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More war vehicles like Letterkenny MRAP will be needed, senator says

September 16, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Regardless of the outcome of the November election, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said the continuing war on terrorism likely will require continued production of vehicles like the Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) armored personnel carriers being manufactured at Letterkenny Army Depot.

Casey, D-Pa., made his first visit Monday to the depot, where MRAP production began last December with the depot acting as a subcontractor to BAE Systems, a British defense contractor.

"If there's one area of bipartisan agreement, it is that we have a lot of work to do in Afghanistan," Casey said. Both presidential nominees, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, have said more military assets will be needed to defeat terrorism in Afghanistan.

"There was great bipartisan support for funding for MRAPs, and I think you'll see the same kind of bipartisan consensus on other aspects of the battle in Afghanistan," Casey said. "We still have a distance to go in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but I think it does bode well for the kind of quality work product you see here at Letterkenny."

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Casey told a group of employees that the work they do is important, not just to the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, but "for the battle of the ages. The battle against the terrorists, which will probably be a battle we'll be fighting for generations."

MRAP Division Chief Michael Gossard said about 140 depot workers are producing MRAPs in Building 52, with another 25 or so BAE employees on site. If needed, a second production line could be opened in Building 52 and the work force doubled, he said

Casey's tour included a ride in one of the 38,000-pound machines, which he described as remarkably smooth riding and fast, considering its tonnage.

A testimonial to the MRAP's toughness is posted on a wall of Building 52, a photograph of a message left on one after it was damaged by a roadside bomb.

"This truck saved my life and 5 others 02 Apr 08 at 2300 L in Basra," a warrant officer wrote on the armor plating.

"That tells it all," Casey said.

"They tend to fall apart," Depot Commander Col. Steven Shapiro said. That is intentional, he said, with the V-shaped hull dissipating the blast effect away from the crew compartment, while throwing off wheels and other exterior components.

"In a Humvee, that would have been letters home," Shapiro said of the potentially deadly outcome had those soldiers been riding in a less heavily protected vehicle.

Casey also toured the Humvee line at Letterkenny. He said he was impressed by the depot's ability to custom outfit the vehicles for a variety of Special Operations roles around the globe.

Wall Street got off to a shaky start Monday on news of the investment banking firm Lehman Bros. filing for Chapter 11 protection and the sale of brokerage house Merrill Lynch. In the short term, the federal government has to take action to stabilize the markets, Casey said.

Over time, the government will have to determine how the subprime mortgage crisis spread to become a housing crisis and then a global financial concern. Greater scrutiny of mortgage products offered by lenders will be needed to avoid a repeat, he said.

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