From left, Kennie Brown, Alvin Spears and Tom Colze, mobile equipment mechanics at the Albany production plant attached to Marine Depot Maintenance Command, work on a vehicle at the plant. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
MCLB-ALBANY — As their motto states, a Marine’s life could depend on the work done at the two production plants, one in Albany and another in Barstow, Calif., attached to Marine Depot Maintenance Command.
That fact is not lost on the folks at the Albany production plant, located aboard at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, as they continue the job of repairing and resetting equipment as part of the retrograde from overseas while also creating solutions the Corps’ needs — a task that often requires tearing down, rebuilding part by part and even prototyping.
Among the individuals doing this is Reggie Fluellen Sr., who has been on both sides — as a civilian and a Marine. He worked as a young sergeant in a body shop and rotated back and forth overseas. After retirement from the Corps in 2006, he was given an opportunity at what then was known as Maintenance Center Albany — and now serves as an engineer technician.
“After being a warfighter for 30 years, it seemed natural,” he said. “The beauty of this is, after being (in various places) and understanding the need for equipment and to be at the depot and control fastness (and see the) quality of people …”
Some of the things to come out of the plant in the last several years include mine sweepers; a Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer, or H.E.A.T., simulator, and a mobile trauma bay — each of which has had a role in equipping Marines with what they need in the combat zone.
In preparing Marines for what they’ll experience overseas, the H.E.A.T. simulator can be particularly useful in cases such as getting them used to what it might be like to be in a vehicle that has rolled over because of the detonation of an improvised explosive device.
“(The H.E.A.T. simulator) is a requirement to go through before deployment,” Fluellen said.
One of the things the workers at the plant are particularly proud of is the mobile trauma bay, which allows for immediate medical attention — and even an operating room — on the field when a Marine needs it most.
“It saves lives,” Fluellen said. “If it saves one life, it’s worth its weight in gold. … It is just one of those things really near and dear to me.”
Jessica Walden, now an industrial engineer for program management, has been with the plant since 2007. Having grown up in Southwest Georgia, she went to engineering school and worked with the Navy for a couple of years before coming back to her roots.
Walden describes the often unpredictable nature of the job — often involving an order that is needed immediately, which can turn an eight-hour shift into a 12-hour day.
“It is exciting, and can be challenging,” she said.
“In this area, we do a lot of process design and project development,” she said of the plant’s role in equipment reset, design and repair. “We disassemble parts. … There is a range of things we can do.”
She also noted the trauma bay as one of the accomplishments she is most proud of because of “what it takes to save a limb or save a life.”
Chris Tipper, now an engineering manager there, has been at the plant since 2001 after working in private industry overseas.
“We do reverse engineering (such as with cracking issues),” he said. “A lot of what we are doing now is part of the reset effort, half of it at least.”
Tipper explained the flow of the plant by beginning with how it starts the day with status meetings, and then going from shop to shop to ensure everything is running as it should be.
“We work a lot on better business practices, and how to make things more efficient,” he said.
Having a family military background, Walden is able to appreciate interacting with those in the Marine Corps and being able to deliver their needs to them.
“I have much respect for what they do,” she said.
Fluellen said he is thrilled by the challenge.
“What I like most is taking the ‘can’ out of ‘can’t’ and refusing to lose,” he said. “Every day is a challenge. You think something can’t happen and won’t happen … just that mentality and refusing to lose. The conflict is not just in wars.
“(We are) making sure every building material is right before putting things on the floor … (We have) a good wholesome feeling about making a difference; it is a collective effort by all services.”
Often times, the job will entail a Marine calling in what is needed and the plant building it from scratch.
“We provide solutions to the warfighter,” Walden said. “What we do, a Marine’s life depends on it.”
Perhaps the most important thing, Fluellen said, is working as a team and doing the job safely.
“The most unique program we have is the Voluntary Protection Program, or VPP,” he said. “It is employees volunteering to look out for each other … (It has) empowered employees.
“It is not how fast you get something done, because speed leads to accidents. … Everything is a process. We care about people; we care about each other.”
At the same time, the plant has to process a large amount of ground equipment from the wide area the Marine Corps touches, requiring it to maintain what Tipper called an “all capabilities on deck” mode.
“I might come to work not knowing what I’m (going to be) doing, but I know I’m serving a purpose,” Walden said.
Marine Depot Maintenance Command was the result of the two production plants in Georgia and California, once individual maintenance centers, consolidating in 2012 and creating the goal of establishing a single solution for both plants.
“Whether it comes from here or Barstow, they won’t know the difference,” Tipper said.
In the creation process, it can begin with the design of a 3D model of a vehicle. Once the design is down and it is established that it is the product the vendor is asking for, the building and testing process starts.
“We lay something on the table and all we know is what it does and build a 3D model from there,” Walden said. “We tell the customer how it is made and the dimensions of it.”
Some of the plant’s other projects have included fuel tank modules, a multi-terrain loader, armored cabs and the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.