Monday, November 28, 2016

Unsafe privatization?

Don’t blink.

You might miss something.

Like we did a few days ago when we let life’s little upheavals distract us from an adventure down a dark trail.

Our fifth-wheel is sick, so we’re headed north from Death Valley into Carson City, NV, for repairs. It’s a six-hour drive up Route 95 through beautiful high-desert landscape cradeled by the Sierra Nevadas.

As we near our RV park, we fail to make much note of the acres and acres of what looks like elongated Hobbit houses (close-up above) dotting the valley floor. Bunkers, we shrug. Hundreds of bunkers. We shrug again and turn in for the night.

We winterize the RV because the nights are freezing and we walk the dog and we ponder the fate of our trailer. While doing this, we fail to notice the munitions warning signs. We are oblivious to the town park’s colorful windmills made from torpedo remnants. We don’t see the submarine missiles displayed on the sidewalks downtown.

We head north in the morning and pass what is clearly a very large yet deserted military installation called Hawthorne Army Depot. So on the way out of town, I Google what I just saw.

Apparently, we just spent the night surrounded by the largest ammunition storage facility in the world. The town itself is only 1.5 square miles, but the depot covers 226 square miles and can store 600,000 square feet of ammunition in those Hobbit houses I saw — more than 2,400 bunkers.

Its history is fantastic — during World War II it employed more than 5,000 people -- (go ahead, Google it for yourself) and its mission frightening (Is the ammunition still there? Are the bunkers empty?).
Curiously, something this important to the safety of this country is not run by the government. 

Imagine that.

The ammunition needed to send this country to war is stored by an independent contractor — Day & Zimmerman Hawthrone Corp., a leading manufacturer of ammunition who  also makes the little silver foil wraps for Hershey kisses (or used to).

Forbes named the company one of the richest privately held companies in the United States, with revenues of $2.5 billion a year. They hold more than 350 government contracts and we pay them more than  $151 million a year to store wartime ammunition.

If we renege on a payment and need a bullet, can they say “No?”

The U.S. Marines used to guard the facility. That job has been outsourced, too. To Day & Zimmerman.

So my gut tells me I’m not the only one who blinked. Everyone in this  country must have blinked when the government decided to hand over the largest ammunition storage facility in the world to one of the richest companies in the United States.

I’m hoping there's a clause in those contracts that puts the facility back under Marine protection and Army control in the event of war. Because if we are attacked, I want the bottom line to be our protection, not a bank account.

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