NEWS

Gen. Casey tours Lake City Army Ammunition Plant

Adrianne DeWeese

The U.S. Army’s efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are dependent on small-town America operations like Eastern Jackson County’s Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, the U.S. Army chief of staff said Wednesday.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr. toured the ammunition plant – Eastern Jackson County’s largest manufacturing employer – as the senior leader of the U.S. Army. The tour, Casey’s first at Lake City, aimed to educate him on the production of small-caliber ammunition and the plant’s modernization efforts.  

“I must say, I am hugely impressed with what I’ve seen here and with the spirit and dedication of the men and women that work here,” Casey said after his tour of the plant in eastern Independence. “It’s not unlike the other depots that I go to around the country where I see dedicated Americans feeling very proud that they’re actually contributing to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan.”   

The Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, which employs 2,600 people and boasts an annual payroll of $110 million, is the largest small-arms manufacturing plant in the United States. In April, the U.S. Army awarded the plant a four-year contract to ensure an uninterrupted supply of ammunition to the U.S. military beyond an existing 10-year contract.

ATK operates the Army-owned Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, which produces 5.56mm, 7.62mm and .50-caliber rounds for the U.S. armed forces. The plant produces more than 1.4 billion rounds annually, and more than 20 million of those small rounds are utilized in Afghanistan each year, according to plant officials.

“This is obviously going to be an important part of our effort,” Casey said. “Our effort is going to be going on for awhile.”

This week marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s election as the United States commander in chief. Casey said he has hardly noticed a significant change under Obama’s leadership, despite the political shift from former Republican President George W. Bush.

“There’s a been a good, thorough discussion going on about the future of Afghanistan, and I don’t think people want to see anything less,” Casey said of the war in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001. “There’s been a good discussion, and I think the country is going to see a decision shortly.”

Casey also plans to visit Fort Riley, Kan., where he will participate in an after-action review on a mission rehearsal exercise with the 1st Infantry Division.  

Casey has served as the Army’s chief of staff since April 2007. Previously, he served as the commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq from 2004 to 2007. Casey’s father, Gen. George William Casey Sr., commanded the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

In July 1970, the elder Casey was killed in a helicopter crash in South Vietnam at age 48. Nearly four decades after his father’s death, Casey Jr. said he still remembers his father and encourages others who’ve lost love ones in combat to never forget.

Karen Davies, vice president and general manager of ATK Small Caliber Systems, said most of the rounds produced at Lake City are used for training purposes.

The 5.56mm round costs about 25 cents to produce, while the .50-caliber rounds cost about $2, Davies said.

“The business is good, definitely,” Davies said.

“On a very positive note, I think the impact in the region has been strong at a time when there’s been a lot of other businesses that are in a downturn. We’ve been able to keep employment very high, and that’s been good for Eastern Jackson County.”

It might seem like a Catch-22 situation in doing a strong business producing small-arms ammunition, but Davies said the plant aims to serve soldiers as “the good guys.”

“We want to make sure the ammunition we provide is the very best that we can give,” said Davies, adding that Lake City employs about 500 veterans. “They understand very much what it means to be on the other side of Lake City ammo and know that when you pull that trigger every time, it’s going to work.”

The Examiner (Independence, Mo.)