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641st Area Support Group

The distinctive unit insignia was approved on 23 November 1999, consisting of a blue disc bearing a demi-sunburst issuant from base all surmounted by a black sword and all enclosed at bottom by a red scroll doubled and inscribed "PREPARED FOR THE CHALLENGE" in gold letters. Buff/gold and scarlet are the colors traditionally used by Support units. The blue disc and sunburst suggest a sunrise, symbolizing the challenges to come; the sword, point up, signifies total military preparedness and support.

Army Reserve and National Guard units from across the bay area could come together in a new $45-million home in mid Pinellas County in 2002. The arrival of the new Joint Armed Forces Reserve Training Center meant Reserve and Guard units abandoned their current homes in three outdated facilities, including Tampa's Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.

The new joint training complex is located on about 58 acres of land in Pinellas Park on the northwest corner of 28th Street N and Grand Avenue in the Gateway Centre. The Gateway Centre is a business-residential-industrial complex at the juncture of Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg off Gandy Boulevard. It is home to such companies as Lockheed Martin and Federal Express. No gunfire or tanks will disturb the neighborhood, since it is not an approved firing area for weapons.

The Army Reserve units based at the center are the Headquarters Co., 32nd Transportation Group; two 154th Judge Advocate units; 174th Legal Support Organization; 641st Area Support Group; two 73rd Hospital units; 320th Military Police Co. (combat support); and 788th medical detachment. The National Guard units stationed there are Headquarters Co., 53rd Infantry Brigade; 253rd Military Intelligence Co.; and Cos. A and B, 53rd Support Battalion.

The center has a full-time staff of 100 to 130. On training days, up to 1,700 more soldiers will be at the center. That number of soldiers shopping, eating and using hotel rooms brings an estimated $50-million a year into the local economy.

One reason for the consolidation is to replace the other outdated facilities. The best known of those is Tampa's Fort Homer Hesterly National Guard Armory, where Elvis once appeared. Famous athletes and political leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, also appeared there. During segregation in the 1950s, it was also a spot to see African-American entertainers. Most recently, it probably has been best known as a choice spot for boxing and wrestling matches.

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