HAVELOCK – Fleet Readiness Center East celebrated its 75th anniversary Friday at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point.

The ceremony featured speeches by Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation, and FRC East Commanding Officer Clarence T. Harper III; a cake-cutting ceremony with the newest and oldest FRC East serving employees; and music by the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing band.

The organization is a Naval aviation maintenance and repair depot under the Naval Air Systems Command.

Since 1943, Harper said generations of workers have come and gone, but the FRC mission has always been the same – to produce quality parts on time.

“Maintenance, repair and overhaul – that's what we do and that's what we're good at,” he said.

FRC East has the capability to repair nearly 20,000 items of aircraft components, ranging from the repair of intricate circuit cards to instruments overhauling and testing of power units. This support covers nearly 200 types, models and series of aircraft. FRC East is North Carolina's largest industrial employer east of Interstate 95 with nearly 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. The organization’s payroll approaches $354 million a year.

Harper said North Carolinians have served their country by providing the service and equipment needed to keep the nation's military aircraft in the skies across the globe.

“We have the best people on the planet, and they are good at what they do,” he said.

Harper praised the strength and fabric of Havelock and Eastern North Carolina for creating a “special recipe” that makes FRC East a success.

“Our employees are Scout leaders, Little League coaches, soccer coaches, volunteer firemen, part-time police officers, sheriff's deputies – we are family. We take care of each other. That's part of that special recipe that I keep talking about,” he said.

Harper spoke of how things are “starting to come together” with regard to support from the top military brass, state and local leadership. But Harper acknowledged a future problem he couldn't fix was that without continued support for FRC East's mission, the base's important mission may be diminished, so a choice must be made to continue to support the base's vital work. 

“We are looking to continue to meet our challenges head-on,” he said.

A point echoed by Lt. Gen. Rudder who spoke of conversations taking place on Capitol Hill regarding the importance of FRC East.

“When we walk into (congressional) offices up on the Hill, they ask how is the FRC East doing? How can we help you,” he said.

Rudder talked about hiring workers back that were lost during sequestration because of tight defense budgets. Looking back to the reduced workforce, Rudder said, “We're not going to let that happen again. We can't let it happen again. So we're going to hire you back and keep you there.”

Rudder said it is very important time as military aircraft are involved in combat in Afghanistan and Syria. Marine squadrons can be deployed across the globe.

“It's amazing. They can pick up and go to Nepal for earthquake disaster relief or pick up and fly to Australia. Think about that,” Rudder said. “Think about what you are helping U.S. Marine Corps to do. There's no other force in the world that can put a company of screaming raging infantry marines in the back of a V-22 Osprey – F-35's coming off the ship as well and a tanker too – and take that capability anywhere in the world. No one else in the world can do that.”

Rudder said he is proud about how FRC East is very focused on aircraft readiness and having heightened number of planes ready for combat. FRC East is one of eight Fleet Readiness Centers located around the globe.

“The airplanes that you working on now are still taking it to the enemy. You should be proud of that. I'm proud of you for putting out a superior product. There's no place else in the world that does it as good as you do.”

After the speeches and the cake, Golda Jackson who served as FRC East's commanding officer between 2000 and 2001 shared her perspective.

“FRC East is just a fantastic place – employees, facilities – it's a great place to work,” she said. “When I was here, this was the place to work and it continues to be that. The employees are very astute with what they do, very knowledgeable and the technology insertion that has come into this place has been fantastic.”

FRC East is on the cutting edge because of investments in advanced technology such as the use of 3-D printing.

“They've invested well in the facilities and it shows,” Jackson said. “You look at the buildings, the equipment – it's state-of-the-art.”

FRC East plays an important role in the nation's defense.

“FRC has always been vital to our national security,” Jackson said. “When you ask what does FRC East provide in the future, it's going to provide that will prosecute whatever U.S. wants to have done. We are a friend and ally of other countries and FRC is in the thick of that not only providing the military, but also our war on terrorism.”

Capt. Mark Nieto, FRC East executive officer, noted the photographs of various aircraft and reflected on base's 75 years of history.

“The history on these walls of all the aircraft from the Greatest Generation all the way up to now – we take great responsibility in that as well to maintain our capability relevancy as a repair and overhaul facility,” he said.

As to working at FRC East, Nieto added, “It's not only serving my country, but it's being a part of something bigger.”

FRC East's longest serving employee, Gene Gillikin, 65, started work 44 years ago at the FRC in January of 1974.

“Our employees come to work and they stay,” Harper said during his speech as he thanked Gillikin for his service. “When asked, 'what kept you coming back?' He said, 'I thought I was making a difference, how I've been treated. I enjoy the work and I enjoy the people.'”

Afterward, Gillikin said the work “keeps me going. I enjoy doing what I am doing. And I feel like I am making a difference.”