MISHAWAKA — An unexpected boost is on the way for hundreds of local workers, as the U.S. Army inks a deal that will keep Mishawaka's Humvee plant "humming" for years to come.
The new contract is for 2,526 new HMMWVs with options on up to 400 additional vehicles. It's worth approximately $619 million, and parent company AM General of South Bend says it will guarantee full production at the Mishawaka plant through at least the end of 2011.
It's a radical departure from a sobering report last February that suggested the U.S. Army would not consider purchasing any more of the versatile tactical fighting vehicles from AM General. At the time, some speculated that could spell the beginning of the end for the HMMWV through the U.S. Military.
The change all boils down to one thing: strategy.
As first-shift workers at the Mishawaka plant left for the day Monday afternoon, nearly the same words were on almost everyone's lips.
"2,600 more trucks," said production worker Vince Naputi of Granger, with a wide grin on his face. "Makes me feel good!"
"Thanks for the good news," agreed eight-year veteran production worker Tim Harris. "That's great, so great!"
From worker to worker, the hum in the parking lot was all about the new future of the HMMWV.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced plans to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and--with military orders increasing for other tactical fighting vehicles like the M-RAP--the HMMWV's future was put in jeopardy.
But, in a news release Monday, U.S. Army Program Executive Office Combat Support Strategic Communications Director Ashley John said that withdrawal is the reason for this new order.
"The systems are being purchased as part of a Foreign Material Sale (FMS) under the direction of the United States State Department. Funding actions are being worked from other customers to add approximately 350 to 400 additional vehicles to the contract after the initial award," John wrote.
"The 2,526 HMMWVs sought under this UCA are required by the Afghanistan National Army and Afghanistan National Police. The President’s strategy for drawing down U.S. forces in 2011 heavily depends upon having an Afghanistan National Army and Police force that is trained and equipped to adequately assume and maintain national control to support U.S. and Afghanistan’s national strategies," the statement continued.
John did not return phone calls seeking further comment from WSBT Monday.
While this type of order for a foreign police force may sound a bit unusual, it's actually not out of the ordinary at all.
According to AM General Communications Director Celeste Ross, workers at the Mishawaka plant build HMMWVs for foreign governments and militaries in more than 50 countries around the world every year.
For workers at the plant, that's a major point of pride.
"It's got a lot to do with the engineering around here," said Harris. "They really do take care of it and we care about quality. We care about our soldiers over in Iraq and over there. I think it's got a lot to do with that too. They are quality vehicles, they really are."
The new contract is also a major weight off workers' shoulders.
"It means more job security, being stable, no layoffs. That's big," Naputi said.
"It's a big weight," agreed Harris. "I imagine it's a big weight off the town, the city, and everything else. Because, we bring in a lot of money around here. We help the economy too, with buying goods and everything else."
Still, while the new contract will mean stability, it's unlikely it will mean growth.
Ross said the new contract will not change the company's workforce in any way. Some workers WSBT spoke with said that's the only downside to the new deal.
"Hopefully, we can get everybody we laid off back to work too and make their families happy about this news too," said 9-year veteran production workers Chris Taylor.
"Maybe we can eventually hire more people, but at least it'll hold us over for another year or two, keeping me working and him working. That's what we want," said Harris.
Ross says the new contract will run through the end of 2011, though additional vehicles ordered could push that well into 2012.