Anniston Army Depot has endured its share of rough days in recent months. That’s what happens to a installation that benefits from U.S. military operations when U.S. wars draw to a close.
Fewer wars can mean fewer work orders.
Case in point: January’s announcement that 562 short-term depot workers would be laid off when their temporary contracts ended in September. That news sent shock waves throughout a Calhoun County already struggling to move its unemployment rate to a manageable level.
But that was January. Last week was a different story — so different, in fact, that the depot’s immediate outlook now is cast in a much-improved light than it was only a few months ago.
Last Thursday, The Star highlighted officials’ belief that fiscal 2013 would include more bright spots than dark days at the depot. Extra work has been secured from programs with the National Guard and the Army Reserve, not to mention contracts with countries Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Those contracts, worth $193 million, have allowed the depot to retain 386 of the temporary workers who were scheduled to be cut loose next month.
“That,” said Michael Burke, deputy to the depot commander, “is just a good news story.”
On the same day, the depot celebrated the work done by outgoing commander Col. Timothy Sullivan, who is retiring after 27 years of military service, and welcomed its new commander, Col. Brent Bolander.
We feel for Sullivan, who was charged with piloting the depot through month after month of layoff concerns related to the U.S. draw-downs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given that, it’s understandable that Sullivan, a Jacksonville State University graduate, felt so connected to the protection of the depot work force.
“I haven’t slept well for the last 18 months,” Sullivan said. “It’s the people here that are the most important to me.”
Neither the depot nor Calhoun County’s employment outlook is permanently saved, of course.
In essence, these new contracts are merely part of the recurring cycle at the depot. Its job is to repair military equipment and vehicles, and that job is often reduced when U.S. forces aren’t actively engaged in foreign wars. That’s why we strongly urge depot officials to continue to seek work orders from other nations. If the United States can’t provide enough work, other nations surely can.
In time, these recent contracts will run their course. Others will need to replace them, especially as the United States nears the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan. Until that happens, worries about future layoffs may remain routine.
Calhoun County’s economy is another matter altogether. Until it diversifies — more jobs in technology and research, for instance — it will continue to suffer when the nose of a main employer gets bloodied.