Cup runs over for depot

Rachael Scarborough King

Star Staff Writer
Published: June 28, 2006

BYNUM – Inside the giant hangar at Anniston Army Depot known as Building 400 are rows of armored vehicles: tanks, recovery vehicles, combat earthmovers and bridge launchers. Outside, the thousands of parts and pieces used to rebuild the machines sit in haphazard-looking stacks, covering the surrounding tarmac.

As the war in Iraq stretches into its fourth year, the depot is overflowing with equipment small and large, from pistols to tanks, in need of repair.

“I’ve been here since 1981, and I’ve never seen as much stuff,” said Joan Gustafson, the depot’s spokeswoman. “There is stuff everywhere.”

At the Nichols Industrial Complex in the eastern part of the depot, small lanes for cars, trucks and fork lifts wind around the piles of parts waiting to be put to use. Near the main road approaching the complex, dozens of tanks and turrets on their way into the shops line the train tracks.

Since the beginning of the Iraq war the depot’s work load has doubled, said Paul Harper, general manager of production operations.

“As you watch the news on CNN and so forth, everything you see that the soldiers are using … just about everything that rolls and shoots on the battlefield comes through here for refurbishment,” Harper said.

The depot serviced 1,725 vehicles and 58,846 small weapons in the 2006 fiscal year, versus 597 vehicles and 17,013 arms in 2003. In 2006 949 of the vehicles and 54,601 of the arms being worked on were back from the Middle East for refurbishment; in 2003 those numbers were 56 vehicles and zero small arms.

The workload increase has led managers to take a number of steps to speed production. They have hired more employees, who now are working two 12-hour shifts six days a week. They also have changed the method of working on vehicles, moving to an assembly-line style of production.

Patti Sparks, chief of the Enterprise Excellence Division, said that when the war started, the depot had to find ways to stretch scarce resources. Now, with the ever-increasing amount of equipment passing through the depot, the goal is to improve quality and productivity.

“We want to reduce the number of man-hours that it takes to produce these things … (so we will be) getting a quicker turnover, getting it back to the soldier in the field,” Sparks said. “You also save money. You do as much work as you can and get it back out into the field as quickly as you can.”

The depot began operating as a storage facility in 1942 and is now known as “The Tank Rebuild Center of the World,” according to its official Web site. It employs about 2,600 people, with a payroll of $120 million and an operating budget of $260 million.

The depot has had decades of experience fixing up vehicles to send back to combat zones. But now, the tanks are coming from and going to an area with vastly different conditions than northeast Alabama.

One contributing factor in the current workload is the harsh environment in Iraq.

“With the heat, and especially the fine powdery dust, anything you put in those conditions it’s hard on that equipment because (the sand) can get into any crack and cause wear,” Harper said. “There is wear associated with those conditions, but by and large anything and everything that needs to be done to a vehicle, there’s not anything that’s coming to us that we can not repair.”

Harper said the depot gained experience in handling that kind of wear and tear during the Gulf War. Because of the desert conditions, Army units may send pieces of equipment back earlier than usual for smaller repairs.

“Equipment wears and deteriorates quicker under those kinds of conditions and requires maintenance earlier,” he said.

“What’s happening is that these vehicles are being run longer than their projected life was anticipated,” Gustafson said.

While the depot works with Army and Marine Corps engineers to develop new technology – for example, an updated bridging device is currently in the works – Harper said he is not aware of any changes that have been made specifically to deal with the harsh conditions in the Middle East.

“The work we do on them is very similar for our (other) customers,” he said. “There’s not anything that we’re doing on vehicles for war versus vehicles that we’re assigning to troops in other locations.”

The majority of the depot’s workload is the M1 Abrams Tank, said Process Optimization Manager Ted Law. It costs about $900,000 and takes about 62 days to completely overhaul an M1. That price is about 25 percent of what a brand-new M1 would cost.

Vehicles coming back from the Middle East arrive in a variety of conditions, Harper said.

“It depends on how old the equipment is, how it was used and what the customer would like us to do to them,” he said.

The work to be done on each vehicle is determined before it arrives at the depot and ranges from minor repairs to a complete refurbishment.

The first step in the process to totally overhaul a vehicle is disassembly. The pieces of equipment enter one end of Building 400, “the hub of operations for all our vehicle programs,” Law said. The turret or cab has already been removed; workers then strip away the track, engine, transmission and road wheel arms.

“Pretty soon there’ll be nothing left but literally an empty hull, an empty shell, and then it will start going through the processes,” Gustafson, the spokeswoman, said.

