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Homefront war effort on display at Letterkenny

April 16, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter gave workers at Letterkenny Army Depot a pat on the back Tuesday morning for their efforts in getting weapons and equipment to the soldiers fighting the war in Iraq.

"My hat is off to you," Specter, R-Pa., told the 200 or so assembled workers.

Known among depot employees as the old vehicle shop, employees in Building 15 are building the large metal cases, called Joint Biological Point Detection Systems, for the army, said John Gray, the depot's deputy commander and highest ranking civilian employee.

The systems are mounted on trucks or trailers. The cases protect the soldiers inside and the sophisticated equipment they use to detect biological weapons in the field.


Gray envisions Letterkenny as a center for development and production of the detection systems.

The Base Realignment Committee (BRAC), the arm of the federal government that decides which military bases and facilities are no longer needed, is preparing another round of base closings. The committee will announce its decisions in 2005.

Before the first BRAC closings in 1988, Letterkenny had more than 5,000 employees. Gray said current civilian employment at the depot is around 1,800.

Gray said he isn't worried about the next round.

"We're going to survive," he said.

Richard Lynch, in charge of Letterkenny's ongoing effort to rebuild and equip Humvee military vehicles for the war in Iraq, said he thinks about BRAC all the time.

"But we don't worry about it. We brush it aside and do what we need to do," he said.

Lynch's department has installed smoke grenade launchers onto Humvees, added skid plates and other protective plating and built-in ammo boxes.

"We're rebuilding them from the ground up," he said.

Gray said Letterkenny is starved for government investment funds. The last time major federal money was spent at the depot was 1992, he said.

"We need to modernize," he said.

The depot added 135 new employees when the extra work came in during preparations for the war in Iraq.

Specter said he is "well aware of Letterkenny's vulnerability with BRAC." He said he has argued for the base on the Senate floor and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who was also on Tuesday's tour, has lobbied for the depot in the House.

"There is an enormous potential for work here," Specter said. "The production and work record here is extraordinary. The Department of Defense and the Army are being penny-wise and pound-foolish here.

"We're going to do all we can to keep this depot open," Specter said.

Specter said the fact that the deadline for BRAC's next base closing announcements has been moved from 2003 to 2005 will give Letterkenny time to establish its value to the national defense.

The group also visited the section of the depot that is rebuilding Patriot missile systems for the war effort. Letterkenny workers were rebuilding the complicated systems from the truck to the launching pads.

Also on the tour were State Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, and Franklin County Commissioners G. Warren Elliott, Bob Thomas and Cheryl Plummer.

Col. William Guinn, base commander, led the tour.

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