Havre Daily News
Montana Army National Guard and community members in Chinook and Havre on Thursday night heard about the Guard's reorganization plans, including closing the Chinook armory and possibly expanding the Havre armory's mission.
Col. Mike Stone told the audience at the Havre meeting that Guard commanders will meet Sept. 15 to discuss feedback gathered at 16 community meetings held throughout the state. By Oct. 1, reorganization plans should be more firm, Stone said.
The Havre armory is being remodeled and is scheduled to reopen next year as the Havre Readiness Center. It will soon house a quartermaster unit and may be the quartermaster company headquarters, Stone said.
Quartermaster companies builds infrastructure and provides supplies for companies on the ground.
The petroleum supply company currently based in Billings, with units in Havre and Chinook, is scheduled to be disbanded in 2008, Stone said.
Along with supply companies, the Montana Army National Guard will also eliminate artillery companies, which now drill in armories in eastern Montana. Those will likely be replaced with military police and other types of companies, Stone said.
Reorganization means that more slots will be available for women, he added.
Havre will have 11 fewer drill positionsassigned to it, but in reality may have more Guard members actually drilling in Havre, Stone said.
Throughout the state, the Guard has authorized more positions than are filled. The proposed change will decrease the number of positions from about 3,000 to about 2,500, but will fill all of those slots, Stone said.
"The soldiers in Montana still have positions," he said.
The goal is to treat Guard units as operational, not strategic, Stone said. That means that after the reorganization, companies will be able to mobilize more quickly. In recent mobilizations, soldiers had to be moved from some companies and placed in others in order for any to be mobilized at all, Stone said.
Local soldiers with the 443rd Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants Company, with units in Havre and Chinook, were among those who had to be shifted to other companies, Stone said. They were mobilized to fill the Kalispell-based 639th Quartermaster Company.
Sgt. Tim Callahan was one of those soldiers. He said at the meeting that he is happy about the proposed change for Havre.
"I loved it," he said of his time with the quartermaster company. "I want to join with it."
The closure of the Chinook armory will only affect one job, though it may mean more driving time for other people, Stone said. The machine shop at the Chinook armory will remain open. It employs two people full time and sometimes a third.
Sgt. Tony English is the only person whose position would be affected by the change, and English will retire in a few months, Stone said.
Fewer than six people from Chinook drill at the Chinook armory, Stone said. They will change drill sites based on their preference, rank and training.
The reorganization will mean retraining for many Guard members in the state, Stone said.
That was something that Ernie Harrell wanted to hear more about. Harrell is a retired Guard member from Havre. He spent 35 years with the Guard, he said in an interview after the meeting.
"Every time you change it, it's hard work to be requalified," Harrell told Stone. Harrell recalled that Havre had once housed a support company, like a quartermaster company, and then was changed to a supply company. It is, in essence, going back to what it was, he said.
Stone agreed that successive reorganizations mean repeated retrainings. In his career, he said, he's been through four.
Phil Howard, a warrant officer with the 3669th Maintenance Company based in Helena, wanted to know if the Guard plans to begin reimbursing soldiers for gas mileage.
"At gas prices now, a 400-mile round-trip will eat up your drill check," he said.
Howard, who lives in Havre, travels to Helena where he's a technician in a machine shop. He said after the meeting that he's curious to know if the Guard will have the same type of machinery in Missoula, where it proposes to transfer machine shops like the one where Howard drills.
That was information Stone said he doesn't have yet.
Otherwise, Howard said, the reorganization is not likely to affect him much, besides changing where he drills.