MCALESTER – Located at the far end of McAlester with no signs or logos identifying its occupants sits an ordinary looking industrial factory and office complex. Many would never suspect this is home to a company that builds bomb components and other military equipment.
Choctaw Defense — one of the manufacturing businesses owned and operated by the Choctaw Nation — has manufactured missile components, trailers, heaters and other military equipment for over 20 years.
Founded in 1988 as Choctaw Manufacturing and Development Corporation (CMDC), in Hugo with only 60 employees, CEO Stephen Benefield said Choctaw Defense started by building laser guided bomb components for Texas Instruments.
After completing contracts for the missiles, the Choctaw Nation decided there was a future in defense contracts and formed Choctaw Defense. The tribe moved to McAlester facilities in 2001.
Originally designed to produce multipurpose trailers for the Marine MTVR vehicle, the facility now manufactures portable heating, lighting and electricity units for the armed forces. In addition, the company produces the Battle Damage Assessment Repair Kit.
The kit allows troops to make minor repairs to service vehicles long enough to get them safely back to base, Benefield said.
Choctaw Defense also recently received a $20 million dollar contract to build the CAMEL II for the Army. The CAMEL is a self-contained water tank that provides fresh water for troops, he said.
“The CAMEL is designed to provide temperature controlled water no matter what environment the soldier is in,” Benefield said.
During a tour of the 80,000-square-foot production facility, one would expect to see the oil and dirt typically found in most production facilities. Not at Choctaw Defense, instead, the workers are provided with a pristine work area, free from clutter.
Moreover, the workers are constantly reminded of the importance of their work by the giant American flags hanging in every building.
The flags are a symbol of the company's commitment to patriotism, Benefield said.
“There are men and women fighting every day,” he said. “We'll go above and beyond to support the soldiers.”
Colby Robinson, email and marketing director for the McAlester Chamber of Commerce, said he agrees.
“They have shown a strong commitment, not only to the troops, but to the entire community,” Robinson said. “They have participated in and manned many events in the city. Last year they participated in the Armed Forces Parade.”
Robinson said Choctaw Defense has had a positive impact on McAlester's economy.
“They have employed a lot of people in the city,” he said.
Benefield said Choctaw Defense currently employees over 200 people.
“One of our goals is to expand industry in southeast Oklahoma,” he said. “We offer jobs, good paying jobs to people during a time when it is most needed.”
Benefield said the recession has not affected workforce or production. In fact, he said, the company has doubled its labor force.
“All of all business is defense related. With budget crunches of the past, we were concerned we would start feeling the pain. But we have done nothing but prosper,” Benefield said.