McALESTER, Okla. (Aug. 18, 2014) -- The senior Army leader responsible for equipping the nation's Soldiers with everything they wear, shoot, drive, fly and eat made his first-ever visit to McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, here.

Gen. Dennis L. Via, commanding general, U.S. Army Materiel Command, based at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, was familiar with the facility in southeast Oklahoma, but it was the first time that he physically toured the plant and learned first-hand about the bomb- and warhead-loading facility's unique capabilities.

Before he even entered McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, referred to as MCAAP, Via examined the branding at the gate to see if it identified the organization as an Army installation under Army Materiel Command and the Joint Munitions Command.

Via said the Army provides 40 percent of the Department of Defense's enabling capabilities and that branding at installations helps everyone understand who is supporting the nation's warfighters.

"You have to talk about the relevance of what you do, and the operational impact on the warfighter and nation -- what you can no longer do -- if you don't get the funding you need," Via said.

Among items highlighted was MCAAP's unique rail construction and repair capability. The mobile rail team does work for the DOD throughout the United States, and overseas. It generates about $15 million annually by performing the work, said Gary Reasnor, MCAAP civilian deputy to the commander.

"That is one skill set that is lost [elsewhere] within the Army that we still have here," he told the general.

Via encouraged MCAAP to seek certification as the Center of Industrial and Technical Excellence for railroad construction and repair for not only the Army, but for the entire Defense Department.

"You can make a real case here for what is unique that you can provide," he said. "It's a real plus to the installation and your command."

Col. Joseph G. Dalessio, MCAAP commander, talked about the command emphasis put on sexual harassment/assault response and prevention, and said the plant will have a second trained victim's advocate by the end of the August.

Via acknowledged that it's important for the well-being of the workforce and the Army.

"This is so important," Via said, "because at the end of the day, for those of us who have children who may decide to join the service or serve as a civilian, we want to know they will be treated with dignity and respect. That's what this is all about."

Dalessio said another of his concerns is the 10,000 electrical panels on the plant that require a schematic hazard analysis to address hazards associated with arc flash.

Arc flash occurs when an electrical current leaves its intended path and travels from one conductor to another with potentially violent and perhaps even deadly results when people are involved.

In addition to the money needed to address the problem, Dalessio said his long-term solution is to hire a full-time electrical engineer to ensure the plant is compliant with applicable regulations.

In addition to learning about MCAAP, Via also received a briefing about the current state of explosives safety from Upton Shimp, Ph.D., director of the Defense Ammunition Center, the Defense Department's explosives safety "think tank."

Via took time during his six-hour visit to recognize several employees. He recognized Ginger Maxwell, MCAAP's victim's advocate, for receiving calls related to sexual harassment/assault response and prevention, and rendering assistance.

He also recognized Coluah Stanfield, equal employment opportunity manager, who has worked at the plant for 36 years and will retire at the end of the year, and Darrell Elliott, director of the environmental management office, for leading the ISO 14001 recertification effort. All were presented an AMC lapel pin with four gold stars. Stanfield also received the commander's coin of excellence.

Following the command briefing, Via opened the floor for an impromptu town hall meeting. The first, and perhaps most obvious, question he was asked was if he expects another Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, in the future.

Via said that if sequestration is not repealed for 2016, the Army will be reduced from about 495,000 to 420,000 troops and then BRAC will be necessary to reduce excess installations. He added that Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, and Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, have already testified before Congress that a BRAC will be necessary in 2017, if the drawdown occurs.

Via said the budget will also continue on a downward trajectory, but that a reduction in force is a last resort.

"We want to mitigate risk and the way we take care of our workforce is that we manage turnover, attrition and hiring so we don't have to RIF people, if that point comes," he said.

He spent the remainder of his visit touring MCAAP. He observed the automated demilitarization of the 155mm Dual Purpose Improved Convention Munition artillery round, the load, pack and assembly of air-delivered conventional bombs, and the modernization of the Air Force bomb line, which will facilitate the loading of insensitive munitions bombs that are safer to store and transport.

Via toured the Sensor Fuzed Weapon production line. The SFW is manufactured using the MCAAP workforce and facilities under a public-private partnership with Textron Systems.

The tour concluded with a drive through MCAAP's largest outload pad -- two and a half times the size of a football field -- where Via observed depot-operations employees working on four shipments simultaneously.

While he was familiar already with MCAAP and its mission, the tour left quite an impression.

"I've been thoroughly impressed with the visit and the capabilities that are here," Via said during a media engagement before departing the base. "Most of all, I've been impressed with the great folks working here."

"This is a national asset for the security of our nation and having a viable place like McAlester [Army Ammunition Plant] is an insurance policy," the general said in closing.

Dalessio said it was the best visit he had been a part of.

"We had a great visit with Gen. Via," he said. "It was an incredible opportunity to showcase our unmatched workforce, unique mission set, and public-private partnerships. Gen. Via left with a better understanding and appreciation for what MCAAP contributes to our nation's security efforts."

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McAlester Army Ammunition Plant is the Department of Defense's premier bomb- and warhead-loading facility. It is one of 14 installations of the Joint Munitions Command, and one of 23 organic industrial bases under the U.S. Army Materiel Command, which include arsenals, depots and ammunition plants. MCAAP is vital to ammunition stockpile management and delivery to the joint warfighter for training and combat operations.