ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Anniston Army Depot's Upholstery Branch is a unique organization within the Nichols Industrial Complex. Rather than focusing on one vehicle program, a single process or a particular piece of equipment, the men and women of upholstery boast a wide range of skills -- from sewing to machining -- utilizing an array of materials.

"The upholstery shop has a broad skill base. Our employees have risen to every challenge as a team with one goal in mind -- supporting the warfighter," said Jason Graves, fabric worker leader for the Upholstery Branch. "We want the parts and products we produce to be the best because our children or grandchildren could be using this product on the field of battle. If we do our best, the warfighter gets a quality product."

Every vehicle repaired or overhauled at Anniston Army Depot is touched by one or more members of the Upholstery Branch. Jacqueline Johnson, a longtime employee of the depot, is one of the individuals working on the vehicles.

"For the larger vehicles, we go to where the vehicle itself is located, for example, we'll go to the shop or lot where the M1 Abrams tanks are to install headrests, knee pads, straps and other items," said Johnson. "The smaller tanks, such as the M113, can be brought into our shop."

Johnson said the ability to work on smaller tanks in the building's climate-controlled en-vironment is beneficial during cold months, when temperatures often work against the adhesives used by employees.

Johnson has worked with many of the Upholstery Branch's processes during her time on the installation.

"I sew, glue, repair components and am trained in the cold dip and plastisol processes," said Johnson.

The cold dip process puts a plastic, protective coating over foam or other porous surfaces in a procedure that doesn't require heat. The coating enables these components to be used as a cushion, while protecting them against wear and making them easier to clean.

The plastisol process gives a plastic coating to metal components. It requires heating the metal, priming it, dipping it in a liquefied plastic and baking the final product to harden the coating.

"We are a support shop for several buildings on the installation," said Johnson. "We work on many parts that have to be disassembled, cleaned and painted then brought back to our shop for the pads and for us to install them in the vehicle," said Johnson.

Repair and rebuild

Chemical equipment repairer Derek Abney disassembles and reassembles chemical, biological and radiological air purifiers for tanks and other vehicles overhauled or repaired at the depot.

"I repair chemical equipment," he said. "This equipment helps Soldiers breathe in the event of a chemical attack by filtering contaminated air."

Abney works with a variety of components and material -- from rubber gaskets to air purifiers, which are assembled at his workstation.

His workstation is in one of the Upholstery Branch's three shops. Two of the three contain repair processes.

In another building, upholstery employees disassemble and install spall liners in Stryker vehicles.

The spall liners serve a dual purpose. They are an added layer of armor inside the Stryker and they dissipate the energy of bullets fired into the vehicle, preventing ricochets.

The metal plates and combination of materials behind them are glued in place to prevent movement and keep the liners from being dislodged during the vehicle's use.

"Once the spall liners are installed, they are very difficult to get off," said Mary Turley. "They are meant to stay in place."

Turley and other Upholstery Branch employees pry old spall liners off the vehicles during the disassembly process for Strykers sent to the installation for repair. Residual glue from the metal interior of the vehicle is then removed through grinding and sanding.

The freshly cleaned area is painted before a new spall liner is installed in its place.

"The liners can be like a big jigsaw puzzle. If the pieces don't fit exactly right, the spall liners don't work," said Turley.


Charles Kirkland has been a machine tool operator in the Upholstery Branch's machine shop for the last six-and-a-half years. There, he creates items from raw materials.

Orders from throughout the installation request certain parts -- from gaskets to seals and even cork or paper products.

If the material requested is in stock and a die exists for the requested item, producing the product is simply a matter of placing the pieces into the appropriate press.

Often, however, Kirkland has to create a new die for the products requested. He bends and forms sharp metal strips, embedding them into hardwood bases to create a stamp used to cut the material.

"It's great to have this processlocated here on the installation because we can produce materials and get them to shops quickly," said Kirkland.

Plates and printing

The branch's third location houses the Metal Plate Shop. There, in addition to creating and cutting metal plates, Kenny Miller and his co-worker, Addie Kirksey, produce text and images on a variety of materials, including vinyl stickers and banners.

"The data plates can be applied to just almost anything the depot produces. They contain whatever information our customers want," said Miller.

The plates may even be dyed to accommodate specific requirements. Miller said the shop can dye the metal to one of 24 different hues.

"This is not an artistic process," said Miller. "It is focused on what the customer wants."

One of the most prevalent designs Miller and Kirksey print or etch onto their products is a square design known as Item Unique Identification.

An IUID is a square barcode that, when scanned, sends information about the part or vehicle to a computer, allowing the user to view or input information about the part or vehicle.

Applying an image or text to aluminum in the plate shop is a photographic process, similar to developing photographic film. There is a developer, a fixer and a rinse bath. The only addition is a cooking process in boiling water, which seals the porous metal.

Plates made of stainless steel are laser-etched in one of two machines. These plates are generally used on engines or in areas where the material must endure high heat.

Fabric fabrication

In addition to working with a variety of metals, rubber, cork, paper and plastic, the Upholstery Branch also works with cloth.

In one relatively new process, employees turn fabric into a thick, hard armor that can be cut, drilled and molded to nearly any shape.

The multiple layers of Kevlar, a high-strength fabric, and fiberglass hardened with resin are currently used to create lightweight covers attached to the turret of the Assault Breacher Vehicle.

"It is amazing to watch cloth turn into hard, ballistic material through this process," said Belinda Santiago, one of the Upholstery Branch employees working on the ABV panels.