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A major restructuring of the Nebraska Army National Guard will enhance and diversify opportunities for its soldiers, particularly in units in western and central Nebraska.

The broad change will affect roughly 1,100 Army Guard members in 16 communities and replace a large number of transportation units with military police, field maintenance, distribution support, engineering and logistics units.

The transformation will be implemented over the next three years.

"It's a game changer for our soldiers," Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, Nebraska's adjutant general, said during a news conference at the Nebraska National Guard Joint Force Headquarters where a U.S. flag flew at half-staff outside in honor of the victims of last week's terrorist attacks in Paris.

"There are only so many truck drivers," Bohac said. "That was a recruiting challenge."

Gov. Pete Ricketts joined Bohac for the announcement, hailing what he described as the largest restructuring of the Nebraska Army Guard in 20 years.

The changes will "dramatically increase military occupational special training opportunities," Ricketts said, and affect roughly one of every three Nebraska Army Guard troops.

Soldiers will have "better opportunities for personal and professional growth from the time they enlist until the time they retire without having to travel extensively from their hometown communities," Bohac said.

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In answer to a question, Bohac said he believes the change may enhance the Guard's recruitment and retention success, although retention is "pretty strong" now and the Army Guard is only about 200 soldiers below its authorized strength of 3,600.

"This may help us close the gap," he said.

The changes also will dramatically enhance the Army Guard's response readiness for state and national emergencies, Bohac said.

In broad terms, the Lincoln-based 67th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade is transitioning into the 67th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, which provides support to "down-range combatants."

Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis sat in on the announcement and said he was excited by the change. For the past 20 years, Nebraskans who live west of Kearney only had the opportunity to serve in a transportation unit.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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