General says NH Guard sites foster '2nd-class' image
MANCHESTER - Next time there's a war, New Hampshire troops may have to muster out of buildings that went up during the Cold War, don't meet modern health and safety codes and are exposed to terrorist attacks.
That's according to New Hampshire National Guard's top uniformed leader, who said the Pentagon has neglected construction of National Guard readiness centers over the last decade.
A recent study by the Army National Guard ranked New Hampshire readiness centers as the worst among the 14 states reviewed.
And it graded three of the New Hampshire National Guard centers as failing, including the state's largest - the New Hampshire State Armory at 1059 Canal St., Manchester, which was built in 1938.
The Manchester center is undersized by 68 percent, the state National Guard said. Its showers are broken. Its sprinkler system is so outdated the building can't be rented out.
And it doesn't meet anti-terrorism force-protection standards adopted after 9/11, said Maj. Gen. William Reddel III, the adjutant general for New Hampshire.
"You could pull up a truck with explosives and basically level the building," Reddel said.
However, as the country pulls back on military spending after more than a decade of war, it may be difficult to find the money needed to upgrade National Guard centers, Reddel said.
The military construction budget for the Army National Guard nationwide is $321 million this year. Just three years earlier, Congress devoted $874 million to National Guard construction projects.
"Maintaining modern and well-maintained National Guard facilities is a key part of our military readiness, and funding for military construction should reflect that importance," said U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who recently raised the issue of the Manchester readiness center at a hearing of the Readiness Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
Ayotte said the Army has not given Guard construction projects enough priority.
The wife of an Air Force National Guard pilot, Ayotte said she will continue to press the Pentagon to address the condition of readiness centers across the nation. Ayotte said the budget sequester, which kicks into high gear in 2016, is the biggest threat to military construction projects.
The Readiness Center Transformation Master Plan draft was prepared in February by Burns & McDonnell, a national engineering consulting group.
The draft report rates readiness centers in Manchester, Concord and Portsmouth as "failing.'' The Guard still uses the facilities for drills and training purposes. A dozen others were rated "poor.'' The only one to receive a "fair" rating was the joint force headquarters building in Concord, which was built in 2006.
For the country as a whole, National Guard facilities are an average of 42 years old, Reddel said. Most were built in the 1950s. The population was dispersed in rural areas, and their focus was more on people and less on communications and high-technology, according to talking points distributed by the National Guard.
As a whole, New Hampshire would need an additional 394,000 square feet of buildings and 27,000 acres to properly house its Guard operations.
Reddel said it could cost up to $17 million to build a new Manchester area readiness center. It wouldn't be located in the middle of the city. When National Guard facilities are built, state government is expected to contribute the land; the Pentagon pays for the building; and maintenance and upkeep are shared equally.
Reddel faults the Army for neglecting the needs of the Guard while building up bases over the last decade. The active-duty military got all the attention for its buildings and bases, even though the Guard and reserves comprise 51 percent of the country's fighting force.
"Sometimes our warriors are treated like second-class warriors," he said. "When we have a building that looks like it's made for second-class warriors, how would you feel?"