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Army modernization helps drive expansion at Army arsenal

By John B. Snyder, Watervliet Arsenal April 5, 2018

WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- The Army identified in late 2017 six primary capabilities it wants to modernize and of those six, the Arsenal has a direct impact on three crucial areas. And because it does, the Arsenal is now in the midst of a hiring renaissance after suffering through many years of declining workload requirements.

When major U.S. combat operations in Iraq neared its end in 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in an effort to curb government spending. In simple terms, the Act directed nearly $1 trillion in defense cuts over a 10-year period if government spending and the debt ceiling could not be controlled. In 2013, Congress could not reach an agreement in that fiscal year budget that satisfied the Act's requirements, thus thrusting the Army and the Arsenal into a period called sequestration.

And for the next few years, U.S. weapon program managers slowed or held back funding for Arsenal manufacturing. After all, they had no choice because defense budgets had become inconsistent, unpredictable, and insufficient. As funding for Soldier readiness requirements declined, so, too, did the Arsenal's workforce size. Arsenal numbers went from about 640 in 2008 to about 490 by 2014.

But even through those challenging years, when departures exceeded arrivals, there remained a high interest by many job seekers to find work at the Arsenal.

And, for the first time in a generation, the Arsenal hosted a job fair on the installation in January 2017. Many here were concerned that they might not be much interest for a job fair conducted in the middle of winter. Surprisingly, more than 900 prospective applicants flooded in the Arsenal gates the day of the job fair.

Then, in January 2018, the Arsenal decided to participate in a local job fair hosted by the Times Union news organization. Once again, there were many here who were concerned that there might not be much interest, especially considering that the Arsenal was going to compete against 50 other businesses in the local area.

And, once again, many here were pleasantly surprised when several hundred people found their way to the Arsenal's table. According to the Times Union, "…the hottest destination on this chilly winter day was the Watervliet Arsenal, where the line for the recruiting booth stretched around the ballroom of the Albany Marriott hotel."

"Even with extremely low unemployment in the Capital District, we (Arsenal) continue to generate a strong interest to work here, even by people who aren't actively job hunting," said Scott Huber, an Arsenal foreman. "One of our greatest challenges coming out of the recent job fairs is that it is getting harder and harder to make a selection because we are now getting so many high quality applicants to consider."

Huber explained that in the January Times Union job fair, the Arsenal's Operations Directorate had about 115 applicants who were qualified for machinist and machine tool operator positions. In fact, the applicant pool was so good that the Arsenal increased the number of prospective new hires from 40 to 70.

Some of those new applicants are now on the Arsenal's production floors.

Twenty-year-old Machinist Ted Bieling started working here this month. He was laid off from General Electric on a Friday this past January and was at the Times Union job fair the following Monday.

It is extremely rare for such a young person to be a machinist, but after talking to Bieling, it is clear how he has reached such a high level of artisanship at such a young age.

"Ever since I was 3-years-old when I took the wheels off of my tricycle, I have loved to work with my hands to build things," Bieling said. "When I was in high school, I took every manufacturing and machining course I could."

Bieling said that when GE provided a presentation one day at his high school, he knew then that he wanted to attend Hudson Valley Community College's Advanced Manufacturing program with the hopes of getting into the GE machinist apprentice program. Due to his high academic achievements at college, GE hired Bieling after his first year of schooling.

Nevertheless, when GE started laying off machinists last year, Bieling said he tried to "ride it out" until the end. The end came in January. He is currently being showed Arsenal machining techniques by fellow new machinist, Christopher Wood.

Wood, who was just hired in January, has quickly mastered many of the Arsenal's unique manufacturing techniques, Huber said. And due to his vast machining ability, coupled with an outstanding attitude, he was given the added responsibility to onboard Bieling.

Wood said that he was a machinist at a small family owned machine shop in Adams, Mass. But as much as he enjoyed working there, he said the opportunities of job advancement and growth at the Watervliet Arsenal is what sold him on the move.

"As risky as it was for me to leave the comforts of 10 years of great employment, I knew I had to make a change," Wood said. "For me, this is a career move and not a job move."

Wood and Bieling represent some of the new, great talent that the Arsenal is able to bring here, Huber said. And not a minute too soon, the Arsenal has a tremendous amount of work ahead of it to meet not only the Army's modernization priorities, but also to give Soldiers the tools today to fight tonight.

Secretary of the Army Mark Esper recently said that he is focused on modernizing the Army in six areas, which include long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities, and Soldier lethality. And, the Arsenal is directly tied to three of those modernization efforts; long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, and Soldier lethality.

The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army owned-and-operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States. It began operations during the War of 1812, and celebrated its 200th year of continuous service to the nation on July 14, 2013.

Today's arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.

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