She was busy Thursday at the Anniston Army Depot’s small-arms facility, which opened there more than a year ago. Evans had been transferred from vehicle electronics to small arms to help with the workload when the facility opened. She eventually decided to stay, however, instead of returning to her previous job.
“I enjoyed the work ... and there is job security,” Evans said. “It’s a good place.”
A state-of-the-art operation, the small-arms facility is the only place of its kind in the country that completely overhauls firearms for the U.S. Army. It’s a distinction that depot officials and military experts say will keep the facility active and is a major asset for the depot, despite a projected 42 percent cut in the small-arms workload there in 2015.
In the last couple of years, the depot has experienced declining workloads as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have drawn down, resulting in several hundred layoffs of temporary and term employees. Work at the depot includes repair, modification and upgrades of various heavy and light armored vehicles. Sequestration, the general term for federal budget cuts that began March 1, further threatens to decrease workloads at the depot.
The small-arms facility has not escaped the cuts unscathed. The $18.2 million, 86,000-square-foot facility opened with 173 employees but now has 132.
In an email Thursday to The Anniston Star, Michael Burke, deputy to the commander at the depot, said the workload at the facility dropped 32 percent this year compared to when it first opened.
“We expect it to rebound next year as what’s in the plan is nearly double the workload for this year,” Burke said. “However, after that we see it dropping again with the 2015 workload projections showing a 42 percent decrease from 2012 when the facility opened.”
Still, the facility is seen by military officials as a major asset that will help the depot remain a viable defense property for years to come.
“The small-arms facility is the most modern and efficient facility used to repair small-caliber weapons in the Department of Defense,” Burke said. “It, along with the other new facilities recently constructed at the depot, will only enhance our overall military value.”
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno, who visited the depot for the first time last week, also recognized the facility’s value to the depot. Odierno has said that there is still about $21 billion worth of equipment in Afghanistan that must be repaired or modified.
“A lot of that will be done in Anniston, especially at the small-arms facility ... that will be key for us,” Odierno said.
Jeff Bonner, division chief for the small-arms facility, said Odierno was impressed with the facility and particularly with the employees, who he saw as being capable of doing more than one type of job there. Bonner said he believes the small-arms facility is an important part of the depot that will likely grow in significance over time.
“We are a big asset,” Bonner said. “We are the only authorized small-arms overhaul facility for the Department of Defense ... there is a small overhaul facility for the Marines in Georgia, but they do only one-tenth of the scale of work we do.”
The small-arms facility repairs and cleans nearly all firearms used by the Army in the field, from handguns and rifles to heavy machine guns, mortar cannons and grenade launchers. The facility has state-of-the-art equipment for cleaning, modification, refinishing, functional testing and target accuracy testing. Also, the facility is located near the Defense Logistics Agency at the depot, which is responsible for storing and dispersing the firearms. The proximity keeps security risks to a minimum during transport of weapons between the facility and the DLA.
“It’s a great asset for the depot,” said Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, referring to the small-arms facility. “It’s certainly a way to keep up the depot’s workload.”
Hill said the facility also has the advantage of being capable of overhauling many weapons throughout the DOD, not just those from the Army.
“Hopefully in the future, they can do work for all those weapons,” he said.
Clarence Martin, a small-arms repair worker at the depot who served in the Army from 1971 to 1992, said he was confident in his job security and the value of the small-arms facility, along with the work he and his fellow employees do there.
“I feel like we’re doing a lot for the soldiers ... they know they can depend on these weapons,” Martin said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.