By Jesse Rubin
WOODSTOCK, NY — On the 12th annual Woodstock Volunteers Day, residents gather in the Andy Lee Field for home-cooked food, folk songs and recognition of “what is good about [their] community.”
Two volunteers tabling for the environmental group Scenic Hudson ask for signatures and email addresses at the park entrance.
Tarak Kauff, a member of the antiwar group Veterans For Peace, lends his name to the environmentalist cause.
When Kauff presents the volunteers with his own petition, they hesitate. The petition, written by a group of local activists known as Woodstock Peace Economy, asks aerospace and military contractor Ametek Rotron to switch over all its production to civilian use. The 70-year-old company is the largest employer in this town of about 6,000 residents.
The two volunteers seem to hide behind their table. “Rotron?” one asks. “I thought they only made fans.”
Kauff tells them about the campaign and about the fans’ essential role in the functioning of F-16 fighter jets, cluster bombs and predator drones.
They decline and continue asking for signatures, some of which likely come from Rotron employees.
In 2015 Ametek Rotron landed $2.6 million in Pentagon contracts. Compared to Lockheed Martin — one of the largest defense companies in the world with declared revenues of $46.1 billion the same year— this number is negligible.
But for a town that came to prominence as a haven for artists and later became synonymous with ’60s-era idealism and whose council declared it “drone free” in 2014 — any Pentagon dollars are incongruous.
So say activists affiliated with Woodstock Peace Economy who have recently renewed a long-running campaign against Rotron’s manufacture of weapons parts that dates back to the 1980s.
“Located in buildings just out of sight, off Rte. 375, Ametek Rotron makes high-tech fans, balls bearings and other essential parts for weapons used to terrorize and kill people the world over,” reads the group’s latest petition. “As most of us in Woodstock support peace and not war, the signers below request that Ametek Rotron explore how to convert its manufacturing facilities to support peace and not war.”
Route 375 is a main road into Woodstock — but before reaching the downtown, which trades on its image of a hippie haven — visitors must pass an inconspicuous white sign announcing the Rotron factory. While well established, it is unknown outside of the nearby Hudson Valley towns.
Founded in 1946 by Dutch engineer J. Constant van Rijn, the Rotron Manufacturing Company patented and developed high-intensity electronics cooling fans, which soon became critical for the burgeoning aerospace market of the 1950s.
By 1958 Rotron had developed the industry standard muffin fan, a powerful but quiet electronic cooling system. In tangent with his company’s success, Rijn became known as an arts patron in Woodstock. He is known for having contributed a heating plant to the Hudson Valley Repertory Theater so the famous playhouse could operate all year long.
He even “dedicated a statue of the buddha,” Woodstock Peace Economy activist, professor and longtime Woodstock resident Laurie Kirby told The Indypendent. “It’s the largest Buddha statue in North America.”
In 1961, the same year U.S. air and ground forces officially became active in Vietnam, Rotron developed and released the Mil-B-23071 standard for AC fans — the company’s first product strictly for military use.
The U.S. military uses an updated version of this fan to this day.
In the intervening years, as the United States has consolidated its position as arms merchant to the world, Woodstock’s largest employer has steadily increased its military business.
In 2015, Rotron secured 79 Pentagon contracts, its highest number ever, and logged record profits. On the whole, the U.S. armaments industry maintained its status as the largest in the world, accounting last year for 33 percent of global military exports, or $455 billion, according to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), the financial branch of the Defense Department.
Meanwhile, the company is reluctant to admit its weapons industry involvement, instead insisting that it is merely a supplier of nonlethal technology. But research conducted by The Indypendent and activists confirms the inextricable link.
According to public Pentagon contracts, Rotron produces centrifugal fans for F-16s, Milstar satellite systems, CV-22 Osprey helicopters, long-range navy radar and M1A1 tanks.
Ametek Rotron, in addition, is the main supplier of the fuel density probe, a critical component in the operation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) aircraft including the Predator Drone.
A leaked contract dated October 1, 2009, confirms Rotron supplied 50 fans to the Israeli Air Force that year.
The final destination of the fans remains unclear, but it is likely they operate in F-16s. In addition, a recently published Pentagon contract shows that Rotron provides a $7,365 motor to the Israeli Defense Ministry, confirming the company’s ongoing direct business with that country’s government.