However, vehicles routinely seeing action like the Stryker typically come back in need of major repairs and often with battle damage. Inspectors’ attention to detail is sharpened when they occasionally find live ammunition in a vehicle.
“It wouldn’t be a large caliber round, but you might find a .50 caliber shell or some dummy rounds,” Burke acknowledged. ANAD ordnance experts are called in to safely dispose of the ammunition.
Inspectors and the production teams who disassemble vehicles also find a lot of natural debris. Not surprisingly, Burke said, “The vehicles are very dirty when they return. You wouldn’t believe all the [debris] that collects in the bottom, which we find as we disassemble them.”
After initial inspection, each vehicle is placed in the main overhaul facility and disassembled. Any components not to be reused are disposed of while reusable parts are taken to the appropriate overhaul shop (engine, fire control systems, optics, hydraulics) to be refurbished and returned to the production line for reassembly.
The sheer number and variety of components that ANAD tracks and manages is staggering.
“When you’ve got a vehicle that has 20,000 parts and you have 30 or 40 of those vehicles in process, that’s a lot of parts,” Burke affirmed. “Getting them all back to the same place at the same time is not an easy task.”
Making that task easier is ANAD’s Depot Total Asset Visibility System, which tracks parts as they go through the repair process. Parts availability has occasionally been an issue for the depot’s production team during high-demand cycles, such as during the 2007 Iraq surge, but if a part cannot be tracked down elsewhere, ANAD production technicians can often fabricate it.
While components are being restored, vehicle chassis are thoroughly stripped, media blasted, structurally overhauled, and reunited with their parts on the assembly line. The vehicles are then assembled, test driven on ANAD’s own test track, cleaned, and painted. Completed units are turned back over to DLA, which may hold the vehicle in storage if it is overhauled ahead of schedule or ship it to its designated duty station.
The whole evolution would not be possible without the broad array of skilled employees at Anniston. Just as a NASCAR pit crew requires members with a variety of skills from rapid tire changing to suspension adjustment, ANAD’s production operations require fabrication, mechanical, electronics, welding, hydraulics, and engineering talent. A multitude of process and materials certifications are held by ANAD production personnel (there are 25 different welding certifications alone) who are periodically retested and who must keep abreast of technological development.
“That’s one of our strong points,” Burke confirmed. “Our mechanics and others know these systems, know these vehicles end to end. They’re not just assembly line workers like you find in a car plant. They know how to check and repair a variety of vehicles. These people aren’t just good at one thing. They’re good at a lot of things.”
However, such talent is scarce. Finding and retaining it is an ongoing challenge.
“We noticed even before [Operation Iraqi Freedom] that it was hard to go out and recruit all the skills we need,” Burke said. “We decided the best way to do it was to grow our own.”
Anniston started a high school co-op program with 40 students in 2001 to recruit new technical talent. It has evolved into the Anniston Army Depot Career Academy, a partnership between the Depot and the Alabama Department of Education. Area high school students with the requisite academics and desire are recruited annually for the Academy in their junior year. Selections are made the following summer and 100 seniors begin course work and interning in their chosen field at Anniston for half of each school day when school resumes. Upon high school graduation, Anniston Career Academy members continue their education at Gadsden State Community College leading to a degree and full-time employment at ANAD.