After disassembly, work starts to rebuild the vehicle. During this process, pieces are moved down the assembly line by huge overhead cranes. The procedure looks almost like building with Lego blocks: At each successive stage, workers follow a blueprint to add a set number of parts until the tank is completed.

Eventually, “we can drive the vehicle out these back doors,” Law, the process-optimization manager, said. The equipment then is tested on an outdoor track, the turret is reattached, and it is ready for the final step of painting and stenciling. There are more than 8,000 components that come off and go back on an M1 Abrams Tank.

The vehicles end up “better than new,” Gustafson said, because modern technology is applied to equipment like the M1, which was designed and built in the early 1980s.

In order to increase productivity since the start of the war, managers at the depot such as Law and Sparks have challenged workers to come up with ways to improve safety, quality and output. Sparks’ division holds 10 to 20 events each month in the smaller shops and in Building 400 to brainstorm new methods.

Once the new methods have been implemented, they are celebrated with a ceremony attended by the depot’s commander.

Sparks and Harper emphasize that it is the workers who are coming up with solutions.

“The best ideas always come from the people doing the job,” said Harper, the general manager of production operations. “Since the people in the process recognize and make the changes, then they own those changes.”

He added: “It allows us to do the same amount of work with less time and less people.”

By making these types of continuous process improvements, the Depot can avoid “having to go out and hire 1,500 more people that we would just have to let go when this war effort is over,” Sparks said.

The biggest challenge since the start of the war has not been the condition of equipment coming back from the war zone but the huge increase in the amount of work, Harper said.

“We have a work force that is second to none,” he said. “Ever since the surge associated with the war has begun, our work force has come through in accomplishing everything the Army has asked them to do.”

Members of the depot’s civilian work force even volunteer for 179-day “tours” to Camp Anaconda in Iraq, where they work on vehicles that need refurbishment in the field. There is never a shortage of volunteers, Gustafson said.

“Alabama (in addition to) the depot is a very patriotic state,” she said.

An electronic sign at the depot entrance reminds workers, “Our Soldiers Depend on You” and cautions them to drive safely: “We Want You Back.” Harper said the work force has handled the difficulties associated with the war.

“The challenge has been to be able to accommodate a steady increase in the amount of work, do it within cost and when the soldiers ask for it, and it has to be a high-quality product because lives depend on it,” Harper said. “That has been in general terms the biggest challenge, but we’ve been able to meet that challenge.”

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Sheriff’s office says population has grown in the area, but crime hasn’t

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 28, 2006

Lynn Edwards owns two local stores, one in Jacksonville and one in Alexandria.

The Jacksonville store has been burglarized twice recently, with “people stealing whatever they can get their hands on,” he said.

The store in Alexandria, Valley Meats and Deli, was broken into several years ago but has not had any problems since. On Tuesday morning some suspicious scratch marks could be seen near the door’s lock, but Edwards said they could have come from carrying in boxes.

As the population of Alexandria has grown in the last few years, so have concerns about a rise in crime. But such fears may be unfounded, according to the sheriff’s office.

Because Alexandria is not an incorporated town, its law enforcement is handled by the sheriff’s office. Chief Deputy Matthew Wade, who lives in Alexandria, said it is generally a safe area.

“As far as it being a high-crime area, I would say that’s not the case,” Wade said. “The neighborhood I live in, we all know each other. It’s kind of like the old times … People still trust their neighbors and believe in having good neighbors.”

As people move into the county’s jurisdiction from towns such as Anniston and Oxford that have their own police forces, Wade said, the sheriff’s office has seen an increase in calls for service. But he said that does not necessarily reflect an increased crime rate.

“The sheriff’s office has seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls for service,” he said. “Personnel hasn’t grown at the same rate as it should have to keep up with the calls for service.”

The types of crime seen most frequently in Alexandria, Wade said, are “crimes against property.”

“There’s always the occasional crime against person,” he said. “Normally when you have property crimes, it’s people that come from other areas and prey on people’s homes when they’re at work.”

Several Alexandria residents agreed that the crimes they hear about most are ones like breaking and entering or car theft. Most also said they do not think of Alexandria as a high-crime area.

“It’s very tight-knit,” said Jodie Thompson, who moved from Heflin in April. “I’ve heard that there were some people who got their cars broken into but I’ve never felt scared at any point – everybody has great neighbors who look out for each other.”

Thompson lives on Gate Five Road, which in March was the site of one of the most violent crimes in Alexandria in recent memory. In a gunfight that police said was motivated by drug money, a man shot at two others with an AK-47 assault rifle and was critically injured himself.

