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Orr hopes to halt plan to deactivate signal brigade

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

A local state senator said he wants to stop a plan to deactivate an Alabama National Guard signal brigade based in Decatur.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he believes it’s important to keep the 142nd Signal Brigade in operation. But an Alabama National Guard spokesman said U.S. Army and National Guard officials in Washington, not Alabama, ordered the brigade’s de-activation.

Orr said it’s important to maintain a strong local guard presence that can act rapidly during natural disasters and serve as a terrorist deterrent in an area with a strong military and aerospace presence.

The changes are part of a streamlining and modernization plan, said Alabama National Guard spokesman Lt. Colonel Robert Horton.

Early as October

The first steps toward de-activation in Decatur could begin as early as Oct. 1, with completion by Oct. 1, 2008.

Orr said Saturday that he talked to military experts on the staffs of U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, late last week to ask for Congressional help with the situation.

He said Friday he also talked to Sessions’ Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn. The senators promised to look into the matter.

Decatur’s 142nd Signal Brigade currently has three battalions — 1,400 troops and eight to 10 civilian employees.

Horton, said changes would reduce the guard’s presence in Decatur to about 670 troops and four to five employees — one signal battalion and two companies.

A story in Saturday’s Daily said Orr wanted to keep a battalion for Decatur, but he said it is the larger brigade, not a smaller battalion, that he said he wants to keep in the city.

Horton said more modern communications technology means the guard no longer needs as many
troops with that specialty as it once did.

Others slated for change

Decatur’s is not the only guard facility slated for changes, Horton said. Huntsville will loose its 279th Signal Battalion, and Company B, 279th Battalion in Guntersville will be re-organized.

The Guntersville National Guard armory could close unless another guard unit comes in to use the space. Horton called the Guntersville plan tentative.

“The final decision will be based on whether or not the Army allocates additional guard units to Alabama,” Horton said in an e-mailed statement.

“If the Army adds more units between now and the end of the signal’s transformation plan, then there is a possibility of keeping Guntersville armory open,” Horton said.

The final force structure plan comes from the Department of the Army, he added.

Orr said National Guard troop strength is up in the state and he hopes the increased numbers will help persuade Washington to reconsider its plan for de-activation in Alabama.

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