After all, he was a soldier once himself.
A veteran of the Gulf War, Meeks has worked for 15 years at the Anniston Army Depot, the last four as a supervisor for the overhaul of transmissions on tanks, personnel carriers and other military vehicles. However, he has done so in buildings constructed according to decades-old standards, regarded as inefficient today.
Meeks is one of about 150 people who work in the depot’s new 109,824-square-foot powertrain transmission facility, which will be used to repair transmissions in the Defense Department’s fleet of combat vehicles. Depot officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday to open the $54 million building.
“It’s very important,” Meeks said of the new facility. “We do everything here for the soldier. I love it.”
Located in the depot’s 1.5 million-square-foot Nichols Industrial Complex, the new transmission facility was constructed adjacent to the powertrain flexible maintenance facility, an engine facility that opened in 2009. Previously, depot employees overhauled and tested transmissions in nine different converted warehouses built in the 1940s.
Depot officials expect the integration of transmission repair operations under one roof will improve efficiency and yield an annual cost savings of $3.8 million over the life of the facility.
“The previous facility was spread out in 1940s-era warehouses that were much smaller and did not have as much equipment,” said Steven Pennington, chief of the transmission drive gear division. “Now we don’t have to send anything out on a forklift. It’s much more efficient.”
The transmission building is the latest in a string of new facilities opened at the depot. A $40.1 million industrial wastewater treatment plant last year was followed by the opening of an $18.2 million small-arms repair facility in January.
“What has amazed me is the Army has continued to modernize despite being in two major conflicts,” said Col. Timothy Sullivan, depot commander.
In addition to improving efficiency and saving money, the new facilities mean continued work for employees at a time when the depot is cutting jobs elsewhere. Depot officials expect to lay off 480 temporary and term workers by the end of September due to the end of the Iraq War and budget cuts. Temporary workers are hired short-term, based on the Army’s needs. Term workers are hired for between one and four years and their contracts are renewable if there is need for them.
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, who spoke at the ribbon- cutting, said efforts were still ongoing to keep jobs at the depot.
“We’re working very critically to increase foreign military sales,” he said. “We’re just scratching the surface of the potential of this facility out here.”
Rogers noted that the opening of the last few facilities was proof the military planned to support the depot for some time.
“All this investment should tell you what a critical role this facility plays,” he said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.