Thompson said she was not aware of the incident. Other neighbors said they do not think crime is a big issue in the area.

Wade said Alexandria “would not be considered a high drug area.”

“With the number of vehicles that go up and down (U.S. 431) there’s going to be people that have drugs in their vehicle … but that’s not from Alexandria residents,” Wade said.

Some long-time Alexandria residents said they welcomed newcomers to the area.

“The people that are moving in seem to be quality people that will be an asset to the community,” said J.D. Hess, the county commissioner for the area.

Hess added that he hasn’t “really noticed anything out of the normal” in terms of crime.

Clarence Page, a lifelong resident of Alexandria and owner of Stormco Manufacturing, said he thinks that “on a percentage-wise” basis crime has gone up due to more drug use.

“When you get a lot of people together, of course there’s going to be change in the community,” Page said. “It’s an ongoing thing, I guess: when you have more people you’re going to have more problems.”

Page added that he thinks Alexandria is “one of the safer communities in the county or in the state.”

One concern for law-enforcement officials and Alexandria locals is the increase in traffic on U.S. 431 and the side roads.

Thompson said she thinks the biggest issue on Gate 5 Road is “that people drive too fast.” Wade said conditions are becoming increasingly dangerous on U.S. 431, which has a 65-mph speed limit through Alexandria.

“You have more and more traffic coming in and out of the highway,” he said. “If you have an accident, someone hits you in the side at 65 miles per hour, it’s definitely going to be a more serious accident even if you’re doing the speed limit.”

He added that deputies are frequently out on U.S. 431 because it is centrally located to the rest of the county. Page said the officers are a visible presence in the community. He said he would oppose incorporating even if it meant Alexandria would have its own police force.

“We depend on the sheriff’s department who’s doing a great job, I think, out here in the community,” Page said. “Patrolling you see them, and that’s who we depend on keeping us safe.”

Thompson, too, said she often sees patrol cars on her street.

“The guys who were breaking into the cars got caught, so the police obviously were trying to be on top of things,” she said.

Wade said several members of the sheriff’s department live in the area.

“It attracts good honest people that are hard working,” Wade said. “It’s a close-knit community – most everybody out there knows the other person.”

Eastaboga man killed in motorcycle accident

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 25, 2006

An Eastaboga man was killed Friday afternoon when the motorcycle he was riding ran off the road seven miles north of Sylacauga.

The 2000 Harley Davidson ridden by Joe Merle Wheeler, 51, left Tallaseehatchee Road in Talladega County and struck a non-breakaway road sign at 1:45 p.m., according to a report from the State Trooper post in Jacksonville. The accident is under investigation, according to the report.

Local amateur radio club joins in Ham Radio Field Day

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 25, 2006

A rumble of thunder threatened the families that were barbecuing, throwing footballs, and enjoying the playground equipment Saturday at Jacksonville’s Germania Springs Park. The sound didn’t rattle members of the Calhoun County Emergency Radio Club who had set up at the park for Ham Radio Field Day.

“Think we need to unplug for a few?” club President Keith Allen asked as the storm approached.

“Not me,” said Bob Maynard, who has had his Ham radio license for 50 years. “Do or die.”

Field Day is an annual event during which Ham radio clubs and individual enthusiasts nationwide compete to make the most contacts with others around the country and the world. Clubs collect points for the number of contacts, the difficulty of the transmission, media attention and the number of public officials who attend.

“Some people get very serious about the competing and try to get maximum points, some people just have fun and don’t worry about the points at all,” Allen said. “We’re somewhere in the middle.”

This year, about 30,000 people throughout the country are participating in the event, which continues today. Around 10 people had set up at Germania Springs.

Field Day started at 1 p.m. Saturday. It continues for 24 hours straight, ending this afternoon. The public can drop in while the event is going on. About an hour after starting, operators in Germania Springs had already made about 40 contacts, mostly within Alabama.

Allen said one goal was to talk to someone in every U.S. state within the 24-hour period, but added that wasn’t realistic.

“We just like to contact as many different places as we can,” he said. “I’d be tickled pink if we got a confirmation from Alaska, that would be beautiful.”

As curious onlookers wandered over to look at the equipment, Allen invited them to join.

“We’re open to the public, and anybody who wants to, we’ll sit them down and let them try to make contact,” he said.

The purpose of Field Day, said Allen and Paige Soehren, the club’s public information officer, is for “Hams” to practice operating in emergency situations. All the equipment used this weekend is run off generators or batteries.

