Baraga armory facing closure

BARAGA – The Michigan National Guard is making plans to consolidate armories in the U.P., and Army National Guard soldiers who train monthly at the Baraga Armory will likely be driving a bit farther in the future.

“Almost everybody knows Baraga is being looked at,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Stone, assistant adjutant general for installations. “Just how and when it’s going to go, and whether it will roll into a new facility to the east, go up to Calumet or go somewhere else still has to be decided.”

The final decision to close the armory hasn’t been made, he said, but the Guard is working to economize by consolidating armories, and Baraga appears to be odd man out in the plans under consideration.

“Senior leaders have not made a decision on Baraga but will probably get together to talk in the next 90 days,” Stone said, adding the final decision would be made by Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais.

“He’s very deliberate. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction,” Stone said. “He gave us the mission to re-work these five years ago.”

Stone said he’ll be touring U.P. armories in the next couple of months before preparing his final recommendations.

About 50 soldiers from Detachment 1 of the 143st Engineer Company currently train in Baraga monthly.

The most obvious consolidation solution would be to move the detachment north to the newer armory in Calumet, where Detachment 2 of the 143st trains, Stone said. But he’d like to see a more comprehensive U.P. consolidation, something that moves several U.P. armories into one centralized location.

“I would like to do something bigger in the U.P., make an investment,” he said, pointing to the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base as a potential location.

Stone said all the seven Guard units in the U.P. are struggling with recruiting, a factor which makes it hard to justify keeping armories open, he said. Closing armories, however, could lead to more recruiting challenges, Stone said, since many first-time soldiers enlist at hometown armories.

“If you have to go to a recruiter that’s 50 miles away, that won’t go as well,” he said. “But once you get a soldier through the first three-year enlistment, they’re going to stay.”

L’Anse’s Jim Baker, a retired Guardsman who trained in Baraga and Calumet, noted Guard placement is based on a soldier’s specialty. While first-time Guard soldiers often begin close to home, he said, they often travel farther as they develop their skills.

He estimated 60 to 70 percent of the Baraga detachment was local, though monthly commutes would also increase for many of those already from out of town.

“It’ll have some effect (on recruiting), but it’s not going to make a major effect,” he said.

“If it closes I’d be sad to see it close, but I understand the economics,” he added.