By John B. SnyderAugust 23, 2012
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. --Maj. Gen. Michael J. Terry visited the Watervliet Arsenal August 21 and in a space of about eight hours, he learned about the Arsenal's nearly 200-year role in providing continuous support to our uniformed men and women.
As the new TACOM Life Cycle Management Command's commander, this was Terry's first visit to the Arsenal and as can be expected, there was something of the standardized tour that other TACOM subordinate commands have already conducted for him.
Conduct an Office call with the Arsenal commander…Check.
Receive a command overview brief…Check.
Visit production lines…Check.
Hand out awards…Check.
Attend a working lunch…Check.
And so forth -- mission complete. Right?
Well, not so fast.
There is nothing standard about today's economic environment or the future state of defense dollars. As part of the Department of Defense's Industrial Base, the Watervliet Arsenal cannot take a visit by a senior Army leader lightly -- and it didn't.
Watervliet is not your grandparents' arsenal and for that matter, not even your parents' arsenal. It hasn't made the big 16-inch guns for naval warships for some time now. And, what may have been unconceivable just a few years ago, cannon manufacturing no longer makes up the bulk of production.
"We have seen a rapid shift in core manufacturing from cannons to mortars in just the last couple of years," said Watervliet Commander Col. Mark F. Migaleddi to Terry. "Production of 60mm, 81mm, and 120mm mortars, as well as mortar sustainment parts, now makes up more than 50 percent of today's production."
Migaleddi's words might be viewed by some Arsenal retirees as heresy, but shifting production priorities is only a piece to providing unparalleled support to the warfighter. After all, the Arsenal has changed its production lines hundreds of times since its humble beginning during the War of 1812.
So, what will be different during Terry's tenure, versus, Maj. Gen. Kurt J. Stein's time as the TACOM commander? Stein transferred command of TACOM LCMC to Terry last June.
"We know that for us to be DOD's manufacturer of choice, we must stabilize our rates and become more efficient," Migaleddi said. "This involves changing the Arsenal's culture to not only adopt LEAN processes that will create efficiencies in all that we do, we also must get our workforce to truly believe in LEAN to ensure our long-term viability."
Terry said that although he had heard of the Watervliet Arsenal many years ago, he truly did not know what to expect. But as Terry moved through the Arsenal, taking time to talk and praise the workforce, he had a common theme.
"What a great history," Terry said. "You have such an amazing, unique capability that we must do all that we can to use strategic communications to tell your story."
Many could anticipate what Terry would get out of this visit, but what about the troops or in this case, the Department of the Army Civilians who work in the Arsenal's research labs, manufacturing bays, and in the tool rooms?
Christopher Humiston, a mechanical engineer with Benét Laboratories who often briefs visitors about a flow-form process using extreme cold versus heat to form mortar barrels, said there seemed to be a new sense of importance to briefing Terry than for other visitors.
"We had more preparation, such as rehearsals, movement of displays, as well as more senior leader involvement than we typically have had for other visitors," Humiston said. "And it paid off."
Humiston explained that Terry asked a lot of questions about the mechanics of the flow-form process that no one else had ever asked.
"At the end of the day, it was a great visit and I really appreciate General Terry taking a personal interest in my background and for thanking me for what I do to support the warfighter," Humiston said.
Greg Marcklinger who supervises the operation of one of the most favored parts of any Arsenal tour --the rotary forge -- also said that preparing for Terry's visit was different.
"I usually don't brief visiting dignitaries, but the commander thought it would be a nice touch if I stepped up and briefed General Terry," Marcklinger said.
"General Terry asked some great questions about the type of training forge operators go through, as well as the type of material we used," Marcklinger added. "But what I really liked about General Terry's visit is that he seemed down-to-earth, which made me feel at ease."
Terry Van Vranken, an arsenal machinist and tool maker who briefed Terry on gun tube rifling, said he knew just how important it was to not only give a great first impression, but also to showcase the Arsenal's capabilities to Terry.
"I did a lot of additional research on gun rifling just to make sure I had my ducks in a row, and I'm glad I did," Van Vranken said. "General Terry asked some very intelligent questions about gun rifling that no other visitors have asked me."
Van Vranken, like Humiston and Marcklinger, praised Terry for his personal interest in who they are and how they got to where they are.
So, if first impressions are any measure of the success of Terry's visit to Watervliet, then this trip exceeded expectations.
The troops were very pleased and truly felt good about being able to showcase their skills and capabilities to their new commanding general. Terry also seemed to leave Watervliet with a good gut feeling, too.
Terry's note to the workforce after his tour was complete said that this was a great visit and he is very impressed with the Arsenal team. "Good things are happening."