Secretary of the Army Mark Esper toured Red River Army Depot on Wednesday as he decides whether the facility will repair a new type of armored vehicle.
U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe and representatives of the rest of the local congressional delegation accompanied Esper as he saw RRAD's operations and met workers.
In a news conference afterward, Esper said he soon will decide which facility will repair the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, so he wanted to get an up-close look at RRAD's capability to do so. Earlier in the day, he had visited Anniston Army Depot in Bynum, Ala., a rival to RRAD for the AMPV work.
"AMPV is pending in my front office. It's a decision I need to make here in the next few months, but before I made a decision, I did want to come and visit Red River, understand the workforce, the leadership, the capabilities here. And I've done the same with Anniston, of course, as part of my tour of the industrial base. So that will all come in due course," Esper said.
Ratcliffe expressed optimism about the decision in a separate news conference earlier.
"We think that the Red River Army Depot is particularly well-suited to be that depot source of repair because the AMPV has a 65 percent commonality with the Bradley fighting system, and the Bradley fighting system is maintained at the Red River Army Depot.
"So we've got the facilities, the lines of production and most importantly the personnel that have the expertise to handle that very important mission for the war-fighter. So we want to take this opportunity with Secretary Esper to make sure that he's fully aware of our capacity as the Army makes that decision," Ratcliffe said.
Maintaining workflow throughout the depot system and matching the right tasks to the right skills are factors in the decision, Esper said, adding that the skill of the RRAD workforce, the fact that many workers there are from the area, and the variety of operations undertaken there impressed him.
"Our goal, our ambition is to maintain a steady, solid workflow through Red River, and by extension a steady, solid workforce that's skilled and capable and motivated to do their jobs. And by the way, that's what I saw today, is a really capable workforce, skilled artisans as we like to say, very enthusiastic, committed to their mission," he said.
Asked if President Donald Trump's recent emergency declaration regarding border security might divert funding away from RRAD, Ratcliffe expressed doubt.
"I don't think that that is something that is going to impact Red River Army Depot," Ratcliffe said. "The funds that are being accessed under that emergency declaration relate to military construction. Those are not the types of projects that relate to what we're talking about in the immediate future."
Esper declined to comment.
"I do not know, and I wouldn't want to speculate. There are so may ifs between the first part of that to the last part, it would be unfair to speculate and even try," he said.