ANSBACH, Germany (March 14, 2013) — The newest, most environmentally friendly automotive skills center in the Army opened April 26 at U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach’s Urlas housing and training area here.
Hundreds of Soldiers, family members, and American and German civilians attended the Ansbach Automotive Skills Center grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony as visitors had a chance to see what the $6 million Morale, Welfare and Recreation complex offers.
Col. Kelly J. Lawler, USAG Ansbach commander and event keynote speaker, told attendees that the Ansbach Automotive Skills Center is yet another quality-of-life facility that serves as part of “a ready and resilient platform” that will get Soldiers out of the barracks and give them a chance to interact with one another.
“Being in the United States military is truly a team sport,” Lawler said. “The more places we can get people together to be ready and resilient is what we’re charged to do by the people of the United States to fight and win our nation’s wars. This is a platform off of which to do that.”
The new center is a multi-building complex with several related functions. The main repair and maintenance garage features eight vehicle work each with a toolbox that includes electrical and pneumatic components. Outside the garage, the complex offers a salvage yard, car wash and dog wash. All equipment and tools are new, and, like other automotive skills centers throughout the Army, the facility employs professional mechanics who provide assistance, instruction and advice.
The complex incorporates numerous energy-efficient elements including a photovoltaic power-generation system, ceiling-mounted radiant heat panels, a skylight array, motion-detecting lighting, and computer-controlled heating, electrical and water systems.
The car wash features a solar-thermal water-heating system, a rooftop rainwater collection system that directs water into the wash, and water filtering and recycling system that utilizes a majority of that recycled water for vehicles.
The Ansbach Automotive Skills Center joins a group of other quality-of-life facilities at Urlas that includes the Army’s “greenest” commissary, which opened in February; the adjacent energy-efficient Post Exchange and food court that opened in August 2012; the Army lodge, dedicated as Brainard Hall, which opened in December 2011; and the passive-energy housing, which opened in June 2011.
“If those aren’t truly quality-of-life improvements in this community, then I don’t know what is,” Lawler told attendees.
Until recently, two World War II-era automotive skills centers had served the USAG Ansbach community at nearby Barton Barracks and Katterbach Airfield. The new complex consolidates services from both locations.
Lawler thanked the many people and organizations — both American and German — that played a part in the planning, design, construction and now the operation of the facility. These included MWR, the Directorate of Public Works, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Staatliches Bauamt Nürnberg (German construction agency) and local contractors. Lawler also thanked Dan Gasparino, Installation Management Command Europe Recreation Program manager, who attended the event as a special guest.
Lt. Col. Michelle Garcia, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District deputy commander, also attended as a special guest and spoke to the crowd. Garcia said the Corps of Engineers’ priorities include bringing these types of quality projects to places like USAG Ansbach and the people who live and work here. Also a priority, she said, is continuing their strong relationships with partners like the Bauamt, which worked closely with USACE on the project.
“It’s a unique partnership that the Corps of Engineers has with almost our German equivalents, the Bauamt,” Garcia said. “Over many years we’ve had a good working relationship so we can bring these projects to you. This is an environmentally sound facility, and that is important to us, the Corps of Engineers.”
Klaus Gerstendorff, director of Staatliches Bauamt Nürnberg, spoke after Garcia and talked about how caring for an automobile can be a significant personal experience — and how the complex will facilitate that.
“This is a really sophisticated building complex here full of technology,” Gerstendorff said. “On the other hand, it’s very simple architecture — form follows function. As an architect, I would say this is not really emotional architecture, but on the other hand, what will happen here is highly emotional.”
Gerstendorff used several props during his speech to illustrate how cars have changed since his father passed down a classic VW Beetle. He held up a hammer and said it was most useful to fix his car’s stubborn electric starter by simply banging on it.
“I’d say 90 percent of the time, it worked and I could start it,” said Gerstendorff, whose comment was met with laughter from the audience. With the more complex automobiles of today, he said more work is required — and the Automotive Skills Center will give Soldiers the right place to do just that.
If one Soldier’s input is any indication, the opening of the Ansbach Automotive Skills Center is a welcome addition here. In fact, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Henry Moore, a maintenance test pilot assigned to 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, called it an “absolutely awesome” complex.
Moore, who returned from a deployment in Afghanistan earlier this year with fellow 12th CAB Soldiers, participated in the center’s groundbreaking ceremony in November 2011. He returned to take part in this grand opening and ribbon-cutting and said he is eager to go from fixing helicopters downrange to fixing cars here in Ansbach. Particularly, he said, he wants to spend time with other Soldiers who may not have the same level of experience or aptitude with vehicle repair that he does.
“Having this facility, I’m going to volunteer my time, especially with the Soldiers I work with and teach them a thing or two: show them how to change the oil and various things here and there — saving them time and money and so the car will be safer on the road,” he said.
A self-described “junkyard dog and tinkerer,” Moore said he enjoys working on both cars and aircraft.
“My father was an aircraft mechanic,” Moore continued. “I grew up watching him turn wrenches, so it’s kind of in my blood. People have said when they watch me work on people’s cars that they don’t see frustration; they can tell I enjoy it, and I do. My hands are always dirty.”
Along with the car wash and other features, Moore said he envisions the complex as a fun hangout for Soldiers and that it “feels a little bit like America, too. You’re around Americans, and a lot of the installations in the states have auto craft shops and car washes. … The most important thing is that it gives the guys a place to fix their cars to make sure they’re safe for the roads. It keeps a little more money in their pockets and it gives them a place to hang out.
“It’s phenomenal,” he added. “I didn’t imagine it to be so high-tech. I think it’s awesome that they spent the money on making it such a nice, high-tech facility — from the EPA standards to the solar panels to the HVAC exhaust system. It’s far beyond even what a normal commercial auto shop in the states has. It’s got all the latest tools, and bells and whistles to go along with it. They did it right.”