By April Dudash
Billions of dollars worth of equipment. Constantly traveling teams of contractors distributing the goods. The Army receives all of its equipment from one of 12 program executive offices, but it's PEO Soldier that develops and fields the state-of-the-art equipment soldiers take down range.
PEO Soldier is divided into four project management offices - protection and individual equipment, sensors and lasers, warrior, which deals with "combat effectiveness," and, of course, weapons.
And their link to North Carolina is stronger than one may think.
At defense company CACI in downtown Fayetteville, groups of retired special operators sit at conference tables, hunched over laptops and surrounded by black box after box of training equipment.
CACI works with PEO Soldier.
With the amount of training CACI is conducting around the world, the local office outgrew its space and recently made the move from Franklin Street to Mason Street in April.
A large calendar hangs next to CACI director Chico Delagarza's desk, marking the overlapping weeks when different teams will travel the world, training soldiers in Afghanistan and Germany and back home in the states.
"Anywhere there's a military presence, there's a chance of us going," said William Reagan with Project Manager Soldier Sensors and Lasers, one of four PEO Soldier program offices.
There are 137 people who work for CACI in Fayetteville, and the company also has a Southern Pines presence.
They train Fort Bragg units out at 37 PSR Gun Club in Bunnlevel and on Fort Bragg. The special operators have been in the soldier's shoes before.
"We actually take these guys to the range," Reagan said. "They get a true appreciation for these various devices."
The Boomerang specializes in gunshot detection in the field, where the supersonic wave of the bullet can be captured and the muzzle blast determines the shooter's location. The Long Range Advance Scout Surveillance System can locate targets 12 miles away, and the AN/PAS-13B Thermal Weapons Sight has been around 10 years but has barely been used by soldiers until CACI helped train them.
"It's basically a state-of-the-art thermal weapons system that sat in a box during their 12-month rotation," Reagan said.
One of the newest pieces that CACI began training units with is the Handheld Laser Marker, a piece of equipment which can literally burn someone’s eyes out if not used properly. With the heft and feel of a 1911 .45 pistol, the HLM can focus “laser liquid” on a distant location, flagging it so a pilot can take out the target.
The Army is just now beginning to field the device.
In the rucksack
Wes Welch, who is chief of the business management division for Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, one of the four offices within PEO Soldier, described the large-scale effort to get equipment to installations like this: If a Fort Bragg brigade was deploying, his office would send a team of 20 people and 30 semi truckloads down to Fayetteville for four weeks. There would be enough supplies to outfit and supply thousands, from uniforms to body armor. The price tag is about $7,000 per soldier.
"We have to bring more equipment than we (have) soldiers because we never quite know what sizes we need," Welch said.
Last year, his office had a budget of about $1.2 billion to outfit 240,000 soldiers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.
This year, that's decreased to $500 million, but North Carolina is still getting a large cut of that. Half of that represents active PM Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment contracts with about 12 North Carolina-based companies.
One of the larger chunks of contracts, worth $33.4 million, was awarded in March 2012 to KDH Defense Systems based in Eden, which makes the improved outer tactical vest. Other contracts range from Pickett Hosiery Mills in Burlington, which makes the socks issued to soldiers, or Fox Apparel in Ashboro, which makes the standard ACU trousers.
But Welch's office is planning to make the fielding process more efficient in light of budget cuts.
"We're examining the processes right now to see if there's more of an efficient and inexpensive way to do this," Welch said.
Central issue facilities, instead of having large-scale contractors visit installations for more than two weeks, may be the future of uniform and equipment distribution.
Outside the box
When the war in Afghanistan picked up in the summer of 2010, PEO Soldier had to ship containers full of equipment overseas, fast, to those units rapidly deploying.
But the average wait to receive new equipment was 21 days, and the Air Force didn't have enough room on their aircraft to ship the giant steel shipping containers.
That's when Eure & Sons, a small family-owned construction company in Hertford, answered the call and submitted a bid for the contract to find a shipping alternative.
William "Chicago" Eure Jr.'s company, which was new to building containers, ended up making 580 resized wooden crates for PEO Soldier, saving the Army almost $4 million.
Eure & Sons, which is only three years old with 8 employees, grossed $1.2 million last year. And it was the Army's business that allowed them to build a new facility.
"We'd love to have another (contract)," Eure said. "I'd quit building houses if I could just build crates. I'd love to move into that."
The momentum has since slowed overseas, and PM Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment now sticks to fielding equipment at the installations, said Preston Turner, PM SPIE director of logistics.
"This was a solution where we had to do a little bit of quick thinking," Turner said. "We had to take care of soldiers."