Remembering the Armory’s Strength

This letter concerns Lanny Ebenstein and Todd Capps’ mischaracterization of the Major General Charles A. Ott Armory. (Beating Swords Into Plowshares, Oct. 28, 2018).

It seems rooted in certain elitist attitudes that the military is something “other people” do on behalf of something they’d rather wash their hands of. It’s the attitude that shut down the Santa Barbara High School JROTC. It also stripped the local National Guard of recruits to keep the Armory functional in the first place.

The article portrays the Armory as never having a point except for their plans. Plans I hope to show didn’t beat a sword into a plowshare as much as beat a plowshare into another type of plowshare.

The Major General Charles A. Ott Armory served Santa Barbara and the nation for decades even up to 2014. It’s old enough to have one building that originally served as horse stables. The old cannon out front is courtesy of the the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War Union veterans organization.

The Armory was built as a community service. The buildings were a Works Project Administration construction under Roosevelt’s New Deal, providing needed jobs. They did a great job of it too. ( See this description. )

It’s named after Major General Ott, once the 40th California Army National Guard Division Commander, WW II vet, Korean War vet, a lifelong Santa Barbara native, and local business owner. (Learn about him here.) In retirement, he sometimes tended the armory’s garden.

Santa Barbara-based National Guardsmen deployed from there in WW II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, OIF, and OEF. Older natives remember the 1/144 Field Artillery Battalion used the same vehicles from the 1950 to 1990, a period the regular Army allowed the National Guard to decay. (Those vehicles were very unsafe in their last years.) Until military service fell out of favor in Santa Barbara, the troops were all native sons.

The Armory deployed troops to Los Angeles for the 1960s Watts and 1990 riots. It deployed troops to fight numerous fires in Santa Barbara and California as well as help in the disastrous 1969 floods. It was always a shelter if the city had need of one in a major disaster.

The gym floor/theater stage was available to the Santa Barbara High School to use on request. It hosted thousands of community and private events until disrepair made it an unappealing venue. When homelessness became a problem in the 1990s it served them as a winter shelter. In one case the unit enlisted one of the homeless vet still capable of serving. It’s kind of telling he was one of the few natives left serving there.

In its last decades the “other people” were mostly working class commuting from the north county or even south as far as Los Angeles. Honestly, I don’t know why the state kept the Armory open as long as they did. Los Angeles troops had to muster in Santa Barbara just to go back to Los Angeles for the riots, including one who, by his account, had to fight his way up here.

Some troops were college kids whose interest waxed and waned with drills. Often inversely, as typical duties were quite boring. One lieutenant was a surfer who lived in his car. Some included stereotypical “weekend warriors.” Vets from a wide range of times and branches served under that roof. In 1990 they included vets from Korea to include the Chosin Reservoir (Google it), Vietnam, the Panama Invasion and Desert Storm. They came from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. The last WW II vet retired only a year or so before. Some were elite troops in their branches such as nuclear sub sailors, paratroopers, Marine snipers, scouts, and Rangers.

I’m grateful the Armory will continue to serve the community as the article described. I’m grateful too for the patience and hard work unwinding the red tape for it to do so by Capps, Ebenstein and others. Community service was always what the Major General Charles A. Ott Armory was meant for. Hopefully its future service will equal its past service.


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