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Decatur armory losing unit
142nd Signal Brigade, mainstay at local National Guard facility since 1960s, to be de-activated

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A 1,400-member National Guard unit based in Decatur since the 1960s will cease to exist by late next year.

An Alabama National Guard spokesman said de-activation of the 142nd Signal Brigade could begin by Oct. 1 with an Oct. 1, 2008, target date for complete de-activation. As a result, the number of guardsmen and civilian employees in Decatur will shrink, but the armory will remain open, state guard officials said.

The 279th Signal Battalion in Huntsville is also set for de-activation during that period.

The de-activation is part of an Army-wide modernization plan that is shifting guardsmen throughout the state.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he is concerned about the de-activation and has made calls to state and federal officials.

"I want to work to get it restored, not only for the jobs but because I think it is important to have a brigade in Decatur," Orr said. "That will take time, probably at least a year." Orr said he already contacted members of Congress from Alabama and state National Guard officials. He also wants to discuss the changes with Gov. Bob Riley.

Orr said he first learned about the guard changes at a Madison County legislative delegation meeting. Another Madison delegation member, Rep. Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianville, has been contacted by a Guard member in his district.

"My concern is that we're moving Guard strength out of North Alabama while we have terrorist targets in this part of the state," Hinshaw said. "I do not want to lose Guard numbers for the area, and I do not want troops in this part of the state to have less opportunity to advance in rank."

In place of the signal brigade, Decatur will have one battalion and two signal companies, reducing troop strength at the facility from 1,400 soldiers and eight to 10 civilians to 650 to 700 soldiers and four or five civilian employees.

Alabama National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Horton confirmed the de-activation of the 142nd, the guard's only "major command" north of Birmingham.

Horton said U.S. Army and National Guard Bureau officials in Washington made the decision to de-activate the 142nd as part of a "technology transformation" requiring fewer personnel to handle modern communications.

"The plan is to keep a signal presence in Alabama, but we are working a real fluid situation right now," Horton said. "When we lose a unit, our priority is to take care of our soldiers and to maintain our strength for state needs."

Armory not closing

Horton said the changes do not mean the National Guard Armory in Decatur will close, just that the facility will no longer be home of the 142nd.

Guard troops who are now part of the 142nd and want to remain in a signal company in a scaled-down operation could be re-assigned to another signal group, possibly the 115th Signal Battalion in Florence.

There are also questions about the future training site for members of the 20th Special Forces Group that includes groups in Decatur and Huntsville. Currently, the group includes 158 troops from Huntsville and 38 from Decatur.

Hinshaw said guard officials in Montgomery told him plans call for 20th Special Forces Group members in Huntsville and Decatur to transfer to a new "super armory" in Haleyville that houses Army Reserve and guard operations.

Haleyville is home to Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, who helped secure $13.8 million in military construction appropriations to build the center. Preliminary work on that facility began in 2003.

Aderholt spokesman Michael Lowry said Aderholt did not have any input into troop assignments for the facility. He referred all questions about guard plans to the Alabama National Guard headquarters in Montgomery.

Lowry said Aderholt did secure funding to replace a 45-year-old facility in Haleyville built at a time the late Gov. George C. Wallace was constructing armories around the state.

Lowry said the funding came only because the facility already housed a reserve unit.

"It is my understanding that the old building was decaying and the state lacked funding to maintain the armories it had," he added. "That is the only involvement with congressman had on the project," Lowry added.

Horton also said that Aderholt was not involved in state guard planning.

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