The Radford arsenal: A vital mission

morgan griffithColumn by Morgan Griffith

The men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces are among the finest our nation has to offer. It is essential that we provide them with the best equipment and supplies available.

In Shakespeare’s Richard III, the king famously laments, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” He loses a battle, his realm, and his life because he lacks a horse at the pivotal moment. We cannot allow our liberties to be lost because of a similar lack of quality supplies when they count the most.

Southwest Virginia makes a critical contribution to this effort. The Radford Army Ammunition Plant is the primary manufacturer of propellant for the Department of Defense. So as our warfighters battled ISIS in the Middle East, Radford’s products propelled their munitions toward their targets.

The Radford arsenal has its origins in World War II, when it employed as many as 23,000 workers. In the decades since, it has remained a key provider for the military and an important employer in our area. Current staffing consists of a small garrison of Army personnel and a larger civilian workforce managed by BAE Systems. Additionally, other businesses, such as Northrop Grumman, maintain an on-site presence as well.

Recently, the arsenal celebrated its 78th birthday. To mark the occasion, Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper toured the facility as part of a swing through Southwest Virginia. He is the first sitting Army Secretary to visit the plant. His itinerary also included a visit to Virginia Tech, where he met with administrators and the Corps of Cadets. In fact, Virginia Tech is one of only six institutions apart from the service academies designated as a senior military college.

I accompanied Secretary Esper on his visit to Radford. We saw all that the arsenal does for our servicemen and -women and the pride its employees take in their work. We also learned more about the projects that fulfill its aim to be a good neighbor and part of our surrounding community.

Radford is not just the primary supplier for some products, but the only supplier. Among the products the Radford arsenal makes is nitrocellulose, a propellant that produces less smoke than alternative propellants. It is the only North American manufacturer and supplier of the substance.

As an aside, it is notable that while Radford supplies the propellant, many of the explosives that are propelled are made close to the Ninth District as well, at the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Kingsport.

While impressed by the importance of the Radford arsenal to our military supply chain, I am also encouraged by the steps its leadership and the Department of Defense have taken to improve the environment in our communities.

The manufacturing activities occurring at the site, including the burning of waste products, inevitably produce pollution. Recognizing these ills, the Department of Defense has taken important steps in recent years to minimize emissions. From 2017 to 2018, a 47 percent reduction in waste destroyed by open burning occurred. The base’s current commander, Lieutenant Colonel James Scott, set as a goal a 50 percent reduction in this waste by 2021, so the progress has been impressive.

Significant upgrades to the facility have already taken place. Perhaps the most important, the installation of a new incinerator that captures most of the emissions, is scheduled for completion in 2023.

These actions will benefit the environment and contribute to a more harmonious relationship with residents of the surrounding jurisdictions.

While we were at the arsenal, Secretary Esper and I recognized Shirley Turner, an employee celebrating 50 years of work at the facility. This milestone event indicates the long-standing importance of the Radford arsenal as an employer in the New River Valley. The facility maintains a health and wellness program for employees, another signal that it takes its obligations as a major employer seriously.

I am glad that Secretary Esper had a chance to see the important work done at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant, and proud that through the facility, Southwest Virginia continues to make a vital offering to the nation’s defense.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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