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Kitchen Builders Serve Up Safer Humvees

By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2005 – If there is a government building here in the nation's capital, said James Phillip Poole of American Metal Fabricators Inc., chances are his company has built its food-service equipment.

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Welder Charlie Denney works on a Humvee windshield frame at American Metal Fabricators Inc., a Prince Frederick, Md., company. Denney, a veteran of the Air National Guard, feels his work is keeping troops in Iraq safe. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA

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The Prince Frederick, Md., company opened nearly 60 years ago by Poole's father has even built kitchen equipment for the Pentagon and more recently for the White House.

But Poole's company stands out in another way: If there is a Humvee driving the sometimes mean streets of Iraq, odds are good that Poole's company had something to do with the protection of the soldiers inside.

In spring 2004, a military supplier with a long professional relationship with Poole approached him and asked if his company could produce armor plating to frame a bulletproof windshield. The supplier had won a bid to help bulletproof the glass on Humvees.

The two companies had worked together on past projects, but never on anything like the Humvee project. The Humvee plan would require that a 100-plus-pound bulletproof glass stay in place if the vehicle hit an eight-inch curb at 80 miles an hour, and it would also have to deflect small arms and shrapnel.

"We use a lot of glass to build salad bars," Poole said. "We've done a lot of government work, and some weird things, but none of this I would have imagined from the start," he said.

Poole agreed to give the Humvee project a try, motivated mostly by patriotism, but also fueled by entrepreneurial spirit and boredom.

"The norm is just salad bars. What's good about something that isn't normal is that it breaks the routine," Poole said. "You get tired of building the same thing."

AMFAB had begun experimenting with 3-D computer modeling in 2004, around the time the supplier approached them. Poole and his team knew they needed to place a Humvee windshield model into a 3-D modeling computer program.

The program they found would help design a windshield frame using the base Humvee 3-D model and specifications inputted by Poole's team. That data would move through multiple computer systems, ending up with a machine that would turn a flat piece of steel into a custom armored windshield frame.

"We built one and (the supplier and military) tested it. ... They set a blast off between some vehicles that would blow the vehicles apart," Poole said. "The windows held up through the test and (the military) started to order them, and we've been doing it ever since."

The military had a quick turnaround requirement for the windshield frames and the deadline was tight, only several weeks to deliver more than 1,000 kits.

"We were starting to get real busy in the commercial food equipment business and we had to work some overnight shifts," Poole said, noting that in the spring and summer time his employees like to vacation and participate in recreational activities. But when he asked his team to work on the Humvee parts, "everyone was volunteering to work over the weekends."

. Since last year, nearly 8,000 vehicles have received AMFAB's bulletproof Humvee kits, Poole says. Nearly 3,000 this year alone have shipped to the supplier and to units in the field.

"Everybody wants to help the country. Some of us are too old to go serve, so this is the least we can do," Poole said.

Only six persons in the 100-employee company work on the Humvee windshield project. More than half are veterans of the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force. According to Poole, some work only a few hours a day on the Humvees, while welders have been working steadily on the Humvee frames for two to three months. The rest of the time is devoted to creating the company's main source of income - custom kitchen equipment - that earns AMFAB more than $10 million yearly.

"It makes me feel good," said employee Jim Taylor. He said he served in the Marines for four years, wishes he could re-enlist, but he's "too old" now. "I can't go over there. It's a good thing that we're doing something to keep them safe over there."

Poole's son, Jimmy, was in the Army's 82d Airborne Division and served four years as a radio operator. He said the military veterans in the shop feel this is their way of still doing their part.

"Everyone in here is really enthused about doing this. It feels good to have something to do with it," the younger Poole said.

Soldiers in Iraq have written AMFAB and expressed their gratitude to the company. One letter from a lieutenant, Poole said, credited AMFAB's windshield kits for protecting his soldiers from injuries in small arms and improvised explosive device attacks.

Another soldier wrote and sent pictures of his team's damaged Humvee. Soldiers inside survived the IED attack, which destroyed most of the vehicle except for the windshield and door window frames built by AMFAB that shielded the soldiers from the blast.

"It feels like you're doing something to save lives," said Charlie Denney, a welder at AMFAB and former Air National Guardsman. "I know we've had to save some lives putting in these windshields."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJames Phillip Poole programs machinery that processes armored windshield frames for Humvees at American Metal Fabricators Inc., a Prince Frederick, Md., company. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJames Phillip Poole watches an employee test fit an armored frame into a model Humvee window frame. More than 8,000 frames have been created by Maryland-based American Metal Fabricators Inc. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA  
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