Guard has been vital to Linden

Published 8:36 am Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Linden will hold its annual Veterans Day Parade Thursday. Linden’s National Guard unit will play a big role in that event for what may be the final time.

A press release from the Alabama National Guard last week listed Linden’s armory as one of 13 facilities to be closed within the next year.

“Many of the Alabama Guard’s facilities are aging. The maintenance for these sub-standard armories is expensive and diverts funds that could be better utilized on other facilities. The Alabama Guard is saving more than $7 million by vacating these armories instead of bringing them to the current standard and will save more than a quarter of a million dollars each year in maintenance costs for these 13 facilities,” the release stated. “Approximately 59 percent of Alabama National Guard facilities are more than 30 years old. This will increase to approximately 72 percent by 2016. Older facilities in poor condition have various and widespread negative impacts on several things to include quality of work environment; health and safety concerns; space and capabilities to conduct proper, state-of-the-art training; and recruiting and retention of the highest quality Soldiers,” the release stated.

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The announcement came as a surprise to many, given that Linden’s current armory was built less than 20 years ago. Dedicated in 1997, Fort Hill-McManus-Boggs was constructed to hold two units and is co-located with an OMS Shop. Given the relative newness of the Linden armory and its capacity to hold an additional unit, Linden Mayor Mitzi Gates along with Tom Boggs and others are aiming to persuade decision makers to keep the Linden armory open.

“You’re closing an armory in a city,” Boggs said. “That is a blip. Nobody knows. But in small town America, that armory is a way of life. That is the way it has always been.”

Boggs, a Linden native, saw the first National Guard unit placed in Linden in 1953. Four years later, Boggs joined that unit at only 17 years of age. He went on to spend 35 years in some form of military service, most of it in the Linden-based unit.

Since its 1953 inception, the Linden-based Guard unit has served during international conflicts and domestic disturbances.

In 1961, the unit was called to Active Duty during the Freedom Riders demonstrations centered in Montgomery and worked to maintain order in a difficult environment where violence would have been an easy option.

On Oct. 1, 1961, the unit was called into active federal service during the Berlin Crisis. In the absence of their customary Guard unit, the citizens of Linden formed a Home Guard to fill the void and keep the community protected in the event of an unforeseen Soviet attack.

“It is a military presence and it is just something that an American feels comfortable having in their community,” Boggs said of role Guard units have played in society over the years.

The Linden-based Battalion played a role in the University of Alabama School integration and the Alabama School System integration in 1963. The unit would return to the Civil Rights scene in 1965 when it spent time in Selma and Montgomery to serve as a peacekeeping force during the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

“The Guard units have shown they can cut the mustard since the beginning of this country,” Boggs noted.

Linden has maintained an active unit since 1953, having lost its status as the Battalion Headquarters for a brief period in the late 1970s when that distinction was given to the Prattville armory. On Sept. 1, 1981, the Battalion Headquarters was returned to Linden. During the reactivation ceremony, Gov. Fob James observed that the headquarters should never have been moved from Linden in the first place.

“An active armory is in use by the public all the time, whether it be a dance or a supper, a fundraiser, anything,” Boggs said. “There are a good number of jobs there (at the Linden armory). In a small town, you can’t afford to lose a single job. That is economic impact. Then, on Saturdays that you’ve got the unit doing drill, you’ve got to buy food to feed the unit. That’s economic impact.”

For nearly 60 years, Linden’s landscape has featured a National Guard Armory and its accompanying unit. If the Alabama National Guard holds true to its intention, the city’s future may no longer contain an important piece of its past.