By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Local and state officials, veterans and residents met with New Mexico National Guard Army and Air Force generals on Thursday at Mesalands Community College to determine how to keep the local armory from closing.
“Give us a hard goal that we need to meet to keep the armory in Tucumcari open,” said state Rep. Dennis Roch.
There has been no official decision made and the purpose of the event was to meet with the public and discuss what the National Guard is doing concerning consolidation of units across the state, said Army Brig. Gen. Juan Griego, deputy adjutant general of joint forces headquarters in Santa Fe.
Griego and Air Force Brig. Gen. Andre Salas, who also is attached to the joint forces headquarters, spoke with residents, local officials and Roch and state Sen. Pat Woods, who were all concerned about the possibility of the National Guard Transportation Unit being transferred to Santa Rosa and the armory in Tucumcari being closed.
Griego said the National Guard has had to make some tough decisions to protect the force structure of the service. He said with the new model the National Guard is following, vacant positions in the state need to move to areas where they can be filled.
Griego said there are currently 25 positions assigned to the armory in Tucumcari; of those positions, 18 are filled with only three of them living in Tucumcari. He said there are 10 National Guard members enlisted from Tucumcari, while the other seven members are assigned to units in different parts of the state.
Griego said it is difficult to get recruits to sign up when they have to drive to Tucumcari to take part in drill operations. He said some have been commuting from as far away as Albuquerque. “This is not an issue we are seeing just in Tucumcari. It is happening in many readiness centers across the state,” Griego added.
One of the problems in Tucumcari is that many high school students are not excited about joining the transport division stationed here in Tucumcari, said recently retired Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Tim Clark.
Clark said there was also an issue of the commercial driver’s license certifications and training earned from the National Guard not being recognized by the state’s Motor Vehicle Department. He said he could operate the transport trucks while in uniform but not when he is wearing civilian clothes.
“There is little to no incentive for the youth to join when the benefits to join have been reduce or don’t carry over after service,” Clark said. “Moving the local armory and requiring them to have to drive to Santa Rosa or even Albuquerque is sure to hurt recruitment chances even more.”
Griego said they have been working with the motor vehicles agency to get the certification recognized and the divisions assigned to areas based on the availability of units assigned to the state. He said the main goal is to prevent the loss of any strength or force structure in the National Guard’s readiness.
“There has been an armory in Tucumcari since World War II and this community has a great legacy of military service,” said retired Army Major Bill Curry.
Curry said the National Guard cannot meet the needs of the state if all positions are relocated to the major metropolitan areas. He said moving the units out of rural areas would decrease the effectiveness of the guard’s ability to respond to natural disasters.
“I sense, despite what has been said here, the decision has already been made,” Curry said.
Roch said the legacy of an armory established in World War II should mitigate a 54-mile difference that soldiers have to drive for drill.
Griego said the National Guard will take a hard look at how many more recruits would be needed to keep the armory in Tucumcari open and said he plans to get back in touch with residents in a month.
“I passed by the armory here in Tucumcari and would like to know where are the trucks and equipment normally stationed there,” asked resident Glenda Reid.
Griego said he was not sure where the trucks or equipment were, but said he would look into the matter.
During the town hall meeting, Griego said in 2013, the defense budget passed by Congress included a mandate requiring all National Guard units to study readiness centers in the United States. He said New Mexico opted to be a part of the pilot program to develop the study outline.
Griego said the data collected and reviewed for this study included the types of units, demographics, recruiting results, age of facilities and the type of facilities needed for the services available by the National Guard units in New Mexico.
Griego said study results showed the National Guard is short 240,000 square feet of floor space for the types of units and number of service personnel in the state. He said the study also showed too much square footage is not being utilized in the state.
Griego said the study presented to state National Guard officials concluded there is not enough space in areas where the recruitment is the greatest and there is too much space in areas where recruiting has declined. He said the low recruitment in rural areas and decline of federal and state money to operate and maintain the facilities has put the National Guard in a position to review the 27 readiness centers across the state, including the one in Tucumcari.