Yesterday morning, while the rain dribbled down from dark, low clouds, I had the chance to meet with Major Michael Ford, the Superintendent of CSMS #1- the Texas National Guard (TXARNG) facility in Saginaw. Major Ford has been at the site for about seven months now but comes from an experienced past; serving as a National Guard reserve officer for decades, a Paris, Texas police officer for an entire career, 14 months as an elected Constable, and is now enjoying his “retirement” by continuing to dedicate his energy to the benefit of the State of Texas. He is a bright and personable guy who looks younger than his age. He vacillates between a warm, inviting smile and a serious, evaluating expression- surely a result of his years working for a police force. We immediately begin talking about where we are from, where we went to school (I noticed his Aggie ring), and how we each came to be in Saginaw – Texan stuff.
I had reached out to Major Ford after a number of failed attempts at locating a solid contact for the Saginaw base. As soon as I was guided to him, he was happy to meet with me and talk about the operations at the facility. I wanted to know more about the 142-acre site that sits on the eastern edge of the City’s major industrial district and stretches from Industrial Boulevard up along a winding floodplain to McLeroy. Security is important at this site, as with most military facilities, and their big fence and restricted entry gates seem to give an impression of secrecy and unknowing.
The truth is, however, that Major Ford and his team are proud to be members of the community and want the public to know more about what they do. He oversees a staff of 67 highly-skilled technical military personnel. They serve a vast area of the State of Texas, offering support and maintenance to National Guard sects ranging from Waxahachie to the banks of the Red River and as far west as El Paso. This facility is the hub for mechanical repair needs ranging from military vehicles to certain types of weaponry. Dedicated maintenance shops for everything from heavy-duty fabric repair and woodworking, automotive and full-engine rebuilds, metalworking to major repainting are actively occupied by fatigue-wearing members of the TXARNG. Major Ford takes me on a walking tour of each one, except the technology maintenance area. That, he tells me, is an area of higher security- and I get it.
I even had the chance to briefly peek inside the highly-secured armory vault on site, where I see a number of racks with weapons of all sorts that are being recalibrated, repaired, and tested. He tells me there isn’t a range on site and no live fire testing happens here in any major capacity. We go and meet one of his staff members who handles the vast number of maintenance requests and transactions that the facility receives from Guard sects throughout their region, the head of HR for the facility, two staff members who build and design intricate equipment models, and the Assistant Superintendent who is also relatively new to Saginaw. He tells me he recently purchased a home nearby, although some of the staff are spread across North Texas and commute in for work.
There are other buildings on the property besides the one I take a tour of that are occupied with other groups of TXARNG personnel and do completely different work from that which Major Ford oversees. We jump into a van and he takes me on a driving tour. He points out a few large patches of rutted earth as we drive- the divots made even more noticeable by pooled rain water. He says the feral hogs that come from out of the eastern floodway cause that damage and they have been working with the City to trap them over some time now. We pass another large building that houses a facility maintenance group of six- they care for this base, itself. There is also a regional environmental person who offices on site there.
As we drive further, we see a couple of two-lane parking areas filled with medium and large military trucks and equipment. Major Ford says those are the repaired vehicles that are waiting to be inspected and picked up by their appropriate division. I see mostly Humvees and single-cab trailer trucks lined up neatly in these lots and I ask him if the facility repairs anything larger. I sheepishly ask about tanks, embarrassed that I’m not even sure if the State has operating tanks but recalling there is one on display at the south end of the site. He tells me they used to, until Texas decided to decommission the use of the M1 and Bradley tanks in 2005. If that decision were ever reversed, there is a high probability that the site would return to repair and maintenance of these vehicles.
Another building we drive past houses a Guard group of about 15 that pack parachutes for paratroopers. I’m so interested to see the work they do but it will have to wait until another time. We also pass a building containing a growing property management division for the State. We see a couple of empty warehouses that he tells me will likely be filled soon with other groups from the TXARNG but for now are either used for storage or are empty. It appears the base is used in so many different capacities just based on the Guard’s needs at a given time. As different groups and departments grow and change, they find themselves occupying available buildings at the Saginaw site because the space is there. Talks of constructing more buildings on the site and expanding operations have been discussed over time and plans are in the works for rebuilding the perimeter fence of the property. In the meantime, the site continues to be an active place of work inside what may look like a quiet facility.
At the end of the road, we approach a series of surprisingly old warehouses and small buildings- all slated for demolition in the upcoming months. These were built in the era of WWII and are in rough shape, to say the least. The cost to get the buildings into working order isn’t feasible, so they’ve outlived their usefulness.
Even though the old buildings are rusted, gutted, and worn out, I appreciate their stolid, vacant beauty against a dark and rainy sky. It is meaningful to me to know that this site has for so long provided service to men and women across the State who give of themselves for our safety, right here in Saginaw, Texas. That is something that gives me great pride.