Tuesday, September 06, 2011

TOP STORY >> Cabot welcomes new armory

Leader staff writer

The Cabot Readiness Center was dedicated Tuesday morning, a little more than one year and eight months after the groundbreaking ceremony was held.

In December 2009, guests waded through mud and sat in the cold to listen to speeches about why Cabot was the perfect location for a $10 million Army National Guard armory and how much work had gone into getting one started.

On Tuesday, the weather was cool and sunny. The mud was replaced by newly laid sod. Where backhoes worked in December 2009 is now an armory at 103 Commerce Park Drive, which Maj. Gen. William Wofford, commander of the Arkansas Army and Air National Guard, called the best in the country or even in the world. And other speakers, including now state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R.-Cabot), the mayor who spoke during the groundbreaking, talked about how Cabot is the perfect place for an armory and how much work went into getting one.

But whether it was intended that way or not, the undisputed star of the show was 3-year-old Hudson Taylor, the senator’s grandson who had been told that if he recited the Pledge of Allegiance, the audience would probably clap for him. Hudson, the senator said, wondered if they would give him money.

From his grandfather’s hip, he said the pledge without missing a word. At some point it became clear that he would be able to finish and the audience rose and placed their hands over their hearts. The members of Fox Company, who were already standing, saluted. And when he finished, they applauded just like he had been told they probably would.

It is generally acknowledged that it is because of the quality of the education in Cabot schools that an armory was built there.

“Today’s National Guard is about smart kids running complicated equipment,” the senator said before bringing his grandson to the stage as an example of what he was talking about.

He said later that he hadn’t expected the audience’s reaction. He was just showing off what Hudson had learned to do.

Mayor Bill Cypert also spoke and reiterated what had already been said. Today’s military is known for its intelligence as well as its strength.

Wofford, the adjutant general, said it was the support of the community and the quality of the graduates from Cabot High School that made choosing Cabot “a no-brainer.”

He said that he finds it remarkable that after 10 years of combat young men and women are still enlisting in the military, still “answering the call.”

He agrees with Time Magazine, which calls those young people the new “greatest generation.”

The new armory is home to F Company, a forward support company for the 2-153 Infantry Battalion. F Company is one of six companies, spread over 11 armories in North East Arkansas, that report to the 2-153 Infantry Battalion headquarters in Searcy.

F Company is responsible for re-supplying food, water, and other essentials to the infantry battalion. They also provide transportation, maintenance, and mess services for the infantry battalion.

F Company’s last deployment was in 2008 to Iraq. The next will be to Afghanistan in June 2012.

Architect Steve Elliott spoke about his concern that he wouldn’t be allowed to work on the project because he was in the guard when talk of the project began almost five years ago. But government moves slowly and when the time came to design the project, he was retired.

David Hipp and Wayne “Moose” Cullins, two of the handful of men who pushed then Mayor Williams to help them find a location for the armory and money to build it, spoke afterward.

“I think it’s a dream come true,” Hipp said of the 35,000-square-foot facility.

Hipp, a former member of the Cabot School Board and 32-year veteran of the Air National Guard, said, “There’s a lot of smart kids here. It takes smart kids to run the equipment they use today.”

Cullins, a 38-year veteran of the Air National Guard, said military service might not be right for everyone, but it gives some young people the opportunity for education and travel that they might not have otherwise.

The dignitaries cut the ribbon stretched across the front entrance and the ceremony ended with prayer and everyone singing “The Army Song,” an adaptation of “The Caisson Song.”

And Hudson Taylor went home with a shiny, gold-colored “coin of excellence” that the adjutant general presented him for his flawless rendition of the Pledge.

At three, Hudson was too young to understand that the major general was honoring him for a job well done.

The coin that he proudly showed and refused to allow his grandfather to hold for very long was the money he had suspected he might receive for his efforts. And when his parents saw it, he said they were going to “freak out.”