Closures help Iola



February 19, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Closure of armories in five southeast Kansas towns, part of statewide cost-cutting measures, will boost the Kansas National Guard’s presence in Iola. The Iola armory is home to headquarters and maintenance companies of the 891st Engineer Battalion.
The reorganization means an additional 40 soldiers will train in Iola during monthly weekend drills, boosting the complement to 240, said Capt. Sean Linn, battalion administrative officer and headquarters company commander.
Additional vehicles also will be quartered at the Iola armory.
Armories in Chanute, Garnett, Fort Scott, Cherryvale and Winfield will close by the end of this month. Ceremonies to formally hand the armories over to those municipalities will occur in late March or early April. Armories throughout the state were built by host cities, with reversion a part of lease agreements.
About 150 soldiers and a handful of full-time personnel will be affected by consolidation. The 40 soldiers new to the headquarters company will come from Chanute and Garnett and will bring with them fuel and water distribution skills and vehicles. Soldiers in Fort Scott, trained to breach obstacles, will transfer to Pittsburg; those in Cherryvale’s detachment, prepared to detect and destroy improvised explosive devices, will transfer to Augusta; soldiers in Winfield, trained in dirt work and road construction, will also go to Augusta.
The detachment at Cherryvale was not fully staffed when closure was announced. Some soldiers from there are deployed to Afghanistan and “are just getting settled in,” Linn said.
Guard officials have been meeting one-on-one with soldiers directly affected by the closures and some are being given the option to transfer to a detachment and armory of their choosing. Linn said those moving from Chanute and Garnett mostly were agreeable to the transfer; distance is not a factor and some are Iola residents.
The absence of armories in the five towns does not mean local emergencies will be ignored.
“If one of the cities needs emergency services, such as after a flood or severe storm, we’ll be there to help,” Linn said.

THE IOLA armory apparently was not in any danger of being closed, although Linn said he wasn’t aware of the criteria used to make such determinations.
The armory here long has been home for the headquarters and maintenance companies, with 20 full-time Guard personnel reporting daily for administrative duties and to maintain vehicles
Iola’s armory was expanded in the mid-1990s with additions to the west and south. Vehicle maintenance shops directly east of the armory were expanded after that. Small shops in Fort Scott and Coffeyville were closed then with maintenance work transferred to Iola.
Linn noted that outlying armories, now in the process of being closed, had not been expanded.
“Initially, we had some concerns about how we were going to handle additional vehicles, as well as other equipment, moved here because of the closures,” Linn said. But the crunch isn’t as critical as first feared, he said, and could be alleviated altogether if there were some expansion of secure areas adjacent to the armory.
That has been discussed, Linn said, but since thrift is what prompted consolidation, it’s not likely to occur soon.
“There have been no problems of any consequence,” Linn said. “Everything is working out just fine.”

HAVING the armory here is of financial advantage for Iola. Many full-time employees live in or near the city.
On drill weekends, soldiers descend on the armory and many take advantage of local restaurants and motels.
“Soldiers who come from 50 miles or more for drill are put up in Iola motels at the Guard’s expense,” Linn said.

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