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Aiken plant awarded large contract to continue making heavy-duty military vehicles

BAE Systems

The Aiken branch of BAE Systems was responsible for manufacturing the vehicle that took Saddam Hussein's statue down in 2003. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 12, 2011)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011

AIKEN, S.C. -- The date was April 9, 2003. A group of Marines put a rope around the neck of Saddam Hussein's statue.

"That was a great event. Certainly for me, watching it on television," said Michael Eaton, the BAE Site Manager for the facility in Aiken.

Iraqis danced on the collapsed statue after the Marine M88 recovery vehicle backed up and tore it down.

"First thing I did was jump off the couch and say, 'Hey, we built that vehicle,'" he said.

He works for BAE Systems, a global defense company. They have an important branch in Aiken, where he's the site manager.

"We build, as you know, complex components that support primarily the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the M88 Recovery Vehicle and the Vertical Launch System," he said.

The M88, the vehicle that ripped the statue down, is still being produced in Aiken. Eaton gave News 12 a tour of the facility where about 300 parts are manufactured to build the vehicle that literally serves as a tow-truck for tanks.

Just a little more than a week ago, the Aiken facility was one of two to receive about $108 million from the government to keep making them. It's part of the workload at the site that Eaton says benefits the whole area.

"As an Aiken site, there's about 120 different suppliers that we utilize throughout the state, and over the past couple of years, it's been anywhere from 10 to 12 million dollars worth of goods and services that we buy to support our operation here in Aiken," he said.

They employ about 110 people right now at the Aiken site, but he says that number could grow or shrink in the future as the demand for military technology increases or declines.

However, their main goal will never change, he says.

"Our phrase, within BAE, is we protect those who protect us," Eaton said.

They also build machines for the NAVY out at the Aiken facility. About 20 percent of their work is on what's known as a Vertical Launch System. It holds and fires missiles from ships and submarines.

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