View Full Version : War increases workload at Barstow repair center

08-23-06, 04:07 PM
War increases workload at Barstow repair center
By Rick Rogers
August 23, 2006

The Marine Corps, America's 911 force, needs emergency help of its own, according to a report released today by two prominent think tanks.

Largely echoing what Marine commanders have told Congress in recent weeks, the study says the Corps needs $12 billion to bring its ground, communications and aircraft equipment back up to their levels before the Iraq war.

The service must also spend $5 billion for equipment repairs each year it maintains a major presence in Iraq, said military experts from the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., and the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. Before the war started, Marine officials spent about $3 billion annually on refurbishing equipment that was 20 years old in many cases.

The Corps' wartime equipment challenges have significantly boosted the workload for a key maintenance and repair center in Barstow, possibly put troops at greater risk for death or injury in combat zones and strained the operating budgets for bases such as Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, where everything from child care services to library hours were temporarily reduced this year.

"You are going to see the Marine Corps increasingly not ready for duty unless it gets funded," said Max A. Bergmann, an author of the 25-page report titled "Marine Corps Equipment After Iraq."

"(The Marines) will still be able to go to the Korean peninsula or respond to a tsunami, but they'll be limited once they get there," he added. "I think the 911 force definitely needs 911 assistance. They are hurting."

Equipment shortages could have consequences far beyond the battlefield, Bergmann said.

"The military is a voluntary force. If services aren't being provided, it hurts morale, and if you hurt morale, you hurt re-enlistment rates at a time when you need to expand the military," he said.

Congress recently held hearings to discuss equipment needs for the Army and Marine Corps, but it hasn't met senior officers' requests for more money. Leaders of the two branches also don't expect to secure the additional funds in the 2007 defense appropriations bill, which awaits Senate action after approval in the House.

Army commanders said they need at least $17 billion next year to begin "resetting," the military's buzzword for repairing and replacing equipment.

They and their Marine counterparts have forecast trouble if military hardware chewed up in Iraq and Afghanistan isn't replenished quickly enough.

"If we get involved in another major operation anytime soon, we could have a severe problem," said Marine Brig. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, assistant deputy commandant for programs and resources.

The financial shortages have many noncombat repercussions as well, said Maj. Gen. Mike Lehnert, who oversees seven Marine installations in the western United States, including Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Until he received an emergency cash infusion of $32 million from the Pentagon this spring, Lehnert said, he had to cut hours for child care, libraries and social clubs at his bases. He has not restored a $2.64 million job-training budget for the installations.

The funding outlook is no better now, Lehnert said.

"I am funding must-pays instead of should-pays," he said. "I can't tell you when I am going to hit the wall. If a roof isn't falling in on someone's head, I can't fix it. Next year, I'm going to start $35 million in the hole."

Nationwide, the Marine Corps and Army have said the ballooning equipment costs are so bad that they have clamped down on spending for travel, civilian hiring and upgrades for some on-base housing.

"The Marine Corps is a war-fighting organization. It is going to invest in equipment that keeps the Marine Corps the 911 force," Lehnert said. "It is a problem that the Marine Corps has more war than it has budget."

And the equipment problem is likely to worsen in coming years, said Col. Arthus Sass, commander of the Barstow Maintenance Center, which is located about three hours northeast of Camp Pendleton.

The center is the largest tenant on the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow, one of two major repair facilities for the Corps. (The other is in Albany, Ga.)

War has sharply increased business at the Barstow installation. Since fiscal year 2003, the center has added nearly 400 employees - for a total of 1,126 people - and its total work hours have jumped from 861,000 to a projected 1.3 million for the current fiscal year.

Inside a 10-acre building on the base is "The Line," where workers try to rebuild Marine vehicles, artillery pieces and other equipment as quickly as possible. They know that Iraq's heat and sandstorms are wearing out the Corps' Humvees and communications devices four to nine times faster than prewar conditions did.

A crane spans the two-football-field-long building, which reverberates with the sounds of hammer blows and air wrenches. Other structures house enormous X-ray and ultrasound machines that detect cracks in metal.

In the middle of "The Line" building hangs a banner that reads: "What you do is very important. Someday a Marine's life may depend on it." The motto also appears on T-shirts and posters.

In a nearby yard, the employees are greeted with a more gripping reminder of war's toll. There sit three light-armored vehicles - or what is left of them. Their paint has been cooked off, their floors have buckled and their tires have shriveled to the rims.

The worst of the hulks still holds ash and the moldering smell of death.

On flat cars at the nearby railhead, dozens of erstwhile Canadian armored vehicles await cannibalization. Transmissions for the Corps' light-armored vehicles are in short supply, and the ones from north of the border are a good replacement.

Demand for the center's services will increase in coming years, Sass said, as hundreds if not thousands of broken, blown-up and washed-up pieces of equipment are brought from Iraq to the Barstow base.

"In three years, we'll begin to find out the true cost," Sass said. "There is a whole big backlog that is still in (Iraq). We don't really know how much is there or how much it will cost to fix."

Loren Thompson, who along with Bergmann and Lawrence J. Korb wrote the new report, expects equipment costs to hamstring Marine and Army combat readiness for years.

"To some degree, this will cause the services to probably cut their modernization programs," Thompson said. "The bases will have to further defer maintenance and there will be a lack of funds for upkeep and improvements. The base commanders will have to do some fancy footwork."