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Letterkenny to expand Army Reserve center

September 16, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Letterkenny Army Depot recently diversified its portfolio as a force-generating installation of the U.S. Army when it announced a new $14.9 million Army Reserve center.

Striking a delicate balance between uniformed and civilian operations, the depot will close its fiscal year this month with more than 3.6 million man-hours, a growing military presence and a list of goals to fill the next five to 10 years.

Outgoing Commander Col. Stephen Shapiro said his aim has always been to give the U.S. Army top-notch missile and ground support precisely when it needs it.

Letterkenny began as a supply vein for the military in the 1940s, a role it continues today.

Yet as recently as three years ago, only a handful of uniformed men and women worked at the 19,000-acre facility, Shapiro said. Most of the workers at Letterkenny were, and still are, civilians.

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The depot could operate effectively without employing part-time soldiers from the U.S. Army reserves, but Shapiro said the benefits of having 82 reservists in his work force are apparent every day.

"The civilian employees at Letterkenny Army Depot like to see guys running around wearing this," he said, gesturing to his standard-issue uniform. "It brings something to their job that they might not otherwise have, such as seeing the soldiers driving up and down in a Humvee might make them think more about the Humvee that they are repairing."

Just as the depot works to support the efforts of the U.S. Army, the reservists strive to support the depot, said Sgt. Jesse Womack, unit administrator for the 811th AMMO platoon, Detachment 4 of the U.S. Army Reserves.

Two reserve detachments are based at Letterkenny -- the 811th AMMO platoon, Detachment 4, and the 630th Transportation, Detachment 1, Womack said. Once the reserve center is completed, three more detachments will relocate to the depot.

The detachments at Letterkenny mirror the work of the depot, Womack said, which is essentially transportation and ammunition. They also use the depot for critical hands-on training.

Womack said having a reserve center on-site at the area's largest employer is an advantage when the new or transferred soldiers seek work.

With the number of reservists in the Chambersburg-based detachments growing, Womack said he often directs soldiers to the depot for employment because of overlapping skills, he said.

While Letterkenny could easily fulfill its role without employing reservists, the scales could not tip the other way, Shapiro said.

"There is no way we could do this without civilians and I don't want to," he said. "There are some technical aspects, particularly on the Patriots, that are not part of the Army (skills) training."

Letterkenny is a subcontractor of Raytheon Integrated Systems for work on the Patriot surface-to-air missile systems being sold to the United Arab Emirates.

Even as the job market struggles locally, Letterkenny continues growing its civilian work force, Shapiro said.

The latest chunk of federal dollars might have been for infrastructure, but the new buildings are to accommodate more employees.

Buildings like the 54,224-square-foot reserve center, the planned addition to Building 350, the $11.6 million Theatre Readiness Monitoring Facility and the renovated warehouses, closed in the 1990s under the Base Realignment and Closure Act, are the result of a thriving work force, he said.

As Shapiro prepares to leave his post and deploy to Kuwait, his hope is that the community recognizes the depot for its support of the Army and its role in the community.

"I'd like them to think that Letterkenny is trying hard to be a good community partner as it works to support the Army," he said.

Letterkenny Army Depot will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its Theatre Readiness Monitoring Facility on Sept. 25. The same day, the depot will welcome its first female commander, Col. Cheri Provancha, who comes to Letterkenny on the heels of a 15-month stint in Iraq.

The new reserve center is expected to open in August 2010.

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