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Guard sets up shop in Forsyth
Units will use former drug store for five years
armory 1 jd
A former pharmacy off Canton Highway in Cumming soon will provide training space for the National Guard. Here, Maj. Alice Smith, center, watches Spc. Ashley Hempstead, left and Sgt. 1st Class Denise Mitchell work at the site. - photo by Jim Dean

After months of speculation, the Georgia Army National Guard is coming to town.

A former pharmacy on Canton Highway, across from the Forsyth County Health Department, is being renovated for use as an armory.

Maj. Alice Smith, who will supervise the Cumming site, said it will house the Guard's 420th Signal Company and the 348th Brigade Support Battalion.

The state leased the 19,000-square-foot facility, once a CVS, on July 1 on the Guard's behalf from retired pharmacist Lamar Orr.

Orr said he's excited the Guard is moving into the facility and he's doing what he can to help with the site modifications, which include extra bathrooms, multiple shower units and additional parking.

Smith said the Guard will use the site for about five years until a more permanent location is finished on property the city of Cumming owns on Pilgrim Mill Road.

That facility, she explained, will be a more "traditional armory" with room for parking military vehicles and for training.

"Basically, an armory is a military facility that we use for training for basically (inactive duty training) periods which are drill weekends," she said.

"Most of the traditional soldiers come those weekends and we use the building for all of our administrative needs and some training. It just depends on what the building lends itself to."

Once finished, the former pharmacy building on Canton Highway (Hwy. 20) will include offices, classrooms, an Internet café for soldiers and a vault for indoor weapons storage.

About 12 full-time staff members will work in the facility, Smith said.

She said the Guard has been using the Pine Valley Recreation Area in Dahlonega for training exercises.

"We've been told we can use the (Cumming) fairgrounds and the training center in Dahlonega," Smith said.

Weekend drill exercises may begin as early as October. The proximity to Atlanta was one of the main reasons the Guard is setting up shop in Cumming, Smith said.

"And the community up here has basically been asking for it," she said, adding that recruiters have conducted demographics studies that show the area is "a ripe place to get people in."

She said the local facility also will provide more opportunities for women since it will accommodate different military occupational specialties.

The Cumming facility will not negatively affect the armories in the nearby cities of Canton or Gainesville.

"We're a totally different mission," Smith said. "This battalion is more of a support battalion."

She said a supply and distribution company also will be relocating to the Cumming site.

Orr, a member of the Forsyth-Cumming Optimist Club, said it's his sense that soldiers working at the armory want to get involved in the community.

"Some are in the process of joining our Optimist Club," he said. "And I know some of them are asking about rental homes."

"We will have a color guard at the (club's) luncheon September 11," said Smith, adding that Secretary of State Karen Handel is expected to speak at the event.