Two freshman Arkansas Congressmen got an up-close-and-personal look Monday at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, including a pyrotechnic demonstration of various types of smoke grenades and a tour of the newly renovated phosphorus production facility.

Two freshman Arkansas Congressmen got an up-close-and-personal look Monday at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, including a pyrotechnic demonstration of various types of smoke grenades and a tour of the newly renovated phosphorus production facility.


Fourth District Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs) and 2nd District Congressman French Hill (R-Little Rock) had a front-row seat while arsenal officials displayed M-98 distraction grenades and a variety of smoke grenades, including the M-90, M-4 and M-8.


Rob Shields, chief of the Pine Bluff Arsenal Mobile and Recovery Systems Division, said one of the purposes of the visit was so the two congressmen could get not only visual, hands-on examples of the various maintenance and rehabilitated projects that are underway at the Arsenal, but explanations of what the work involves and why it’s important.


Speaking after the pyrotechnic demonstration, Westerman said the Arsenal is "Important to the district, the state and the country."


He described the Arsenal as a "very important, a critical component of the country’s defense" and said the Arsenal contributes $82 million annually to the economy of the 4th and 2nd congressional districts.


Hill said he was "honored to be here today and I look forward to meeting the men and women who work here."


Afterward, it was off to the renovated phosphorous building, which, according to Project Engineer Justin Young, cost more than $30 million.


He said the new line, which is expected to open this summer, will produce 1,800 phosphorus shells per 10-hour shift, and will not only be much safer, but will reduce the needed manpower by two-thirds.


Young said the new line will replace technology that was 40 to 50 years old and required an operator to be in close contact with the phosphorus shells, while with the new system, the shells are completely enclosed, and once they’re loaded, will be removed by a robot arm to be checked for leaks.


"If we’re going to have a leak, I would rather have it here and not in the field," Young said.


When the new line is open, the space where the rounds were formerly assembled will be used to load, assemble and pack the rounds, Young said.


After the tour, Westerman and Hill had lunch with officials from the Arsenal, as well as city officials from Pine Bluff and White Hall, and Jefferson County officials.


Later Monday, Westerman held an open house at his new office in the Federal Building in downtown Pine Bluff.