Sunday, May 26, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
Pvt. Miguel Sierra carries a load of supplies and equipment into his platoon cage Saturday in Dallas.
September 11, 2012
DALLAS -- Sgt. Tom Melendy wasn't certain the 162nd Engineer Company would ever return to Dallas. That is until he watched the groundbreaking of the unit's new Dallas area facility via video conference from Afghanistan in October 2010.
Until then, rumors had been flying that the Oregon Army National Guard unit would be moved permanently after the former Dallas armory was condemned in 2008.
"You never know how those things are going to work out, so when they finally did start breaking ground here ... it really made it feel like we were going to come home to Dallas," he said Saturday.
The unit's official homecoming to the brand new Col. James Nesmith Readiness Center was Saturday, nearly two years after the groundbreaking.
Melendy said it was worth the wait.
"Of all the communities I've worked in, Dallas is the best when it comes to getting behind the unit," said Melendy, who joined the National Guard in 2001. "We feel that we get 100 percent support here."
Melendy, who grew up in Dallas, now has the distinction of being the first soldier promoted in the 162nd's new armory. He requested a delay in granting him the rank of sergeant until the unit moved into its new center.
From left, Sgt. Tom Melendy and Staff Sgt. Michael Mann help move a case of equipment into a platoon cage at the new Col. James Nesmith Readiness Center Saturday.
"The unit has been in Dallas for over 100 years," he said. "It's hard to find another community that has that sort of tie. ... This is our home. This is where we belong."
Soldiers in the unit were given an hour Saturday morning just to explore their new facility before they started moving their equipment in.
"Just the looks on their faces ... you could tell they were just genuinely excited," said Capt. Jeremiah Beckert, the unit commander. "We didn't have that sense of ownership in the other building (in Salem) because it was just a temporary home. This is home."
According to the soldiers, it's quite an impressive home -- especially given the limitations of the former Dallas armory and the cramped accommodations in Salem.
"We've gone from the oldest armory in the state to the newest," Beckert said. "It's state-of-the-art."
He said the unit now has much more space and modern amenities, such as "smart classrooms" with multimedia capabilities, a simulation room for training, a weight room, running track, and onsite heavy equipment storage and repair facilities.
"We can actually fit the whole company in one classroom rather than 25 people at a time and rotating them through," Beckert said. "It's going to be a little more efficient. That way we can do more on a drill weekend."
Sgt. Brent Dubois joined the unit just after it was moved to Salem. Seeing the building for the first time Saturday, Dubois said he -- like many others in the unit -- was simply blown away.
Soldiers from the 162nd Engineer Company unload furniture from trucks Saturday. Much of the unit's equipment was housed in Salem from 2004 until this week.
"It's so nice to have a building where we can do everything we need to," he said. "This is perfect for our unit, something we really needed."
Sgt. Bill Sickendick, who joined the unit in 1996, said the move will provide something else the unit had been missing while it was "homeless:" the support of its hometown.
"As a community, Dallas has a lot more to do with this unit," he said.
Sickendick, who was sad to watch the old armory come down, said he appreciates that the guard was open to incorporating some of the old armory's timbers in the furniture at the new center.
"It makes it more like home," he said.
One piece of the old armory moved over to the new facility intact. It's a piece of the old drill floor placed just inside the front entrance of the new building.
"They actually cut it out," said Beckert, who served out of the old armory from 2004 to when it was condemned. "They didn't do anything to it, didn't refinish it. Standing here it just feels like you are standing in the old armory when you're looking down."
Beckert said based on the warm reception the soldiers received on Friday and Saturday while in town, it was like the unit never left Dallas.
"That's the biggest thing, that Salem is so big and there are so many units there that you didn't feel that caring from the community," he said. "That's one thing I really enjoy about Dallas."