintaining equipment and training, are covered by federal funds appropriated by Congress.

Some of the armories will remain unoccupied while equipment and personnel are transferred and operations are consolidated.

Bunting said the goal was to maintain a National Guard presence in each of the state's seven designated homeland security regions to support response operations to storms or other disasters.

Kansas has closed a handful of armories in the past decade, including ones in Belleville and Mankato earlier in 2009. Typically the closures have been because of shifting populations and not enough Guardsmen in the areas to support having a drill or training location.

"There has never been a large number closed at one time as is occurring now," said spokeswoman Sharon Watson.

Capt. Jamie Davis, spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, said there have been closures in recent years as the Air and Army forces unify their operations, creating joint force headquarters.

"It negates the need for facilities across the state. From a logistical standpoint, it makes sense," Davis said. "If we're talking one weekend a month (for drills), all things considered, it 's not as intrusive."