If asked to name the three largest military installations in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, most citizens would come up with the first two pretty quickly, Fort Campbell and Fort Knox. However, many Kentuckians may not be as aware of the Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD). Established in 1941, this military installation, covering 14,594 acres, is the state’s third largest. The facility employs over 700 people (60 percent of whom are veterans) and adds $225M in economic value to Kentucky. BGAD fulfills a number of critical missions for the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense.
BGAD supports our joint forces in combat by playing the critical role of storing, issuing, receiving, inspecting, maintaining and destroying conventional munitions. Our nation’s warfighters in battle must be properly supplied in a timely manner. In addition to munitions, BGAD also supplies chemical defense equipment to our warfighters. Overall, BGAD supplied some 225,656 warfighters in fiscal year 2016. In addition to other more sensitive operations, BGAD also serves as a training site for various active and reserve military units.
Contained within BGAD is the Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA) which ensures the safe and secure storage of the installation’s chemical weapons stockpile. This tenant organization of BGAD has as its slogan, “Safe Today, Safer Tomorrow”. The chemical weapons stockpile is housed in 49 earth covered, concrete igloos on 250 acres within the larger Depot. In 1997 the United States signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, agreeing to eliminate all of its chemical weapons and former production facilities. The key mission of BGCA stems from that treaty, namely, the safe storage of the chemical stockpile until demilitarization (safe destruction) is complete.
The BGAD chemical weapons stockpile has been safely stored for more than 70 years, with mustard agent arriving as early as 1944, and nerve agent arriving in the mid-60s. BGCA, established in 1995, has been responsible for the ongoing safe and secure storage of these weapons by employing highly trained personnel to ensure this record of safety continues. These personnel are trained in all necessary protocols and procedures and are provided with state-of-the-art instrumentation to continuously monitor all facets of the chemical storage area. Their monitoring efforts include continuous data gathering for the presence of even trace amounts of chemical agent. BGCA also continuously monitors weather conditions in order to be able to track the path of a contaminant should a release occur. Most munitions are stored without incident. However, BGCA personnel are prepared to handle “leakers” detected inside a chemical storage igloo. A leaker is a munition leaking agent or emitting vapor inside the igloo.
Also contained within the BGAD footprint, but operating as a stand-alone facility, is the newly constructed Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant. This facility will safely and compliantly destroy existing chemical agents currently monitored by BGCA. Once this plant is fully operational, it will employ more than 1,000 individuals. Of course, since there is a finite amount of chemical agent stockpiled, this facility will complete its mission. Once all on-site material is destroyed, and the plant is decontaminated, the mission for both BGCA and the pilot plant will come to an end. The desire is that select facilities surrounding the plant can then be repurposed to perform other conventional munitions-related functions with the goal being to maintain a robust workforce with new workload via Public-Private or Intergovernmental Partnerships.
The Blue Grass Army Depot, with its available 3.2 million square feet of storage facilities, and a recent $57M dollar investment in capital improvements, should continue to be a valuable contributor to the Kentucky economy. The leadership at BGAD are ready and willing to meet with investors who are interested in leveraging BGAD’s extensive resources to benefit their businesses.
Gov. Bevin has made his administration’s commitment to Kentucky’s military installations clear. Likewise, the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs (KCMA) has as one of its primary goals to expand the economic impact of Kentucky’s defense-related industry. BGAD, their local economic development partners, and KCMA will continue to work together to ensure that this military installation will maintain its great economic impact on the Commonwealth of Kentucky far into the future.
Col. M. Blaine Hedges (Ret.) is executive director of Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs.