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Changing missions since 9/11 drive Letterkenny Army Depot growth

September 07, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Foreign Military Sales Officer Bert Godlewski talks about the Husky Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle parked behind him at Letterkenny Army Depot.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — When an armored vehicle escorting a military convoy clears out a roadside bomb or a soldier wipes his feet as he enters a tent to eat, sleep or relax, there’s a good chance that the equipment came from Letterkenny Army Depot north of Chambersburg.

A sprawling campus of more than 18,000 acres, the depot is the equivalent of a $1.4 billion business, said Mark Sheffield, deputy to the commander. That’s almost five times the value — $298 million — of its programs in fiscal 2004.

Much of the growth is due to Letterkenny’s missions, which changed dramatically following  the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The first task Letterkenny received after 9/11 was to add a detection system to the four-wheel drive all-purpose Humvees so they could detect biological agents the enemy might use, Sheffield said. The depot is still making the mobile medical labs, which were used in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the United States for defensive purposes.

The depot completed a five-year mission in December under which workers restored 20,000 Humvees and will begin a one-year mission to restore armored Humvees, Sheffield said.

Bigger than the Humvees are the varieties of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, Letterkenny built in partnership with British Aerospace Enterprises in York, Pa.

The depot also has begun restoring those vehicles that were damaged in combat, Sheffield said.

Letterkenny works on three varieties of armored MRAPs that are used to find and detonate roadside bombs as they lead military convoys.

The Panther has a ramp on which a robot can descend and find a bomb, Sheffield said. Buffalos have an arm with a claw that can reach out and move an object or detonate a bomb. The Husky lowers flat rectangular detectors on its right and left sides so it can scan a wide area for bombs, Letterkenny officials said.

The depot also buys components for and assembles “Force Providers” — transportable base-camp systems — that can house 500 soldiers each, Sheffield said.

Stored in multiple large metal containers, components include satellite TV, generators, water, wastewater, bunks, a dining facility, showers, laundry, weights and recreational items such as board games and equipment for volleyball, flag football and table tennis. In addition to assembling new Force Providers, workers repair components such as heaters and air conditioners from older systems so they can be reused.

Letterkenny was working with the base-camp systems before 9/11, Sheffield said.

Although Sheffield said he couldn’t say whether Letterkenny would have been building more Force Provider systems without the war, it makes sense that the more troops deployed, the greater the need for the transportable shelters for military housing, recreation and operations purposes.

Probably the largest new mission at Letterkenny since 9/11 has been to repair a variety of generators, from small camping-type generators to ones used to power the tent cities, Sheffield said.

Depot workers also rebuild aviation ground-power units, which have a high demand in Afghanistan because that war is in large part an air war, Sheffield said.

A unit provides power and hydraulics to a helicopter on the ground so it can be worked on without starting up the helicopter’s engine, Letterkenny officials said.

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