Depot officials expect to see about 4.2 million manpower-hours of work in fiscal 2013, which begins on Oct. 1.
That’s approximately 1 million hours above what leaders call the installation’s baseline of production and almost twice as much work as officials originally expected, according to Nathan Hill, the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce’s military liaison.
“We were looking at ’13 as being a down year in production compared to what we’ve done in the past,” said Michael Burke, deputy to the depot commander. “But we were able to bring in some extra work.”
The extra work comes in the form of programs with the National Guard, the Army Reserve and the countries of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Over the past eight months, the depot has received new vehicle maintenance and repair orders from the Guard, the Reserve and foreign military sales — as a result increasing workload, saving 386 of 562 temporary workers slated for layoffs and bringing in a total of $193 million in contracts.
“That’s just a good news story,” Burke said. “I know our term and temp employees are really happy — some of them have been here seven or eight years as a term or temp employee, and they are really integral.”
In January, depot officials announced the layoffs of 562 short-term workers once their temporary contracts expired in September. But two months ago, amid general announcements of “projected workload changes” for fiscal 2013, installation leaders said 386 of the temporary employees would have their jobs at least through March.
With the production increases, Burke said Wednesday, there’s a good chance those contracts could be extended even further.
“We feel pretty good about that,” he said.
The National Guard contract for fiscal 2013 will send 179 vehicles — a combination of M113 armored personnel carriers, M88 recovery vehicles and Armor Vehicle Launched Bridges — to the depot for maintenance and repairs. About 140 employees will work on that $64 million contract, Burke said.
Meanwhile, another 152 people will provide labor on the Army Reserve’s $25 million contract for an additional 155 M113 carriers.
And recent foreign military sales to Iraq and Saudi Arabia will keep about 300 people employed between fiscal 2013 and 2014, working on M1A1 tanks and howitzers. Those foreign military projects combined will net about $104 million, Burke said.
Foreign military sales “kind of work slow through the system: You know they are there, but you don’t always know when they get funded,” Burke said.
Officials have been pushing for increased foreign military sales and projects with the National Guard since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began to wind down.
Sales to other countries are a good way to keep production up, Hill said, because they don’t have to go through the Department of Defense budget — where looming cuts are on the table as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the inability of Democrats and Republicans to compromise on deficit reduction.
Officials also targeted the National Guard for projects, because of the National Guard’s “very prominent role in our fights” in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hill said.
“That meant they were training a lot with their equipment, and they were using their equipment a lot more than they ever had,” he said.
Hill said he meets monthly with congressional staffers for U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers and U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions to discuss depot issues and production levels.
In an email statement Wednesday, Rogers called advocating for future projects “a consistent and ongoing effort.”
And things are looking a lot rosier than they were at the beginning of the year, when leaders predicted manpower hours as low as 2.2 million and the layoffs of nearly 600 term employees.
“There’s been a concerted effort on the part of a lot of people to keep the depot up to core,” Hill said.
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.