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Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | May 20, 2024

National Guard Professional Education Center Celebrates 50 Years

By Sgt. 1st Class Christie Smith, National Guard Professional Education Center

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Fifty years ago, the Army National Guard identified a need to provide ongoing training to the Soldiers and civilians who worked for the Guard full time, keeping units and armories running between drill weekends.

Lt. Gen. LaVern E. Weber, then the chief of the National Guard Bureau, knew he wanted this training facility to be centrally located. Out of 11 possible locations, Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock was selected.

“The reason this facility is in Arkansas in the first place is because then-Gov. Dale Bumpers made an offer so good that national leadership couldn’t refuse,” Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

The deal was sealed with the promise of land, some cinderblock buildings and support personnel.

In the spring of 1975, with just six instructors, The LaVern E. Weber National Guard Professional Education Center graduated its first class of 50 administrative supply technicians.

Today, the campus has spread to 36 buildings across 85 acres. With over 450 employees, the Professional Education Center, or PEC, welcomes more than 20,000 students and event attendees annually while reaching another 4,000 through mobile training teams. The staff and students of PEC represent each of the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia.

“It puts PEC’s humble beginnings in even greater perspective,” Sanders said.

The impact of the Professional Education Center is evident across the Army National Guard. Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, the director of the Army National Guard, regularly cites the Arkansas campus’s effect on his distinguished career.

“I truly believe in the motto of this institution, which is ‘Readiness starts here,’ because of my personal experience,” Jensen said.

He attended the Professional Education Center as a young first lieutenant in the first year of his active Guard Reserve career.

“My two weeks here really made me a much more effective full-time member of the team,” Jensen said.

In the five decades since its inception, PEC has grown from that first administrative supply course to more than 480 courses spanning six battalions to train Army National Guard Soldiers and Department of Army civilians in cybersecurity, human resources, logistics, recruiting and retention, strategy and leader development, and finance.

The Professional Education Center has also helped launch national programs like Buddy Aid, an innovative approach to first response to sexual assault, and the National Guard’s education hub of the Army’s Health and Holistic Fitness initiative.

This month, the PEC campus kicked off a year-long celebration of its anniversary with an open house and a groundbreaking on a 15,000-square-foot addition to the center’s Combat Athletic Performance Center.

This project provides further opportunities for PEC employees, students and members of the Arkansas National Guard to maintain fitness and will increase opportunities and resources for H2F training and education.

Col. Cathi Cherry, commander of the Professional Education Center, has made modernization and innovation a focus of her tenure.

“We are here to train the 54, and that’s exactly what we do,” Cherry said, referring to each of the U.S. states, territories and Washington, D.C.

Through initiatives to improve and expand facilities and embrace training tools like virtual and augmented reality, she hopes to usher PEC into the next 50 years as a premier learning institution. Still, she recognizes a truth Weber once famously said: PEC’s foundation does not lie in its buildings.

“I’ve determined it’s the people who help make this organization strong,” Cherry said.

Many of the people who helped build and continue to support the Professional Education Center were highlighted during a 50th anniversary ceremony on the North Little Rock campus May 16.

In attendance were previous commandants and retirees; senior National Guard leaders like Jensen and Maj. Gen. Jonathan Stubbs, adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard, who spent time at PEC early in their careers; and local and state community and political leaders who recognize the impact the federal center has on the local economy.

In her keynote address, Sanders said she was committed to ensuring another 50 years of the National Guard Professional Education Center in central Arkansas.

“We count on our National Guardsmen, not just in the Natural State, but across the country,” Sanders said. “And there is no better place for them to learn and grow than right here at Camp Robinson.”