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'We will fight till the very end': NROTC defends the Naval Armory

The UNC Naval Armory, home to 130 ROTC students, pictured on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022.

The University is planning to tear down the campus Naval Armory to make room for a new Institute for Convergent Science building, according to a campus plan released in 2019. 

Many NROTC alumni and students, however, are speaking out against the University's plan, citing the historical significance of the building and the camaraderie it allows for students. 

UNC Media Relations said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel that the University’s historic campus includes many buildings — like the Naval Armory — that have served an important role in UNC's history.

“While the University strives to preserve the character of its historic campus, it must balance those aspects with the evolving needs of current and future students,” Media Relations said. 

The University plans to preserve many of the Armory’s artifacts and relocate the ROTC program to a new facility. 

Robert Rivers, a member of the Board of Directors of the UNC Naval ROTC Alumni Association and a co-founder of the Naval Armory Preservation Committee, said he is displeased with the University's decision. 

The building is in poor condition, according to UNC Media Relations, but Rivers said the University’s NROTC Alumni are willing to develop a fund to repair the armory.

“So that excuse is not there anymore,” Rivers said. “(The University) says if there's a better facility, we can make a better facility — well, you can't. Any facility you make is going to be brand new with none of the history and tradition.”

Andrew Hertel, chairperson of the Department of Naval Science and Commanding Officer of the Naval ROTC program at UNC, said the Armory means a lot to the people who have gone on to serve in the armed forces. 

He also echoed Rivers' statement that the building holds meaning to those who are involved in the program.

“We'll do our mission wherever we are, but the Armory is terrific at executing that mission,” Hertel said. 

Having a central place on campus for students to gather and work together leads to successful organizations with high “esprit de corps” — a common spirit of enthusiastic devotion — Hertel said.

Parker Sylvia, a senior first-class NROTC midshipman, said he can feel the history when he walks around the Armory.

The Armory is the ROTC program's home, he said. 

“It is our history that is everything that we are about, and not just the Navy — for the Army and the Air Force," Sylvia said. "That's our home base, and we're going to try to protect our home base as much as possible because that's everything we live by.” 

Rivers said the Armory was the first place where African Americans were allowed to fully enlist in the Navy.

“It's that history in that tradition and what went on before it that's so important. And that's why another building housing ROTC, a brand new one, wouldn't be the same."

Rivers said he was concerned that a new building would lack historical significance.

The preservation committee has suggested an alternate plan to the University, where it could use Venable parking lot and Whitehead Hall across the street for the new Institute for Convergent Science building, Rivers said. 

“It would fit in nicely with their vision; it's doable. They could get everything they wanted and still preserve the Armory and have most of the costs that's needed to repair the Armory paid for by the Alumni Association,” he said. “So it's hard for us to see why they just are so persistent in not wanting to talk about this.”

Changes to the Armory will likely not happen for at least five years to allow for planning and programming, UNC Media Relations said.

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In the meantime, Rivers said he is preparing a major letter-writing campaign to the UNC  Board of Trustees in hopes that it will overturn this decision. 

He also said a group of Charlotte business leaders will soon put pressure on the University regarding the project, and that many ROTC alumni donors plan to stop giving the University money until the decision is reversed.

The preservation committee has applied to the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office for Historic Registry status, which could help preserve it.

“We will fight till the very end, until the bulldozers show up,” Rivers said.

Editor’s Note: No statements made by any sources in this article reflect the views, opinions or intentions of the United States Navy or Marine Corps in any way.