National Guard groundbreaking

On hand to throw the ceremonial first shovels of dirt for the new Mississippi Army National Guard Readiness Center are (from left) state Rep. Ashley Henley, state Rep. Dan Eubanks, state Rep. Steve Hopkins, state Sen. Chris Massey (hidden), state Sen. Dr. David Parker, DeSoto County Board of Supervisors President Lee Caldwell, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn, Mississippi National Guard Adjutant General Janson Boyles, and retired Maj. Bill Austin, who donated part of the land for the new center to be built on Starlanding Road in Nesbit. 

While not held on the actual construction site, dignitaries Monday gathered nearby to turn dirt and celebrate a future Mississippi Army National Guard Readiness Center to be built in DeSoto County.

The local National Guard unit is now based on Stateline Road in Southaven, part of a city-owned building which was a former Walmart Supercenter. Because of the location, however, equipment and vehicles that are part of the unit are housed about an hour away in Senatobia.

The current building now is home to the Guard unit, DeSoto Grace and Heartland Hands nonprofits. Heartland Church has also been located inside, but the church is in the process of a move to its own building on Getwell Road.

The city has the property up for sale and some interested parties have been coming forward to look into its purchase.

Monday, with local, county and state officials on hand, the ceremonial groundbreaking was held at the DeSoto County Road Management Facility on Gwynn Road, a short distance from where the new Readiness Center will be built.

The new center will consist of 20 acres, 10 of which are owned by DeSoto County and provided for the building’s construction. Another 10 acres are a donation of Bill Austin, a retired Major who owns the property.

With the land donated for the site and state funding acquired, Mississippi National Guard Adjutant General Janson Boyles, who attended Monday’s groundbreaking event, said federal funding is now needed to begin actual construction.

“We’re at the funding stage of this,” Boyles said. “We’ve got the state money committed, which was necessary. We get a share of federal money each year, so we’re chasing that federal money to get it committed now. My goal is to have new construction started by Fiscal Year 2020.”

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn were the top state officials on hand for Monday’s groundbreaking event. Reeves noted the new Readiness Center, which will cover more than 101,000 square feet and house three Army National Guard units, will serve a large area.

“It’s going to serve not only the interests of DeSoto County but really the entire north part of Mississippi,” Reeves pointed out. “The great part about it is with the county investing in this as well, it’ll be located next to the Emergency Operations Center. When natural disasters occur, it is often times that the National Guard and the emergency first responders are working together.”

The total project cost is in excess of $30 million and Boyles said it will offer the security the units need for its equipment and the people who serve in the National Guard.

“Security is real important for training,” said Boyles. “We have to secure equipment, personnel and the planning documents that we prepare. It’s just very hard to provide security for our soldiers at the current facility.”

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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