During his first visit to the depot Tuesday, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno said that though the facility is a vital installation that will be maintained, it must give way to the reality that less work there is needed as the military's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan come to an end. But at least one military expert says that even if work hours are further reduced, the depot has the flexibility to avoid layoffs and to maintain its core mission requirements.
Odierno said workloads at the depot will remain relatively consistent over the next few years.
"It will go down a bit, but it will be slowly over a period of years," Odierno said of the depot workload.
In the last couple of years, the depot has experienced declining workloads as the wars have drawn down, resulting in several hundred layoffs of temporary and term employees in 2012 and the last 371 temporary workers Saturday. The depot still has 2,873 permanent employees along with 1,127 contract employees. Work at the depot consists of repair, modification and upgrades of various heavy and light armored vehicles along with self-propelled artillery and small arms.
Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said the depot will likely strive to at least maintain its core annual 3.2 million labor hours in the coming years.
"There are currently a sufficient number of people to do that workload," Hill said.
Hill said even if the workload falls below those core labor hours, the depot still has the flexibility to avoid layoffs or even significant work hour cuts.
"They still have the flexibility to go into attrition and they have incentive programs for early outs," Hill said. "They have used that successfully in the last couple of years."
Odierno said Anniston's depot and other depots across the country are guaranteed some work in the coming years, noting there is approximately $21 billion-worth of equipment in Afghanistan that must be repaired or modified before being redistributed back through the military.
"A lot of that will be done in Anniston, especially at the small arms facility ... that will be key for us," Odierno said. "We can guarantee a certain level of workload for years down the line."
Odierno's comments at least partially answer some of the concerns depot workers had during a town hall meeting he held at the facility earlier Tuesday. Charles Barclay, second vice president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1945, the union that represents the depot workers, was at the town hall meeting and submitted a list of concerns to Odierno on behalf of the employees. Barclay was told Odierno would respond with answers to the union's concerns in the near future.
"We had some concerns we did give the general like 'what do you see as the future of the small arms repair work,’" Barclay said.
Barclay said the union also wanted to know about possible downsizing, furloughs for civilian employees and potential exemptions from those furloughs.
The Department of Defense is currently debating whether to furlough all its civilian employees up to 14 days this year to counteract the budget cuts that took effect March 1 known as sequestration.
Odierno said no decision has been reached yet on the implementation of furloughs. He added that some civilian employees could be exempted from furloughs if their work is deemed critical to the Army's mission.
Odierno said there will be a process for Anniston depot workers to apply for furlough exemption status.
"I'm not promising that exemptions will be granted, but there is a process in place," Odierno said.
Odierno said he was inspired by the work the depot employees perform for the military personnel in the field.
"This is a national treasure we have here in Anniston," he said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.