Known as the Department of Defense's premier bomb loading facility, McAlester Army Ammunition Plant (MCAAP) is growing another reputation--that of the nation's premier missile integration and maintenance facility.

MCAAP has been performing missile warhead loading and integration mission for their commercial customers for several years. However, that mission has been augmented by the programs absorbed from Red River Munitions Center (RRMC) in Texarkana, Texas, after they closed in June as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure action.

Encompassing almost 60,000 square feet, the brightly lit missile facility employs around 21 MCAAP workers. The building, last used to produce Zuni and 2.75" rockets until the mid-1980's, is sectioned so as to allow the maintenance and testing of several different types of missiles. Currently, work is comprised generally of Mavericks, Chaparrals and Stinger missiles. However, the versatile facility can accommodate a variety of missiles. When RRMC closed, nine Texans moved to MCAAP to continue their profession.

Situated in southeastern rural Oklahoma where you're likely to see ranchers and farmers in blue coveralls, MCAAP discovered that high-tech missile workers were not readily available. As a result, leaders at the ammunition plant worked with educators at Kiamichi Technology Center and created a four-year apprenticeship program that is growing electronic integrated technicians capable of working on missiles.

The internship program, which began in 2010, currently consists of eight students who spend a half-day at school and the rest of the day at the missile facility. They must complete two to three technical courses per semester. Upon graduation, the students are committed to working at MCAAP for one year. By 2014 officials are expecting to be able to fund another eight apprentices if workload continues to be available.

Some of their college courses include college algebra, plane trigonometry, electronic circuit analysis, introduction to digital electronics, linear integrated circuit analysis, microprocessor interfacing and electronic instruments and measurements.

"This program will ensure highly trained missile technicians keep the ammunition plant at the forefront by providing the warfighter with readily available missile support and readiness," said Mark Downs, Chief of the Precision Munitions Division.

Downs, who heads up the multi-million dollar missile facility, came to MCAAP from Red River Army Depot (RRAD) Patriot Missile Theater Readiness Maintenance Facility after the 2005 BRAC. He has 33 years in the Army with 15 of those years in the missile business.

Downs went to work for Lone Star Army Ammunition Pant in 1977 assembling 155mm rounds which are now being decommissioned at MCAAP. In June 1978 Downs then went to work at RRAD and worked his way up from rubber worker to a division chief. During this time he completed a four year apprenticeship in electronics and spent a year in Kuwait where he instructed the Kuwaiti Air Force about their Patriot missile stock and recertification operations.

While Downs is in charge of the missile facility, Tim Easley, integrated systems mechanic leader, works directly with the apprentices.

"A good missile technician can determine if a missile is bad or if it is the test station, that's where you're schooling comes in," he said. The apprentices work alongside much higher grade workers which ensures production quality on every missile. Easley says that it works much like a mentoring program.

The Chaparral, according to Easely, is the most difficult missile to learn since it has an integrated system. With the Chaparral, "you are actually learning the brains of the missile, what it should and should not do for the warfighter," he said.

For Garett Rose, integrated systems mechanic apprentice, working with missiles is a lot different from making bombs, his previous job at the plant. "Making bombs is a fairly routine business. Here (at the missile facility) you're getting involved in high technology and improving your work skills and experience." Rose will graduate from the apprenticeship program in 2014 and, as an apprenticeship requirement, work a mandatory year for MCAAP as an integrated systems mechanic.

McAlester Army Ammunition Plant is the Department of Defense's premier bomb and missile integration and maintenance facility.