“What they do is like training for operating in an emergency or a disaster situation,” Soehren said. “When cell phones, land lines and the Internet go down, Ham operators are always the source of communication.”

After both Hurricane Katrina and Sept. 11, amateur radio operators were the primary means of communication, Soehren said.

“They were on the ground and on the front lines during Hurricane Katrina for almost a week, probably, before any other form of communication came back,” she said. The same was true for the first 48 hours at Ground Zero after Sept. 11.

Allen said that after Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, his club sent many “health and welfare” messages from relatives in Calhoun County trying to contact loved ones in the affected areas.

“This experience is important because it gets a lot of guys out that through the year probably wouldn’t do a lot of portable operating,” said Tom Belmann, another member. “It gives them a chance to … keep up to date.”

While Ham radio may seem like a dying art, Soehren said there are several hundred licensed operators in Calhoun County. The Field Day members on Saturday ranged from those who had been licensed only a few months to others who had been operating for decades.

At 16, Courtney Smith was by far the youngest participant. Being there with her mother and stepfather, club President Allen, made it a family event.

“I like to talk to places I’ve never been but I’d like to go, like Jamaica, Australia,” Smith said. “It’s just a neat experience.”

Scholarship benefit, other charity fund-raisers memorialize White Plains teenager

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 23, 2006

Anita Davenport wants people to remember her stepson, Daniel Darrell Davenport, as he was before his four-wheeler accident in May 2005: “He was just the best kid anybody could ask for.”

Saturday, she will mark the one-year anniversary of Daniel’s death with a fund-raiser at the Quad Cities Fire Department. The event will benefit a scholarship set up in Daniel’s memory.

Daniel, who was 18 and a senior at White Plains High School, crashed into a tree while riding a four-wheeler on May 24, 2005. He died at the University Hospitals in Birmingham on June 25, after a month in a medically induced coma.

An anonymous donor provided the initial gift for the scholarship fund, which awards one graduating White Plains student each year $1,000 toward college. This year’s recipient is Lauren Jenkins.

The goal of Saturday’s event, Davenport said, is to raise enough money to continue the scholarship.

“It made us feel good to be able to give that scholarship, because he left such a good legacy,” Davenport said. “I just want to keep the scholarship fund going; I’d like to keep it going for many, many, many years.”

The original gift included enough money to award the scholarship for four years. The winner is chosen by a committee of the White Plains alumni association, and the money is administered by the school. Winners must be in good academic standing and must have played varsity sports for two years.

Jenkins, the winner this year, said she decided to apply “because it was just a good scholarship and Daniel was such a good person.”

“He was just an awesome person, he left behind some great memories and legacies, and for me to be able to receive the scholarship in his name was just a great honor,” said Jenkins, who will attend Troy State University in the fall.

Saturday’s fund-raiser will feature other charity activities designed to honor Daniel’s memory.

“He was a big animal lover, so we wanted to help with The Animal Shelter,” Davenport said.

There also will be a station to give blood and a donation bin for Center of Hope. To raise money, organizers will be selling food, T-shirts, and arts and crafts. A silent auction also will be held.

Growing pains

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 23, 2006

ALEXANDRIA – For years, residents gathered at the store at the corner of Alexandria-Wellington Road and Jacksonville-Alexandria Highway to visit with neighbors as they did their grocery shopping.

In 1991, the store stopped operating as a full grocery when it changed ownership and was renamed Valley Meats and Deli, leaving the community without a grocery.

Now, as Alexandria experiences a residential surge with new subdivisions already built and several more in the works, businesses are rushing to fill in the gaps for people’s commercial needs.

Two years ago, a shopping center with a supermarket went in on U.S. 431, a few blocks away from Valley Meats and Deli. Cheaha Bank recently opened a branch in the same shopping center.

Since the beginning of 2004, 195 new business licenses have been issued in Alexandria, according to Barry Robertson, Calhoun County license commissioner.

“In the last 10 years the growth that’s happened out there, I wouldn’t know the number of new businesses that have opened out there but it’s quite a few,” said Sam Prichard, who opened Alexandria Foodland on U.S. 431 two years ago.

Business owners in the area said the commercial development fills a need for old and new residents, who no longer have to drive to Saks or Jacksonville to shop.

“There just wasn’t a convenient place for people to shop,” Prichard said. “There were smaller stores out there, but some people would drive to a Wal-Mart or Winn-Dixie or Food World, and we brought that out there to them.”

