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Colonel: Depot needs modern mission

The departing commander of Letterkenny called upon community leaders to help drum up support for the depot's future

The departing commander of Letterkenny called upon community leaders to help drum up support for the depot's future

June 25, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In his final weeks as commander of the Letterkenny Army Depot, Col. Robert English III told community leaders Monday they need to help drum up support for the depot's uncertain future.

The depot survived several rounds of base closures, although it was significantly downsized in the mid-1990s, and officials hope it can make it through the next round resulting from the Congressional Base Realignment and Closure Act in 2005.

English outlined several new missions the depot has undertaken or expects to take on to about 20 members of the Greater Chambersburg 21st Century Partnership, a coalition of government, business and community members.

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English, whose two-year command ends next month, said it's been somewhat of a challenge to get the word out that despite the downsizing, the depot is still open.

"One of the frustrations I've had is convincing people we're open," he said. "If there is any area where we need help from leaders of the community, it is to get the word out."

In its 60 years in existence, the depot's overall mission has been to provide soldiers with the tools they need.

But that broad mission has evolved over the decades with the introduction of more high-tech equipment and the changing face of war, he said.

"The types of war we fight are much different. The Army is looking at the types of weapons systems and the types of soldiers," English said. "We need to transform into a 21st century depot."

English said he has been looking to find new ways to maximize the depot's land and find new possibilities that could potentially create new employment for the region.

Depot workers began upgrading vehicles with different weapons and systems for Special Forces to use. It also is partnering with another agency on a new biological detection system, he said.

English has led an effort to better utilize the depot's 16,000 acres of ammunition storage north of the borough.

The 99th Army Reserve Command in Pittsburgh has recently gone ahead with plans to locate a redistribution center there for the weapons it stores for Reserve units in a five-state area.

Letterkenny has also been designated the "inland node" of the Port of Philadelphia. There is an effort under way to have the government designate the port as its primary military port.

Letterkenny would serve as a staging area for commercial and military cargo to be shipped to the port, which would only take about three hours by rail, English said.

"It is real. It is happening," English said, noting there is money in the Defense Authorization Bill to do a test with military cargo.

English challenged the community leaders to continue Letterkenny's tradition of excellence.

"I think you have to take ownership of communicating to the community what Letterkenny means," he said. "Community support will be critical to the effort" of surviving the next BRAC.

"We want Letterkenny to be a healthy and vital part of the community and will be talking about it more as we get into next year," said John Boozer, chairman of the partnership.

Letterkenny is the second largest employer in he county, with 1,085 civilian employees and about 700 government workers.

With an average employee age of 49, English said the depot's work force will be replaced in the next decade, meaning more opportunities for Franklin County residents.

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