Santa Barbara’s National Guard unit, the 1/144th Field Artillery battery, disbanded about five years ago, but 2,500 or so people served with the unit, which will be reuniting on Saturday. “These guys have done a lot,” said Jack Armstrong, who is organizing the event and was a commander with the unit. The Armory at Canon Perdido Street had housed them since 1935, he said, before being sold to the Santa Barbara Unified School District last year. “In my opinion, they bought an awful lot of peace,” Armstrong said, as many of the Guardsmen and women had deployed to Germany during the Cold War and to Vietnam during a very hot war.
The unit would spend three-day weekends at Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert training on a massive 8-inch tracked Howitzer that took 200-pound rounds of ammunition. “They had a great time,” Armstrong said, laughing, “walking behind a 28-ton Howitzer breathing nothing but dust out in the desert.” They’d roll out to Irwin in a 50mph convoy to fire 40 to 50 ear-shattering rounds, he said, and then roll home again, clean all the equipment, and go to work the next day.
The National Guard was called out to the recent floods in Montecito, he reminded, as well as to past earthquakes, fires, and the riots in Isla Vista and Los Angeles in the ’60s. “The governor can call us out because both fire and police run thin in personnel during emergencies,” he said. As Santa Barbara’s National Guard was phased out, the unit got smaller and smaller, from 500 or so, down to 10 to 15 people in the last three or four years, Armstrong said. A parachute unit was here for a time, but all the personnel are completely gone now.
They’ll be back for on Saturday afternoon to gather for a reunion at Bishop Diego High School.