July 6, 2005

Roanoke Times reports on Virginia Guard reorganization

By John Cramer (john.cramer@roanoke.com)
The Roanoke Times

The Virginia Army National Guard in Roanoke and surrounding communities expects to be stronger, more efficient and have more female soldiers as part of the state's military reorganization plan.

The 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, will become a larger and more diversified force as part of a 1st Brigade Combat team that includes infantry, support, military police and transportation soldiers.

"It's a large impact in a positive way," said Maj. Lapthe Flora, the 1st Battalion's new commander.

The number of soldiers based at the Roanoke armory will drop from 351 to 307 because the facility's infantrymen have been reassigned elsewhere. But a big change at the armory will be the creation of support and military police units, which are expected to attract more women. The military police unit also will create more opportunities for Southwest Virginia men who are civilian law enforcement officers, Flora said.

Women will able to serve in all four units at the Reserve Avenue armory instead of only two. The number of women based at the armory was unavailable Tuesday. The Guard has set no target for the number of women in the new units.

Army policy excludes women from traditional front-line units, such as infantry, but they can serve in combat-support units, including the military police and transportation, both of which are being added to the Roanoke armory.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have blurred the definition of front lines, and growing numbers of women have been involved in combat. Women from Southwest Virginia are serving in the Rocky Mount-based 1173rd Transportation Company in Iraq. However, there is none in Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, a light infantry unit that includes more than 200 men from Roanoke, Bedford, Christiansburg and elsewhere.

Under a restationing plan announced recently, the Guard will reorganize some units, move some, eliminate some and create others across the state to better meet its military and civilian emergency duties.

The changes mean some soldiers will have to retrain for new jobs, while others may have to travel to other areas for training. No soldiers will lose their jobs.

"It'll make the whole organization more robust and self-sufficient," Flora said.

Some Roanoke-based soldiers said they didn't mind traveling to another armory as long as they could stay in the same job. Others said they would retrain for a new job because they want to stay in Roanoke.

Sgt. 1st Class Frank Davilla, a full-time 1st Battalion guardsman from Vinton, said many soldiers weren't voicing their opinions about the reorganization plan until they see how it works out.

"Right now, we don't know what's going to happen, who's going to end up where," said Davilla, who has spent 15 years in the National Guard. "A lot of things are still up in the air."

Staff Sgt. Timothy Baker, a full-time 29th Division guardsman from Evington who has been in the Army for 14 years, will remain at the Roanoke armory in his position as a trainer for new recruits. He said many soldiers are uncertain where they will fit into the reorganized Guard.

The Virginia National Guard developed the restationing plan under the direction of the National Guard Bureau and the U.S. Army.

The Virginia National Guard has about 7,500 members statewide. Under the reorganization, the Guard is authorized to have 7,586 soldiers but will set its goal higher - at 7,700 - for training, recruiting and retention efforts.

The 1st Battalion plans to have all its soldiers assigned to existing or new units by September and to have its first formation in November.

Statewide, the Guard plans to complete its reorganization by Sept. 1, 2006. Key changes in Southwest Virginia include:

• The 1st Battalion's headquarters unit with 116 soldiers and the infantry unit with 59 soldiers will be eliminated.

• A 29th Division support unit with 123 soldiers and a military police unit with 67 soldiers will be created.

• The 29th Division Band will drop from 41 soldiers to 40, while the chemical unit will decrease from 135 soldiers to 77.

• The 1st Battalion's headquarters will shift from Roanoke to the Lynchburg armory.

• The 1st Battalion, which includes infantry units from Pulaski, Radford, Bedford, Christiansburg and Clifton Forge, will add a transportation unit from Martinsville and infantry units from Lexington and Farmville.

• The 1st Battalion's strength will increase from 550 to 680 soldiers.

• The four new units at the Roanoke armory - support, military police, band and chemical - will be part of the 1st Brigade Combat Team.

(C)2005 The Roanoke Times


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