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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published October 17 2013

ND Guard to pull out of Cavalier; members to be based in Grand Forks to save costs

CAVALIER, N.D. – After 67 years, the North Dakota National Guard unit assigned to its armory here is pulling out and being transferred to the armory in Grand Forks, Guard officials said Thursday.

It won’t mean any big changes for Cavalier, 80 miles northwest of Grand Forks in central Pembina County, say city officials, because the city already uses most of the civic auditorium itself for recreation and other things.

It also won’t affect the small Guard unit that has been meeting there.

The 16 soldiers in the 134th Quartermaster unit focus on water purification, same as the 132nd Quartermaster unit already stationed in Grand Forks, said Guard spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius.

Most of the soldiers already live in or near Grand Forks, she said.

But some history is lost: The space the Guard has been leasing since World War II in the lower level of the 1938 Cavalier auditorium is the oldest facility used by the state Guard, Lorius said.

Which is part of the reason for the move: leaving older facilities for newer ones with more potential for more regional consolidation and upgrades, Guard officials said.

The Hazen Armory, used since 1977, also will be closed and its unit, Detachment 1 of the 818th Engineer Company of sappers, will move to Minot by December.

New realities

“This decision did not come quickly or easily, but challenging times require difficult decisions,” said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general, in a statement.

“We are facing a future of uncertainties both in North Dakota and around the United States due to new national strategies regarding the size and composition of our military force,” he said. “That’s coupled with the drawdown in Afghanistan and constrained funding due to sequestration. We need to find a balance that will allow us to continue to provide support for domestic requirements while maintaining our federal relevancy.”

The closures actually will help save state funding and attract more federal spending focused on larger facilities in larger towns, the general said. More than 70 percent of Guard members live within 10 miles of one of the state’s 10 largest towns.

The North Dakota Guard had 27 facilities in the states for decades, Lorius said.

It closed facilities in Hettinger in the late 1980s, and in Linton, Hillsboro and Harvey in the early 1990s, the only such closures in Guard memory until Thursday’s announcement, Lorius said.

Today, the Guard has 21 armories, including ones in Grand Forks, Mayville, Grafton and the main training center at Camp Grafton just south of Devils Lake.

There are 3,400 soldiers in the Army Guard and about 1,000 airmen in the Air Guard.

In the past five years, the Guard started using the term “regional readiness centers,” for armories, but of course, the word “armory” still appears on some of the buildings as well as in Guard news releases, Lorius said.

Travel savings

Katie Werner, Cavalier auditor, said the city itself still will use the auditorium and the lease money from the Guard amounted to about the cost of heating the building.

Lorius said the Guard’s lease payment was about $9,000 a year, but the total savings from the move, including transportation and other costs adds up to $38,000.

“People from Grand Forks already were traveling to Cavalier for drills so we spent money on motel rooms and stuff and now they can stay in their own homes,” Lorius said. “It’s about how much efficiently we can operate.”

The Guard began leasing space in the building in 1946, she said.

Since 1922

According to the published history of Cavalier, a Women’s Christian Temperance Union Tabernacle and hall stood on the site of the current auditorium on East Main and, in 1922, the Guard held its drills in the WCTU hall, said Tim Schroeder, publisher of the Cavalier Chronicle.

The WCTU hall was razed in the 1930s and, in 1938, the imposing concrete and steel auditorium was erected as a Works Progress Administration project.

Until the 1950s, it was the local high school’s gym and used for district basketball tournaments, said Cecil Watson, a retired farmer who remembers sneaking in to play in the gym at night with teammates. Community and school theater events used the space, which included city hall for decades.

“It was used for dances and roller-skating, used more as a community center,” Watson said. “We had a lot of fun in there.”

The city auditorium still has the original wooden gym floor, stage and balcony and will continue to be used for youth recreation and other things, Auditor Werner said.