John Burgess, a lifelong Alexandria resident who has owned the 144 Pawn Shop for the last eight years, said the growth has helped his business by bringing more customers to the area.

“Business makes business, you know, it draws people,” Burgess said.

He added that Alexandria is not the small “country community” it once was.

“It’s nothing negative … urban people just probably think or live differently,” he said. “I think it becomes more impersonal.”

Jessica Smith, manager of the three-year-old Subway sandwich shop on U.S. 431, said her customers do not seem to be exclusively Alexandria residents, but come from many parts of the county.

“I’ve had a lot of people tell me they prefer this Subway over a lot of the other ones,” she said. “I’ve heard my employees are friendlier.”

She added that in the three years she has worked in Alexandria she has seen a great deal of commercial growth.

“When I first started working there wasn’t a Jack’s or anything and (they’re) kind of putting all kinds of businesses and stuff around here,” she said.

Smith added that the new restaurants – which also include a Sonic and Huddle House – do not take business away from Subway because it is “just a healthier choice.”

Chief Deputy Matthew Wade of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office said crime has not gone up in the area with the influx of new residents, but that the number of calls the sheriff’s office receives has.

“When you bring … all those people into the county jurisdiction you’re going to see not necessarily more crimes but more calls for service,” he said. “The sheriff’s office has seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls for service.”

Additionally, the new businesses mean that more cars are turning on and off U.S. 431, Wade said. That stretch of the road has a speed limit of 65 mph, creating the conditions for serious accidents even if drivers are not speeding.

Burgess, the owner of 144 Pawn Shop, said the business growth seems to have leveled off. Both he and J.D. Hess, the county commissioner for the area, said development in Alexandria is hindered by the lack of a sewer system.

“If we can ever get that completed – and that’s a major project – … that will bring more shopping and restaurants to that end of the county,” Hess said.

Burgess said the businesses in the Alexandria Foodland shopping center put in their own system, but that for a single store or restaurant “the cost wouldn’t be feasible.”

Despite the growth, many residents continue to think of Alexandria as a small, close-knit community. Lynn Edwards, owner of Valley Meats and Deli, said people driving through on U.S. 431 might think that the area has been transformed in recent years, but that actually “the community feeling has not changed.”

“There’s a lot more people here and there’s a lot more activity … but the atmosphere has not changed,” Edwards said.

Monitor loved ones, pets as daytime heat soars

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 22, 2006

The dog days of summer can be especially hard on dogs.

As the mercury starts to hover consistently in the mid-90s, social service agencies in Calhoun County are gearing up for a spike in the number of both people and animals suffering problems from the heat.

Pets are at risk of heat exhaustion and stroke. Children, the elderly, and disabled or sick people also need to be aware of dehydration and overheating.

Last summer, there were two heat-related deaths in Calhoun County, said Coroner Bill Partridge. Angie Persch, executive director of The Animal Shelter, said she frequently hears of animals succumbing to the heat during the summer months.

“People will come in and say, ‘My dog just died,'” Persch said. “Well, why do you think it just died?”

Dogs are susceptible to heat exhaustion and heatstroke because they don’t sweat, Persch said. Instead, they pant heavily to cool themselves down, a sign a dog is overheated. Other indicators include looking delirious, walking in circles, and staring vacantly. Cats also are at risk, but they are more able to climb into small, cool spots.

If dogs have to stay outside, they need a supply of water and a shady area. Leaving a dog in a car for any amount of time is a “big no-no,” Persch said.

“Outside, it could 80 degrees, (but) inside your car it’s 105 even if you have an inch rolled down on the windows,” she said. “You may be away for 15 minutes to pay a bill and you go back and your dog will be dead.”

The Community Action Agency in Anniston helps people pay their electricity bills so that they can keep the air-conditioning turned on during the summer months. Assistant Manager Sharon Buard-Stockdale said the agency provides assistance to low-income families and sees 30 to 35 people a day.

“A lot of them are asthmatic, (they have) bronchitis, health problems like heart problems,” Buard-Stockdale said. “They’re taking a lot of medications so they need to be in a cool and stable environment.”

As with animals, water and shade are two of the main ingredients for coping with the heat. Avoiding hot foods, salt, alcohol and heavy meals is also helpful, Buard-Stockdale said.

“They should stay in as much as they can and … drink a lot of liquids and wear less clothing, different things like that,” she said.

Persch of The Animal Shelter said pet owners often don’t realize that their animals are becoming dehydrated. Partridge, the coroner, said the same holds true for people.

“Some people can’t afford to have air conditioning and they don’t realize how hot they’re getting,” he said.