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Spending bill includes armory funds

When the National Guardsmen of Monticello’s 106th BrigadeSupport Battalion return home from Iraq next year, they may get offthe bus in front of a brand new base.

An omnibus spending bill passed by Congress over the weekendcontains $14.3 million earmarked for the construction of a newarmory for the unit, securing a project local and National Guardleaders have pursued for several years. The unit embarked upon ayearlong deployment last summer, leaving behind their old,antiquated headquarters just off Highway 84.

“The plans are done, the property is bought, the environmentalwork is already done – we’re ready,” said Monticello Mayor DaveNichols. “We’re very pleased with the work of Sen. (Thad) Cochran,Sen. (Roger) Wicker and Rep. (Gregg) Harper. Cochran is the one whogot it put in the Senate bill, Wicker was in agreement with thatand Harper was very strong on the House side as well.”

The bill is awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature.

Nichols and other local leaders have made the construction of anew armory for the local unit their top priority on annual visitswith Mississippi congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., forthree years. He said the project has been the National Guard’s topunfunded priority for several years while it awaited addition tothe Future Years Defense Plan (FYDEP), which the military compilesevery other year.

This was the year the Monticello armory was supposed to be addedto the FYDEP, Nichols said, but after Obama canceled the list,congressmen lobbied for and secured a federal appropriation for itsconstruction. The state must match the appropriation with a further$2 million, the mayor said.

Nichols hopes construction on the new base will be ready byspring 2010.

“This will be Mississippi’s premiere readiness center,” Nicholssaid. “This is also an economic development issue. You’ve gotseveral full-time jobs out there, and when this new place is built,they’re going to need another five to eight jobs.”

Mike Sandifer, the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of thebase while the unit is deployed, said the 140 members of the HHC106th BSB are in dire need of a new armory. The current base, builtin 1953, is inadequate for training the unit’s men and women andhousing the large amount of equipment a BSB needs, he said.

“We have people stacked up on top of each other working when thewhole crew is back and not in Iraq,” Sandifer said. “When you’vegot people in here for drills, you don’t have the training space totrain these folks or the office space to work them. You’ve got anoffice here that’s 10 x 10, and when you’ve got 15 people in thatsection, it’s hard to do anything.”

Details on the new headquarters are not finalized, but Sandifersaid it would be much larger and have plenty of classrooms andtraining space.

The defining feature of the current base, and one of its biggestdrawbacks, is a rusting Quonset hut installed years ago after itwas purchased used from Camp Shelby. Quonset huts were developedduring World War II and have long since been discontinued.

“We’ve got a million dollars worth of equipment out there andwe’ve got to throw tarps over it because it leaks so bad,” Sandifersaid.