Workers take pride in helping military defend country

When Marcus Harden and his crew check over a T64 jet engine for a CH-53E helicopter, there are a myriad of details that can’t be overlooked.

“There are lots of hoses, lots of safety wire, lots of minor components that we have to put on and install,” said Harden, who is from Havelock. “It’s a fun job and I like it. I like messing with motors and stuff so that’s my thing.”

Harden is one of about 3,600 workers whose job it is to repair and maintain aircraft and aircraft components at Fleet Readiness Center East at Cherry Point. The facility has operated under different names but with the same mission since opening on Dec. 16, 1943.

Crystal Smith, of the Public Affairs Office at FRC East, said there is a certain pride that she has observed in the workers at the facility.

“They realize that what they are doing is for the defense of our nation,” she said. “When you look at the news and see that an aircraft went to support an effort, you know that that aircraft came through here and there is that pride that ‘Hey, somehow, someway, I had something to do with that.’

“I think every day the pride grows because they are seeing that that small thing initially, that small effort that they made is going to a greater effort worldwide. So it’s that pride that I keep running into.”

Some of those small things are found in the facility’s pneudraulics shop, where workers take apart, clean, repair and reassemble components slightly larger than a person’s fist.

Jerry Foreman, of New Bern, retired from the Marine Corps after 22 years and has been working in the pneudraulics shop for 15 years.

“We don’t want to have an aircraft waiting on a part that we can’t get,” Foreman said as he reassembled an anti-icing valve for an F-18 fighter jet. “If they are waiting on a part, as soon as we get them in, we reassemble them, get them in a test cell and get them back in the air.

“The Marines are flying in these aircraft. Their life is involved in that. The components that we fix and put back on the aircraft, it’s very important that we do good quality work because their life is in danger when they are flying protecting us in the world. We definitely want to make sure that you do the best job that you can do because, like I say, we save lives. We don’t want to sit here and have stuff coming in here and put it back out and not knowing it’s good quality. We put a lot of pride and a lot of time and effort into it.”

Derrick Morris, of Havelock, has the important job of testing each blade in the jet engine of an AV-8B Harrier.

“It’s very important that you put these blades in the right position because if you don’t, once you put them on the balance machine you’re not going to be able to balance it,” Morris said.

It’s critical because of the extreme high rate of revolutions occurring inside a jet engine. Misalignment causes excess vibrations, he said.

“If the engine vibrates, it could shake something loose and the engine could fail,” Morris said. “Number one, the product should always be done correctly. That way it doesn’t come back. We’re here to please the customer.”

FRC East workers have a reputation for doing work that other depots can’t manage. Smith recalled an H-1 helicopter auxiliary power unit with what she said was significant corrosion and cracks.

“The APU decks were sent to another repair facility and after eight months they couldn’t repair it and then FRC East accepted the challenge of repairing it in August, and so after 2 1/2 months they were able to repair what couldn’t be done elsewhere for over eight months,” Smith said.

It took the collective effort of component maintenance, manufacturing, welding and quality assurance to restore it, she said.

The work ethic at FRC East comes from far and wide. The facility employs workers from several surrounding counties and is the largest industry east of Interstate 95.

“Havelock, New Bern, Cherry Point, we’re all the same,” Foreman said. “We’re here to make sure that we support the fleet, to get the aircraft back into the air. The aircraft come in and we induct them into the shop. We disassemble them, assemble them, put them back together. Get ‘em going.”

High quality work is everything, said Harden.

“I don’t want my lack of quality in my job and liking my job and doing a good job to impact somebody else’s life, because that’s what it is,” Harden said. “You figure you’ve got four guys on an aircraft at any given time. I don’t want to be the guy that didn’t do something safety wise, something properly, or did something wrong and I kill four people. I would rather do a quality job now than have to pay for it later. I would rather do a good job now, than read about it in the paper. That’s the bottom line. Our job is to keep it in the air, so it’s what we do.”