By Kevin Dockery
The AUSA (Association of the United States Army) holds its annual meeting every year during the fall in Washington DC., except for the one in 2001 which was abruptly canceled. It seems most of the attendees were suddenly busy overseas with the opening shots in the War on Terror. The meeting has been held at the Washington Convention Center every October for the last three years. The DC Convention center is the only place in the District area that’s both big enough, and secure enough, to hold the meeting: particularly the display hall. This is the 51st annual meeting of the AUSA. This year more than 30,000 members and guests attended the exposition and meetings. It is a very significant event, both for the Army and for the public that it serves.
The Washington Convention Center is not just a large but is also a convenient location for the AUSA annual meeting. It is located northwest of the US Capitol Building, at Mount Vernon Square/7th Street. With a Metro station literally at the door, the Yellow and Green lines of the subway make the Center very easy to get to from the entire DC metropolitan area. The maps that are given out at the registration booths show the full exhibit area, a complete schedule of events, and a map of the surrounding DC area showing hotels, restaurants, and the Metro lines.
Few other military shows can boast being larger than the AUSA annual convention and none of those are in this country. Outside of a military base, no other displays will show more or bigger hardware. When General Dynamics wants to show off one of their premier products, they just bring in a fully functional Abrams main battle tank right from the line. One year, the tank inside the display area had been on a hot range only a few days earlier – the bomb dogs loved it.
If you think something the size of a modern battle tank might stand out in an indoor display, think again. There were 130 displays from Army units and organizations, as well as more than 400 industrial displays from representatives from the United States as well as more than a dozen countries from around the world. The AUSA show occupied more than 450,000 square feet. The exhibits covered nearly a quarter-million square feet of space all on their own. Not only were all of the major weapon systems used by the Army represented in the exhibits, so was the bulk of the ancillary equipment, from uniforms, ammunition, communications, vehicles, food and water. Even the Chaplain Service was well represented. Unless you’re over in the Sandbox or the Rockpile, AUSA is probably the only place you will ever see a Field Communion Kit, packed for field carry in its fitted web gear.
Besides just the general run-of-the-mill weapons and equipment (there is such a thing?), both futuristic prototypes as well as historical displays were available for viewing, in many cases in a hands-on presentation. This is a very prestigious show. Moving through the aisles will have you literally rubbing shoulders with four-star generals. Back in the 1980s, President Reagan was a luncheon speaker at the AUSA Convention, and he has hardly been the only President to attend. Manufacturers and industry representatives seem to try to outdo themselves every year with bigger and better displays, bringing out their very best and showing it to its maximum advantage.
The AUSA annual meeting does a great deal more than just give defense industry representatives a place to show their goods. The many conferences, seminars, and presentations at the event make it a significant professional development opportunity for the career soldier. The Annual Meeting delivers the Army’s message, this year being a Call to Duty – 230 years of service to the nation. The exhibition area also showcases the capabilities of the organizations that make up the Army as a whole.
This year’s meeting came at the end of this country’s fourth year in the global war on terrorism. The intensity and commitment of the Army’s service men and women can be clearly seen on the faces of the many of them who attend the meeting. Walking through the halls and areas of the Convention Center, you see representatives of all of the Army’s major commands, and organizations, sometimes both past and present. Walking through the exhibition area it is not out of the ordinary to see the pleasure in the face of a veteran of such units as the 82nd Airborne or the Big Red One when he meets a young soldier who is now serving in his old unit. And that soldier carries forward the pride of the veteran in his service in Afghanistan, Iraq, and all around the globe.
Information on the Army, its present actions, and its recent as well as past history, are available just by taking the time to stop and watch. Presentations are constantly being given on the exhibition floor while the area is open. Multi-media shows back up the talks given by the soldiers who have “been there and done that.” And these are also the people who use the hardware, materials, and services that are showing all around them.
The Exhibition Area
The industry displays are the heart of the exhibition area, and they are well worth the work involved in getting to the meeting. All of the major companies, and more than a few of the smaller ones, are around the floor. General Dynamics, AMC, Bell Helicopter Textron, Heckler and Koch, FN, Colt, Alliant Tech, AAI, Glock and more show weapons systems ranging from small arms to artillery, armored vehicles, and aircraft. The Army organizations also show their materials and capabilities. One particular area that should be pointed out is the Army PEO (Program Executive Office Soldier) display pavilion. It is probably the single most interesting and wide ranging display pavilion in the exhibit area. The PEO office is tasked with the mission to develop, acquire, field, and sustain everything the soldier wears, carries, and operates with. It is a huge organization with a very large field of interests. At the PEO website (www.peosoldier.army.mil) you can read the details about the organization, its divisions, and the equipment they are responsible for. But reading about it is not the same as a hands-on examination of the material. It is at the AUSA exhibition that the individual can do that close up and personal look at some of the gear that only exists in experimental or prototype forms.
