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Alabama Depot Weighs in on Terror War Fight

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

ANNISTON, Ala., Aug. 13, 2005 – The Anniston Army Depot takes its role as part of the "The Pitcrew of the American War Fighter" very seriously in its efforts to help fight the global war on terrorism.

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Volker Schlemminger inspects cables on a vehicle being overhauled at the Anniston (Ala.) Army Depot. Schlemminger, a former Army sergeant, said that the work pace has increased since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Figures back that up with reports of a 125 percent workload increase. Photo by Samantha Quigley

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It is here, a depot threatened by Base Realignment and Closure more than once in recent history, that the Army's Stryker vehicles are assembled, Marine and Army M-1 tanks and other combat vehicles are overhauled, and small arms are given a new lease on life.

The depot is the only Stryker assembly location that assembles all 10 variants on the basic vehicle hull, Hank Kennedy, the General Dynamics' production assurance and test manager, said. The different configurations suit many mission requirements - everything from an infantry carrier vehicle to a mobile guns system that incorporates a 105 mm turreted gun.

In partnership with contractor General Dynamics Land Systems, the depot is assembling two-thirds of the Stryker fleet. Mike Stewart, General Dynamics' lead technician on the Stryker project, is charged with making sure that each vehicle is operating as it should be.

"When I start it, I have to make sure everything runs right," he said, adding that he pushes the vehicles to their limits to make sure they meet specifications.

As a former Air Force master sergeant, Stewart said he can relate to the servicemembers who will rely on the vehicles he ships them. He also feels a certain responsibility toward servicemembers. "I look at every vehicle as though it had my children in it," Stewart said.

That sense of responsibility also is seen in those who perform the work the depot is best known for: overhauling combat vehicles.

Though it has the ability to overhaul any combat vehicle, the depot does not handle the Bradley fighting vehicles or multiple launch rocket systems, according to David Funderburg, the acting chief of track system division.

Marines call the depot the Corps' "provider of choice" for the repair of its M-1 Abrams tanks, Gilda Knighton, deputy director of mission plans and operations at the depot, said. The depot's technical excellence has earned this respect from the Corps in just three years.

The depot's reputation for excellence has come through its attention to detail.

In the depot's 1.5 million square-foot complex, the combat vehicles are completely disassembled, parts are repaired or replaced, and the vehicle is reassembled in like-new condition. No detail is too minute, according to Funderburg.

"(The employees) realize that soldiers' lives depend on the work that they do and the quality of that work," Knighton said.

Former Army Sgt. Volker Schlemminger, part of the team that overhauls tracked vehicles, said that the operations tempo has really picked up. For example, since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003, the depot has increased its workload by 125 percent.

Schlemminger also knows how important the work being performed at the depot is. "Once soldiers are in place," he said, "they need to know the vehicles are going to work."

The depot is also quite proud of its small-arms repair facility.

It is here that everything from 9 mm pistols to .50-caliber machine guns are overhauled. The M-2 .50-caliber machine gun is currently being repaired at a rate of about 900 month, but Gordon E. McGrue, small-arms supervisor, expects that to increase in the near future.

The global war on terror is keeping the shop busy, McGrue said. Each piece has to be completely broken down, cataloged - or "serialized" in - reassembled and tested before being serialized out.

The testing is one step McGrue and his employees take very seriously. "There's no room for error in this business," he said. "It's do or die. I know firsthand that the soldiers appreciate it."

The pace at the Anniston Army Depot doesn't show any signs of slowing down. In fact, it just may increase if BRAC 2005 meets final approval as was presented to Congress: The Bradleys and the MRLS vehicles too will come to the depot for overhaul.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA newly assembled Stryker is moved to await shipment from the Anniston (Ala.) Army Depot to Fort Lewis, Wash. Photo by Samantha Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJeffrey Bonner works to reassemble an M-2 .50-caliber machine gun at the Anniston (Ala.) Army Depot's small-arms repair shop. The M-2s are currently being repaired at a rate of about 900 a month, which is expected to increase. Photo by Samantha Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMike Stewart, a former Air Force master sergeant, is the lead technician on the Stryker project for contractor General Dynamics. It's his job to make sure each new Stryker assembled at Anniston (Ala.) Army Depot is working to specifications. Photo by Samantha Quigley  
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