Without U.S. soldiers and their equipment deployed to faraway — and often dangerous — lands, the need for the depot’s skilled labor can diminish. That’s the odd tug-of-war that puts the desire to bring American troops home against the depot’s need for military vehicles and weapons to refurbish and repair.
Washington still holds the keys to the size of the depot’s staffing. But now the depot — and a few thousand local employees — are looking at another nation, Morocco, for a brief respite in the severe cutbacks in the depot’s workload.
A story in Friday’s Star detailed how military leaders are, in essence, in the business of repairing other nations’ military equipment. If Congress approves, Anniston’s depot will be one of two U.S. facilities that will begin work on Moroccan tanks. That North African nation is seeking help with 200 M1A1 tanks, which it wants changed into a “special armor” configuration.
That job is tailor-made for Anniston’s depot.
Consider the timing; it’s critical. By the end of September, nearly 500 depot employees are scheduled to be laid off as the Pentagon continues the military drawdown in the U.S.’s foreign wars. There’s simply not enough work expected for the depot to retain its current work force.
Once in place, this potential deal with Morocco would allow many depot employees to remain on the job until October 2013. For skilled workers facing layoffs, those extra months of paychecks are no small matter.
Congress and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which is overseeing this process, need to make this happen.
We harbor no illusions that Anniston’s depot will be spared sizeable cuts to its manpower — even if more Moroccan-style contracts are signed later. Depot officials and military leaders have not strayed from this solemn message: The ending of the United States’ involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan means the depot’s work force will be reduced.
For the time being, it’s comforting that Nathan Hill, the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce’s military liaison, confirms that depots like Anniston’s may temporarily benefit from tank-refurbishing contracts from other nations.
But Hill’s message, like that coming from Washington, remains stark. As he told The Star, “(T)he workload overall is going to be coming down, which means that most of those people — I hope not — but most of those people probably are going to be terminated at a later date.”
Consider this a temporary victory. More depot work means more local families with paychecks. That’s a win — for now.
But it’s also another warning about the need to diversify Calhoun County’s economy. Communities so closely aligned with government jobs — military or otherwise — exist at the mercy of D.C. decisions. Or, in this case, decisions made by military bosses in Morocco.