It's hard to believe that armor made just on the other side of the mountain is being used to protect U.S. troops around the world from bombs, bullets and even AK 47 rifles, but that's just what BAE Systems has been doing for 13 years.
BAE Systems has been in Phoenix, tucked right up against South Mountain, for years. The private company makes protective gear like hard armor plates, parachutes, aviation survivability equipment and even seats for Army vehicles and sells all these items to the U.S. government to protect troops all over the world.
The company has three factories in the U.S. that make just protective equipment. Other factories around the world make things like tanks, fighter jets and other military needs.
"We call ourselves a small company caught inside a big one," said Gregory Kraak, director of war fighter equipment for the company. "BAE Systems is this goliath and then we've got this little small piece that outfits the troops."
The Phoenix location pioneered the small arms protective insert in 1998. Troops wear four plates inside a vest. The total weight is about 20 pounds and combined with all the other gear troops are wearing it can seem like a lot, but the weight is worth it knowing the plate can stop fragments of a bomb, small pellet rounds and even a bullet from an AK 47.
Last week, the company celebrated its first million SAPI plates produced in Phoenix.
"Essentially, if each soldier wears four plates we have protected a quarter of a million American fighters," Kraak said. "That makes you feel pretty good, the fact that you're providing that."
BAE Systems had a ceremony March 24 at its location to thank employees for the wonderful work they've done. Congressman Ed Pastor and Col. William E. Cole of the U.S. Army spoke at the event, as well as Joe Coltman, vice president of BAE protective systems.
Cole said his department actually has a team that goes to soldiers who have been injured to see how well their equipment had protected them and if it needed to be changed.
"I'm happy to report that our armor works," he said. "These plates work exactly like they're designed to work. We've never had a case where a soldier was hurt or killed because of failure of a plate to stop a threat for which it was designed to stop. We've had many happy cases of soldiers who have had their lives saved thanks to this equipment."
Coltman told the crowd that the number of inserts produced by the company could fill up the University of Phoenix Stadium almost five times.
Pastor added that while this was significant, it was more meaningful when considering the lives saved.
"You can measure a million hard armor inserts and celebrate it but it would be very difficult to determine how many lives these inserts have saved and in many cases mitigated extensive damage to the men and women who are now serving our country overseas," he said.
BAE Systems in Phoenix employs more than 575 personnel. Over the years the company has designed 15 different hard armor plates for U.S. troops.
"You've got an organization here that's really providing a service to our great war fighters and you probably didn't even realize it was being done," Kraak said. "It's really a celebration of the fact that we're able to do this and contribute and protect these folks who protect us."
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