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Arsenal’s new garrison commander ready to face furloughs

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While workers at the Rock Island Arsenal brace for federal furloughs in July, a uniformed officer is ready to run its base operations for the first time in seven years.

The transition comes at a tough time for the Arsenal, but Colonel Elmer Speights is planning to turn those troubles into triumphs.

Col. Speights is preparing to face the budget challenges like a mayor.

"We've been directed to do furloughs in order to save the government money," he said.

That's doing more with less. The garrison's budget has already been sliced in two and staffing cut by a third.

"We want to keep the Arsenal in the forefront of the minds of the people inside the beltway in D.C.," he said.

The Arsenal's federal furloughs start on July 8th. That means less factory activity, shifting projects and saving energy.

"We're seeing some cutbacks at the factory, but other portions of the island are actually growing," said Sam Kupresin, a civilian advisor and business owner. "It's kind of a balancing act to some extent."

The Rock Island Arsenal represents changing times with federal funding and furloughs. But the uniformed presence hopes to send a strong message about its future.

"The Arsenal is key to re-setting the Army and getting the Army well after the wars," said Col. Speights.

That will be tougher in coming weeks because there will be fewer workers, at least in the short term.

"Given the cuts that happened, they continue to maintain services as best as possible," said East Moline Mayor John Thodos, who also chairs the Rock Island Arsenal Development Group.

And like a good mayor, Col. Speights knows that the Arsenal depends on teamwork to succeed.

"It is an important place," he concluded. "It's been important since the Civil War, and it's going to be important for many days to come."

There will be important days during challenging times at the Arsenal.