Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Guard Readiness Center Receives Long Overdue Funds

Built in 1937, the 18,000-square-foot Iowa Armory National Guard Readiness Center in Iowa City served as a riding arena and stable for the Iowa cavalry, accommodating 125 men and their horses. Seventy-one years later, the same facility houses training facilities for five Iowa National Guard units with nearly 400 officers. The increasing demands of the National Guard and the building's poor conditions have required expensive repairs and renovations.

After 20 years of collaborative efforts to procure funding for a new readiness center for Iowa National Guard troops, members of Iowa’s Democratic delegation, Sen Tom Harkin and Rep. Dave Loebsack, announced the center’s groundbreaking this summer, thanks to the procurement of $13 million in federal funds.

Sen. Harkin (right) and Rep. Loebsack (middle) talk with members from the 109th Medical Battalion

“I feel proud to have been able to secure these funds for the brave women and men who serve our country every day. The construction of this new facility will help the Iowa National Guard complete essential mobilization and readiness training and prepare for their missions,” Harkin told members of the 109th Medical Battalion gathered at the ceremony. “Iowa Guard members play an integral role in strengthening our nation’s defenses, and they deserve the very best as they prepare for their duties.”

Loebsack joined Harkin at the press conference, echoing his commitment to Iowa Guard members. “I must compliment the Iowa National Guard for your resourcefulness in maintaining the operational capacity of this readiness center. But at 71 years old, it does show its age, and enough is enough,” Loebsack told Guard members. “It’s time for something new. The citizen soldiers who serve the Iowa National Guard deserve only the finest training facilities, and this is clearly not up to par. We have a responsibility to serve you with the same dedication that you have served us, and I believe this readiness center reflects our commitment to doing so.”

Rep. Loebsack addresses 109th Guard members while standing next to picture of proposed readiness center

The federal funds were the final notch in the funding scheme, for the state of Iowa had already earmarked $5 million in matching funds in 2003 and 2004, and the Iowa Legislature approved appropriations each year since then, Adjunct Gen. Ron Dardis said. “This journey truly has been a partnership,” Dardis said. “In addition to the federal and state funds, we couldn’t have done this without the land swap with Johnson County in 2001 and the City of Iowa City providing sewer and water capabilities.”

The new 80,000-square-foot facility will be located on approximately 25 acres, providing an assembly hall, kitchen, classrooms, and administrative and recruiting space. It will include parking for personal and military vehicles. The project has been the Guard’s top priority for the past three years and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2010.

Harkin, a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War, addressed some of the current readiness concerns that face Iowa’s citizen soldiers. “As you all know very well, this is a new era for the Guard. You are shouldering a major share of the combat burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Harkin said. “Many Guard members are on their third or fourth deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it speaks volumes that four times as many Guard members have been killed in Iraq than there were in the entire war in Vietnam -- my war.”

“Like you, during all my years of training in the military, there was one thing that was always drilled into my head: Never leave a buddy behind,” Harkin told Guard members. “That not only applies to the battlefield but to the home front as well. We owe you the best facilities and equipment, and on that score, we have been falling woefully short. In my opinion, we have been leaving many of our guard members behind. The good news, however, is that we are not in denial.”

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"


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