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Fort Benning defense contractor Eagle Systems laying off 359

A Fort Benning defense contractor has filed a notice with the Georgia Department of Labor that it is laying off 359 workers by March 11, although there’s the likelihood many of those affected could be rehired by a succeeding contractor.

Lawton, Okla.-based Eagle Systems & Services Inc., in a letter received by the labor department Tuesday, said it has been told by its prime contractor, ITT/Exelis, that its services are no longer needed as a subcontractor and it is being terminated.

Eagle Systems President Rhonda Clemmer declined to comment late this afternoon, saying she would have to run a prepared statement through her attorney.

ITT/Exelis did not return calls to its offices in McLean, Va.

However, Georgia Department of Labor communications director Sam Hall said his office understands a new contractor will fill the void left by Eagle Systems.

“From our discussions with the Eagle management, they expect almost all of the employees to be retained by the new company, the new contractor,” he said. “If there are some layoffs, of course, our Columbus Career Center will do whatever possible to help them find new employment as quickly as possible.”

Eagle Systems is a defense firm with contracts at various U.S. government installations, according to its website. Major contracts listed on the site include Fort Benning, with “base operations support” and “mobilization readiness training” among the services it offers here.

The company also says it does work at Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort McCoy, Wisc., Fort Detrick, Md., and at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma. Its site noted projected revenue of $50 million in 2009.

Gary Jones, executive vice president of economic development and military affairs at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, said ITT/Exelis deals with building, vehicle and grounds maintenance at Fort Benning. He suspects the layoff filing is simply a sign of one contractor transitioning to another.

“I would want to find out if there’s an issue of a contract being terminated or, in fact, a contract has been awarded to somebody else. Most of the time when someone gets a contract, they go and hire a lot of the same people,” said Jones, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former Fort Benning garrison commander.

Fort Benning Public Affairs Office staff was unable to respond today to requests for clarification of the contracting issue.

However, Eagle Systems makes it clear in the labor department letter that its current mission at the installation is over.

“At this time, employment loss with Eagle Systems should be considered as permanent due to the end of our subcontract with ITT/Exelis,” it wrote in the letter signed by Mary Ellen Connolly, the defense firm’s vice president of human resources.

The letter did say ITT/Exelis has added the Eagle Systems work to its prime contract with the Directorate of Logistics at Fort Benning, though it did not elaborate on what that might mean to employees.

The letter lists several locations on the post affected by the layoffs. They include a central issue facility and bulk fuels operation on Indianhead Road, and a Conus Replacement Center building on El Caney Avenue.

A range of jobs are listed, including project manager, fuel supervisor, warehouse supervisor, general clerk, supply technicians, stock clerks, bus drivers, heavy and light truck drivers, tailors, sewing machine operators, gunsmiths, aircraft servicers and heavy equipment operators.

“We extend our deepest appreciation to our workforce at Fort Benning, Ga., for all the hard work, loyalty and price performed in their jobs each and every day,” Connolly wrote in the Eagle Systems letter.

It was in 2008 that White Plains, N.Y.-based ITT Corp. was awarded a contract to handle logistical chores for Fort Benning, replacing the previous contract-holder Shaw Infrastructure Inc. Prior to that, Shaw’s contract included both Directorate of Logistics and Directorate of Public Works duties on the installation. At that time, ITT said it expected to employ about 800 workers.

Fort Benning has said that about 250 civilian positions will be eliminated on the post in fiscal year 2012, which ends Sept. 30. The Infantry and Armor training installation aims to whittle $7.6 million from its operating budget this year.

But the U.S. military is downsizing from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with deep budget cuts already announced and plans to cut 80,000 military personnel. The Defense Department has said that at least eight combat brigades will be eliminated, generating speculation that the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team at Fort Benning could be dissolved or relocated at some point. There are roughly 4,000 soldiers in the unit, which is housed at Kelley Hill, but is part of the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd Infantry Division.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Ben Wright contributed to this report.

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