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Published: Thursday, 4/24/2003

Lima: Bush visit is validation

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

LIMA, Ohio - It's just steel, but its symbolism is powerful enough to make grown men cry.

Greg Gebolys of Maumee, a 24-year employee of the Lima Army Tank Plant at which President Bush will speak this afternoon, teared up yesterday as he talked about what it means to be a troubleshooter at the plant that makes the M1A2 Abrams tank, the most lethal armored vehicle in the world.

It means U.S. soldiers soon will come home to their families, he said. And it means another country now has a chance to taste American-style freedom.

“We're really proud of what we do here,” Mr. Gebolys, 53, said as he stood at the front gate of the plant, having just finished another shift. “It's the best job you ever could have. Having the President visit - that's just icing on the cake. It's really something to think that he cares enough to come here. It's like he's saying he supports what we are doing.”

Teresa Adams, a facility engineer at the Lima Army Tank Plant, said many of her co-workers lost sleep in the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Teresa Adams, a facility engineer at the Lima Army Tank Plant, said many of her co-workers lost sleep in the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
LISA DUTTON / BLADEE Enlarge

Mr. Bush will arrive at the plant this afternoon to tour the facility, which makes the M1A2 Abrams tanks that roared from Kuwait to Baghdad and paved the way for the U.S.-led coalition forces to wrest control of Iraq from Saddam Hussein.

He will arrive here from Canton, where he is set to conduct a discussion about the nation's economic condition and push for his package of tax cuts now before Congress.

Mr. Bush will make his proposals in the home state of Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, a moderate Republican who has said he can't support the size tax cut the White House proposed.

Mr. Bush is the first sitting President to visit Lima since Ronald Reagan barnstormed through town during his 1984 re-election campaign.

Mr. Bush is expected to praise the workers at the tank plant, much as he thanked workers last week at a Boeing airplane plant in St. Louis that makes jet fighters used in the Iraq war.

Mike Hunsicker of Lima, a 44-year-old former welder at the plant who is now a leader in one of the labor unions here, said workers experience an unusually high level of job satisfaction because of the power of the product they make.

“There's really not a lot of talk about it around the plant,” he said. “But the pride has been there right from the beginning.”

Teresa Adams, a facility engineer from the Lima area who has worked at the plant for 25 years, said the war has caused workers to obsess a little over the performance of the tanks.

“I lost a lot of sleep the last few weeks, I can tell you that,” she said. “We watched TV 24 hours a day to see the progress and the performance of the tanks.”

She said she was nervous about the unpredictable nature of war, but not about the quality of the tanks made here.

“We have always known they are the best. We've been tested once before, in the Gulf War. The tank proved itself then, and it has proved itself again,” Ms. Adams said.

“Armor has been vital to the safety and security of our men, and to the safety and security of our country. The President seems to recognize that, and his coming here proves it,” she said.

She also guessed that the presidential visit might help the plant land a contract for the new Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle, which is up for grabs.

The plant also manufactures the XM104 “Wolverine” heavy assault bridge and light-armored Stryker vehicles.

A sergeant for the Allen County Sheriff's Office, which has been involved in planning security for Mr. Bush's visit, said the President is expected to helicopter to the plant aboard Marine One from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the Dayton area. But, on the off chance that bad weather forces him to arrive via automobile, signs at a local appliance store welcome Mr. Bush to town.

“I just did it for the patriotic support. Since he is coming to Lima, it is something good to do,” said Jason Woods, a store employee who put up the signs - without permission from Don Price, who owns the store.

“I didn't even notice it. I'll have to go take a look,” Mr. Price said, who moments later signaled his approval.



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