Afghanistan is just one place where the U.S. Army has to deal with extreme environments. From the desert to the tropics, soldiers have to serve and equipment has to work. In every locale there is a problem: corrosion.
"I think what we do here is important because you don't want to fly on an aircraft, or use a weapons system that's not been inspected for corrosion and cracks," said Steven F. Carr, the manager of the AMCOM Corrosion Program Office.
Looking for corrosion, cracks, materials that don't hold up under stress -- that's what happens at the Corrosion Program office. The goal in the labs is to find the weakness, find the problem, before it stops the mission.
Lead Materials Engineer Sherry Watson has been on the job for 30 years. She's always looking for those microscopic problems that mean corrosion is present. "We recommend changes. Sometimes we recommend changing materials. We recommend changing coatings or platings to enhance the material," Watson explained.
Corrosion first became a major issue for the Army with the advent of missile programs in the 1950s. The problem is certainly not confined to missiles. "Corrosion costs the Department of Defense over $20 billion a year, and over 20 percent of the maintenance is corrosion related," said Carr.
The labs at Redstone Arsenal are always searching and testing for problems, and looking for better materials. They also have classes that teach soldiers to be corrosion monitors in the field. "It doesn't always make some of the pilots happy to ground aircraft, cause they want to fly. But it was the right thing to do, and it's a great feeling to know that you might have an impact in saving a bird, and people's lives," said Sgt. Carson Curley from the Montana National Guard.
Saving lives is the obvious priority, but saving taxpayer dollars is also important. "Yes, it's a good return on investment. We spend a few million dollars to save billions of dollars," says Program Manager Carr.