Officials scheduled to tour FRC East to gather information about lift-fan repairs

With work already being done at Fleet Readiness Center East on the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, the attempt to get more work at the Cherry Point facility involves competition with an Air Force facility in Oklahoma.

Officials from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Office are scheduled to tour FRC East to gather information about lift-fan repairs.

A $43 million lift-fan test facility has been proposed for FRC East but remains unfunded. Meanwhile, the work could also be done at Tinker Air Force Base outside Oklahoma City.

“I feel pretty confident we’re going to win, if for no other reason than the culture that the depot has established with the Marine Corps over the last 50 years,” said Col. Clarence Harper III, executive officer at Fleet Readiness Center East. “You can’t put a price tag on that.”

Harper made the comments last week at the Havelock Chamber of Commerce Federal Update Luncheon at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.

He said FRC East played a big role in work on 16 F-35Bs that helped the Marine Corps declare the first squadron operationally ready last month.

“Now that took a heck of an effort. That is no small feat,” Harper said of the effort that started from scratch three years ago. “That is just a small example of the kind of woopin’ on those guys have over there.”

Harper said credit goes to the workers.

“We see those guys walking around almost like they have a badge of honor on their sleeve, and it’s amazing what those guys can do even when we don’t supply them with the right stuff to do it,” he said. “In terms of the workforce of the people, it’s top shelf, top of the line.”

Harper said the Cherry Point aircraft repair and maintenance depot was nearing the end of a hiring blitz of about 550 workers.

“I guess the best way to characterize FRC East today is that there is a revitalization going on,” he said. “We went through a time of transition and upheaval, whatever you want to call it. That’s just a fact of life, and between January and now, we have absolutely cranked it up a notch.”

Harper said upgrades by FRC workers are continuing on the H1 Huey helicopter and MV-22 Osprey at New River, and soon, work will start on the H-53K Super Stallion helicopter.

“Everything I’ve talked about is just pure goodness at the depot,” he said. “I see nothing not good about the depot.”

Still, he sees challenges with space and funding, pointing to buildings that are in some cases more than 50 years old.

“We can do a lot of stuff with practically nothing. That’s kind of a Marine Corps thing,” he said. “The fact that you can do that does not mean you should. We’re going to bring in the 53K. We’re going to bring in the F-35 Bravo and all the associated sustainment that comes with that. OK, we need to start building. We need to start looking like a 21st-century operation. That’s my take away and that’s my challenge to anyone who supports the depot.

“It’s not just a good place to work. It’s not just an economic boost to this part of the nation. When you think about the depot, I want you to think about national security and I want you to think about a national security strategic force multiplier. That’s what the depot is. Those aircraft that are sitting on the decks of those flat ships and those carriers floating around across the globe, we play a large part in that. We generate combat air priority. We don’t just come to work.”