The new commander of the Pine Bluff Arsenal told members of the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club recently that the facility has a powerful economic impact on the region, and that he would be “more than surprised if the facility closed.”

“We’ve got no problems outside the gate and we’ve got the support of the community,” Col. Kelso C. Horne III, who assumed command of the Arsenal July 7 after a tour in Korea, told Rotarians on Thursday.

He added however that it was “not my decision.”

The City of White Hall is taking a pro-active stance in an effort to ensure that the Pine Bluff Arsenal continues to operate in the face of proposed federal legislation calling for “consolidation, closure and realignment of military instillation’s in the United States.”

White Hall Mayor Noel Foster proposed and the White Hall City Council in July adopted an ordinance establishing The Mayor’s Military Advisory Committee, a group of seven-to-nine individuals who will, among other things, promote and protect the mission of the arsenal, communicate with state and federal legislators on ways to support the arsenal, and focus attention on the needs of the arsenal and its employees.

While the destruction of the chemical stockpile was completed in 2010, Horne said the anchor of the facility is the 135 products in produces, with 87 of them made only at the arsenal, including ammunition and items for chemical and biological defense.

“It’s dangerous, sensitive work that the people at the Arsenal have been trusted to perform for decades,” Horne said.

He said the products are used by the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other places around the world, and said the facility has “new work coming.”

That new work includes reformulating the way smoke grenades are made to make them safer but still as equally effective as they have been in the past.

Using a power point presentation, Horne also talked about the work converting military vehicles to what he called “portable clean operating shelters which can be used anywhere American’s deploy.”

“They can be deployed within an hour and statistics say that if a wounded soldier can get treatment within an hour, they have a 95 percent chance of survival,” Horne said.

Also, the arsenal is working on what Horne said were Combat Surgical Hospitals, which are truck-portable and can be carried into the field.

He said that according to studies, the arsenal has an $82 million economic impact on the region, which, according to the Governor’s Veteran’s Military Affairs Committee, is probably lower than it really is.

Horne said recent tours by Senator John Boozman and Fourth District Congressman Bruce Westerman highlighted the capabilities of the facility, and he asked members of the Rotary Club to contact those legislators, and others, and let them know how important the facility is to the future of the military and to Southeast Arkansas.

“You’ve been supportive since the arsenal existed,” Horne said. “What we do is critical to national defense and we would like to see it continue.”