Workers who built equipment for bin Laden raid may be let go

Lexington Herald-LeaderSeptember 4, 2011 

In May, after the world learned that U.S. military Special Forces had found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, workers at Bluegrass Station in Lexington celebrated.

"Many folks contributed to the success of this strategic mission in addition to those who carried it out," Howard Yellen, a Lockheed Martin vice president, wrote in a monthly newsletter. "Some included our colleagues in SOF CLSS!"

Yellen would know: His job since October has been to head SOF CLSS, or Special Operations Forces Contractor Logistics Support Services, at the Lexington facility, where Lockheed is doing work that is part of a 10-year, $5 billion contract awarded last year to modify a variety of equipment for Special Forces.

The contract, along with Lockheed's promise to invest $26 million in Bluegrass Station, convinced Kentucky economic development officials to approve $15 million in potential tax credits and $415,000 in other incentives on the promise of 224 more jobs at the facility.

But now, three months later, hundreds of workers at Bluegrass Station have learned they might be let go at the end of September.

Lockheed Martin says it has decided to in-source work that was being done by DS2, a subcontractor that it co-owned but now has divested itself of, according to Lockheed spokesman Ken Ross. Bringing the jobs in-house will save money for Lockheed customers, the company says.

As of Monday, Lockheed Martin said 499 workers have been affected by the change but as many as 422 might be hired back. At least 77 will be laid off, but that number could rise because workers will be competing against outsiders for the jobs.

Lockheed has not disclosed exactly how many employees were not rehired; it says hiring is ongoing.

At the plant in eastern Fayette County, members of the "Lockheed Martin Team" work behind the scenes on helicopters for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, which ferried in Navy SEAL Team Six for the assault on bin Laden's compound and took his body out. They felt a special pride at the successful raid in May.

But even as workers were celebrating, they also apparently were worried about their jobs.

In the same May newsletter in which he talked about the bin Laden raid, Yellen, the Lockheed vice president, tried to reassure them. "There is NO large-scale reduction in force planned or envisioned that would put hundreds of our teammates out of work," he said.

Ross, the company spokesman, said last week that Yellen's comment was meant to address widespread rumors at the time that 300 to 500 people would be laid off.

"At that time, there was no plan," Ross said.

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