Most of the materials and services on display in the exhibition hall were not the sorts of things you could expect to buy privately. Some would be on sale to the public eventually, such as the 7.62x51mm drum magazine from the Beta Company. But most would never see a gun shop showroom. That doesn’t mean an attendee would have to leave empty-handed. Almost every single piece of material in the hall, from single rounds of ammunition to massive trucks and armored personnel carriers, had literature available to explain, give technical details, or just describe them. These pass-out documents could range from a simple single-sheet on a particular item, to full company catalogs – printed or on DVD, of a company’s entire line of products and services. Most of the military organizations at the exhibition followed suit with their own literature.
Just one organization, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command (USAMRMC) had an entire book of several hundred pages available that detailed each item they had in use or under development. And in the big tent-covered display, USAMRMC were showing examples of many of the items in the book – from a new style of efficient bandage to the latest vaccines and pain killers.
Dillon Aero Inc. had their miniguns and mounts on the floor, as well as a catalog listing their upgrade services, parts, and accessories. They don’t just make reloading machines. Ammunition, the feed devices to carry the ammunition, and the web gear to carry the feed devices, could be seen, sometimes handled, and almost always read about. Designers and developers, engineers and salespeople, were on hand to explain what could be seen by attendees. Entire lines of ammunition of all calibers were shown by the manufacturers. Producing companies from as far away as Norway, Sweden, South Korea, and Singapore had tables, cabinets, and racks of rounds ranging from 5.56mm to 240mm cannon shells. Many of the displays included cutaways of the ammunition and fuzes, showing not just what the rounds were but how they worked. Full ranges of color codes, and what they all meant, were sitting behind glass.
Simulation systems, ranging from an enclosed live-firing range with Simunition-fitted weapons to tank main gun training devices, showed the new methods of training today’s warfighter. It could be startling for an attendee to be walking down an aisle and suddenly hear the subdued blast of a 120mm Abrams gun firing, immediately followed by the mechanical sounds of reloading and the cry “Up!” indicating another shot was ready to go. Once you saw the simulator, which was the entire turret of an Abrams sitting on the floor, you at least understood that it wasn’t an attendee’s reaction to the parking situation in DC. The armed Humvee inside a tent-like booth allowed soldiers to actively engage the enemy attacking them, learning how to repel an ambush without costing lives or putting out live rounds. These are among the means that make the United Stated fighting man unequaled in the world.
The hardware and training to use it were not the only subjects covered by the industrial representatives at AUSA. Maintenance was not forgotten. Tools, diagnostic equipment, shelters, even wreckers capable of moving a broken-down main battle tank were spread out for close examination. Otis Products had a large display showing their wide range of excellent cleaning kits, several of them being present military issue. Once a weapon was clean, it had to be lubricated. Adaptive Molecular Technologies had their product on display, not that it would be known by that name, Militec-1 is a very popular and successful synthetic weapons lubricant, so highly thought of that soldiers would spend their own money to purchase it. But the people who make Militec-1 are long-time supporters of AUSA and they were doing a land-office business passing out samples of their product. The bottles of lube were well received by soldiers, many of whom were soon to return to the combat zone.
Black Tie Finale
The last major event of the AUSA meeting is a Wednesday evening black-tie formal affair: the George Catlett Marshall Memorial Reception and Dinner. These are two separate affairs, the dinner following the reception and require purchased tickets, something that sells out very quickly which shows the popularity of the event. Black-tie requires formal evening dress for civilian men and the women and, for military guests, full Mess Dress uniform. Not something you see everyday, even in Washington. For everyone attending, it can be an education in military style and due to the wide variety of foreign dress uniforms, the reception can be a startling view.
The exhibit area closes early on Wednesday so that the representatives can prepare themselves and the booths for the incoming guests. A separate ticket is required for the reception and the later dinner, and the one for the reception is well worth the price. This is the evening when the exhibitors and the AUSA staff put on a show for their guests. Entertainment is offered that ranged from military singers, a country western band, and even a ventriloquist in an evening gown. In all, the reception and the formal dinner following it made for a very interesting conclusion to a unique military event.
The AUSA annual meeting and exposition is a private affair and not open to the general public. Admittance is limited to AUSA members, members and civilian employees of the U.S. Armed Forces, designated representatives of member and exhibitor companies, invited guests of the Association, and those who have an identifiable relationship with the U.S. Army. It is not difficult to join the Association and www.ausa.org is the website of the AUSA and it invites concerned citizens as well as all of the above to join them in AUSA membership. The annual meeting dates for 2006 are 9-11 October, once again in the Washington D.C. Convention center.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N7 (April 2006)|