Remembering armory history
The crew in the olive chamo is trained to feed an entire hungry battalion in the field of combat. So serving up celebratory treats and ice cream to a few hundred patriotic Storm Lake area visitors Sunday was, pardon the pun - a piece of cake.
A crowd packed the John R. Anderson Readiness Center (commonly known as the Storm Lake Armory) for a rededication ceremony after a $1.37 million renovation and expansion project that began in September of 2005.
Just as the building was completed, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team evolved into the new local unit, Company G, Forward Support Company, 334th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.
In case you can't remember all that, the infantry division is nicknamed simply "Red Bull" by the men and women who serve.
The citizen soldiers based with Company G in Storm Lake provide everything from "beans to bullets" as well as vehicle support to put the First Battalion, 194th Field Artillery into action.
A pair of uniformed soldiers met visitors at the doors, and Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood welcomed the crowd. He noted that the National Guard has been "blessed with great support from the Storm Lake community for many years," with the Guard tradition dating back to even before the armory was built in 1958.
The crowd included a number of former Guardsmen who served in the early days of the Storm Lake unit, remembering when it drilled in a metal garage-like enclosure. Representatives of city government, local law enforcement and the active and retired military programs dotted the crowd. After the national anthem, representatives of Iowa's Congressional delegation spoke.
A message from Senator Tom Harkin noted that as a military pilot, the first lesson he learned was "never leave a buddy behind." The same holds true for county and communities, as Harkin urged the public to support efforts to bring the best care programs to fruition to serve veterans of past service and those coming home from combat today.
Mayor Jon Kruse noted that Storm Lake is one of about 45 towns in Iowa with an armory. With the reconstruction, the local facility is second to none as a military training facility and "a cornerstone of our community."
Brig. General Mark Zirkelbach, deputy adjutant for the Iowa National Guard, noted that Storm Lake citizen soldiers after the Korean War had no home facility, and took it upon themselves to raise $150,000 to build the armory. "Today, we just put more than that into the kitchen," he smiled.
He spoke of the man behind the armory's name - much-decorated World War II combat veteran and Aurelia native John R. Anderson, who went on to a long and successful career in the Guard, much of it spent in the Storm Lake armory.
Anderson's two sons and his grandson continue to serve in the Guard, the four men from the family compiling over 100 years of service to their country.
Zirkelbach also remembered Gregory Tull, the soldier from the local unit who lost his life in service in Iraq in 2005. "It brought home the price of freedom to Storm Lake," he reflected.
Despite the sacrificed being made in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iowa communities still see young people coming forward to join the Guard, he said. "Many of them out there in the audience are wearing the patch of combat on their shoulders," Zirklebach added.
The general said that a state-of-the-art readiness center is owed to the citizen soldiers who drill out of Storm Lake.
As a parent of a student who attended Buena Vista University, he said that he was proud that the readiness center's facilities are on par with those of the campus. The renovation provides new classrooms, access to computer technology and expanded Iowa Communications Network fiber optics capacity,providing for a "global reach." The project also brings the square footage of the facility to over 17,300.
The facility will also be dedicated to supporting the families of those who make the sacrifice to serve their country, said Zirkelbach. Today, only one percent of Americans serve in the active military, he said.
Following a benediction by Chaplain Capt. Michael Crawford of the 1st Battalion 194th Field Artillery, the crowd took advantage of tours of the renovated facility, with an inflated Guard playground for children, and enough cake and ice cream to feed, well, an Army.