REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala., Oct. 12, 2011 -- On display outside the new Von Braun III on Thursday were two pieces of hardware; a training model of the Ground Based Interceptor and a THAAD Launcher Model, which represent the advanced missile technology that the Missile Defense Agency is known for.

But the real show was what visitors discovered on going through the front entrance of the 840,000-square-foot facility. State-of-the-art in design, furnishings and technology, Von Braun III has it all: an 800-seat auditorium, 700-diner cafeteria, 120 conference rooms, barber shop, dry cleaners and laundry, convenience store, Starbucks, ice cream and snack store, supply store, fitness center, a Dr. Wernher von Braun exhibit area, a basement area for classified work and full video-teleconferencing capabilities as well as six floors of office space for about 2,600 employees.

Thursday's ribbon cutting for Von Braun III doubled as an open house for the Missile Defense Agency's work force and their families. It was billed as a one-time only opportunity for employees to show off their new work environment, and for community leaders and local media to get a chance to tour the entire facility, which cost $221.8 million to build and $94 million to equip and furnish.

Serving as the host of the event was Missile Defense Agency director Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly. In his comments, he thanked the congressmen "who worked tirelessly to give us such a beautiful facility. Their work goes back many years to make this a reality."

Calling it a "gallant affair that is appropriate for today's milestone," O'Reilly said the name of the new facility and the complex itself reflects a mission in U.S. missile and rocket development started some 50 years ago by its namesake -- Dr. Wernher von Braun.

The von Braun rocket team worked to make the "vision of space travel a reality. They struggled to meet the technical challenges. We, too, strive to obtain that vision before us and to make it a reality," O'Reilly said.

He said the new facility is designed "to develop a healthy, strong work environment. To achieve our goals, we have to make sure to attract the finest work force necessary to deliver needed capability (in missile defense) for our country. This building is to be the hub of missile defense for our nation."

The Missile Defense Agency has seen significant growth in its global operations in recent years. In 2004, the agency had about 1,000 employees. The agency also has workers at its headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va., and at other U.S. locations. Today, it employs about 5,000.

Besides housing 2,600 of those employees, the new facility will represent U.S. capabilities to the nation's friends and allies around the world, O'Reilly said.

"This tremendous facility allows jointness," he said, referring to the military branch partnerships within the Army agency. He also mentioned the close working relationship of the agency with its Von Braun Complex neighbor, the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.

"With the inter-relationships here we can deliver technical capability and quickly make operational capability," O'Reilly said. "We are making this our home in the cradle of missile history here in the Tennessee Valley."

Construction on Von Braun III began in April 2008, with completion three years later. Within the Von Braun complex, there are just under 2,600 missile defense employees and 180 Space and Missile Defense Command employees in Von Braun III, and 950 MDA employees in Von Braun II. Another 600 agency workers are located in facilities off-post on Bradford Drive and another 400 agency employees are located in smaller facilities on the Arsenal as well as at off-site contractor facilities, according to Paul Schaefer, the agency's chief of facility operations.

With about 1,000 employees still located in other Arsenal and Huntsville offices, O'Reilly said during a press conference following the ribbon cutting that there are plans for a Von Braun IV. If Congress approves those plans, the fourth building in the Von Braun Complex could open as early as 2014.

"Unfortunately, our mission grows every day," he said. "As proliferation of missiles grows around the world, we see the need for this mission to grow."

Agency employees started moving into Von Braun III in May, with about 275 moving each week. The new facility combined employees from about seven large buildings.

"The largest concentration of missile defense engineers in the world is in this building. This facility was many years in coming. We're very proud of our facility. It speaks for itself," O'Reilly said. "It's state of the art and offers the very best."

A "beautiful facility in a beautiful community" is needed, he said, to attract scientists, engineers and mathematicians. And it is evidently working as the agency receives a "tremendous number of applicants for our positions. It's a tremendous success story for us and our recruitment."

The Missile Defense Agency recruits young engineers and scientists as well as mid-level managers from across the nation. Once recruited, the agency has a high retainment rate, with only 1 percent attrition.

"This is the perfect incubator for new technologies and for future generations of scientists and engineers. It's very easy to talk about the excitement and the adventure of the type of work we do," O'Reilly said. "As the hub of missile defense development for the U.S.," the agency is home to 30 program offices in support of development and testing of long-range and short-range missiles.

O'Reilly said it is important to the agency's effectiveness and efficiencies to have agency employees working on programs side-by-side at the Von Braun III rather than having them spread out in offices at different facilities.

"We benefit from being co-located (with both Army civilians and contractors together). A lot of good work occurs in the hallways, at the water coolers and walking back and forth to the parking lot," he said.

And with the Von Braun III's hallway space totaling 17 football fields in square footage, there is plenty of opportunity in the work space of the facility for Missile Defense Agency employees to develop new missile technologies.

Page last updated Wed October 12th, 2011 at 00:00