Depot gears for BRAC defense

December 04, 2003|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Nine years ago, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to move Letterkenny Army Depot's artillery maintenance mission to a depot in Anniston, Ala., a realignment which cost the depot about 1,000 jobs.

The commission will meet again in 2005 and local elected officials, business and union leaders are working to prevent the loss of more jobs. It's a lobbying effort that will require money, according to members of Opportunity '05, the committee formed more than a year ago to spearhead the effort.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., was among those gathered at the Patriot Federal Credit Union office just off the depot to kick off an employee contribution plan to support the committee.


"They raised a lot of money last time and they're doing the same now," Shuster said of other states whose military facilities are threatened with downsizing or closure through the BRAC process. Shuster said supporters of Letterkenny at the federal, state and local level will have to work together to prove the depot's value to the armed forces.

Gen. Paul Kern, head of the Army Materiel Command, and Ray DuBois, the undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, have been invited to tour the depot Dec. 17 as part of the lobbying effort, Shuster said.

"I see this as an opportunity to gain jobs," said Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas.

If Letterkenny survives further downsizing or closure by the BRAC Commission, it could pick up additional workload from one or more of the others, he said.

Letterkenny has a dual role in the U.S. Army depot system as one of five maintenance depots and one of eight ammunition depots, according to Jerry Warnement, a retired Army colonel and spokesman for Opportunity '05. Along with Letterkenny and Anniston, the other maintenance depots are Tobyhanna Army Depot near Scranton, Pa., and the Corpus Christi and Red River depots in Texas.

Warnement said employment at the depot was about 3,000 before BRAC '95. The depot and its tenant activities now employ about 2,000, a number that has increased by 182 since the war in Iraq, according to John Gray, the senior civilian at the depot.

That additional workload includes refitting Humvees for Army, Navy and Air Force special forces units and assembly of biological and chemical detection gear, Gray said. The refits, initially 72 for the Army Rangers, has grown to several hundred as other special forces units asked for the specially-equipped vehicles, he said.

Warnement said the depot's ability to serve the other armed forces could be crucial to improving its odds in 2005. He said it now stores more ammunition for the Navy and Air Force than it does for the Army and its tactical missile maintenance mission serves all military branches.

"The jobs here at the depot mean a lot to the community," said Deb Witherspoon, president of Local 1441 of the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents approximately 500 white collar workers at the depot whose salaries average about $38,000 a year.

Jerry Mellott, secretary-treasurer of NFFE Local 1429, said his local represents about 800 electricians, warehouse personnel and other blue collar workers earning an average of $18 an hour. He and Witherspoon said the depot draws workers from throughout the region, not just the county.

Warnement said the depot's payroll last year was $106 million.

"My battle cry is the commonwealth of Pennsylvania needs a coordinated strategy, said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. He said the state needs to work to protect all 12 of its military installations.

Ross said money raised by Opportunity '05 could be used as local matching funds to access state grants for economic impact and encroachment studies and other activities that could bolster the case for Letterkenny.

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