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Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published March 15 2014

ND Guard may downsize; federal budget cuts may force state to pull out of 1 or more cities

The North Dakota National Guard would have to reduce its troop strength by as much as 8.8 percent – 250 to 300 soldiers – to meet proposed cuts outlined in the U.S. Department of Defense Fiscal 2015 budget.

That could mean that one or more of the 18 cities hosting National Guard units could lose its local Guard connection.

“We’re already looking at how we will implement the changes,” said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota’s adjutant general. “But there are no definites yet.”

The Defense Department is calling for a 20,000-soldier reduction, from 355,000 to 335,000, throughout the Armed Forces, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced late last month.

The North Dakota National Guard now has about 4,400 soldiers, including about 3,400 in the Army Guard and 1,000 in the Air Guard.

Rather than spreading the cuts across units throughout the state, officials more likely would drop entire companies or detachments, Sprynczynatyk said.

“We wouldn’t take a unit and cut it in half,” he said. “What we would do, and we’ve already begun the process, is look at each unit, its mission, its capability, its location. We would look at what is most important to provide for homeland security and for defense.”

The Guard also would examine its recruiting efforts in all parts of the state, he said. Communities that lag behind recruiting goals or are faced with other issues could be considered for closure.

While a timetable has not been established, Sprynczynatyk said Guard officials will work over the next several weeks or few months to determine how best to make the necessary cuts.

Camp Grafton safe

Those cuts are not expected to include Camp Grafton, the Guard’s training facility located south of the city of Devils Lake, Sprynczynatyk said.

The facility, which is home of the 164th Regional Training Institute, as well as two other units, provides training for more than 3,000 soldiers a year. They come from all over the nation, mostly for two-week periods, to learn engineering skills such as road, bridge and building construction, as well as officer training.

The Guard dedicated a new $30 million training institute at Camp Grafton in 2010.

“What we have at Camp Grafton and the RTI is a training school that is second to none in the National Guard,” Sprynczynatyk said. “It’s recognized. Everything that we’ve heard certainly would strongly indicate a good future for the RTI. It’s not something our nation can afford to give up.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 4,000 soldiers and 2,400 airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism, according to the Guard’s public affairs office. The Guard also mobilized in the state in times of flooding and other natural disasters.