WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Oct. 29, 2013) -- Since 1813, when the first foundation of the Watervliet Arsenal was laid, this small Army post in upstate New York has had the uncanny ability to select and retain the very best skilled workers in America.

As the ink was drying on the deed that was signed on July 14, 1813, just across the Hudson River was a flurry of activity in the Village of Troy as it prepared for a potential attack from the British as the War of 1812 entered its second year.

Troy was the center of the American Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s, which made it a critical hub for logistical support for the war effort. Although not a large city at the time, it was rich with manufacturing artisans who worked in the village's cotton factory, paper mill, firearms factory, and popular for that time period, a distillery.

It would be those skilled artisans who in 1813 crossed the Hudson and began to put in place the first bricks and mortar of a future Army arsenal and soon, were working side-by-side with ordnance Soldiers to manufacture critical war items.

The arsenal, as well as America, was founded on those who have had the natural ability to use their hands to build homes, towns, and to shape raw stock material into finished products. But unlike the early 1800s, there are few today who have that ability. The decline of manufacturing in the United States has been well documented.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing states that well over 5 million American manufacturing jobs were eliminated from 2000 to 2009. New York has shared in that dramatic decline as it has lost 41 percent of its skilled manufacturing artisans during that same time frame.

So, competition is tough to find an individual today who not only has a natural ability to use their hands to build things, but also the intelligence to translate highly technical drawings that are used in today's military weapons manufacturing. As tough as it is to find a true artisan, it is not impossible as evidence by the recent graduation of the arsenal's apprentice class.

Dylan Kusaywa, a 23-year-old machinist, graduated last August from the arsenal's four-year apprentice program with not only honors, but also with a reputation for machining excellence.

Dylan said he knew in high school that office work wasn't for him because he enjoyed building and repairing things around the house.

"I just had a natural ability and interest to fix things such as dirt bikes," Dylan said. "I kind of got ahead of myself in high school, however, because I tried to leverage my interest in mechanical engineering by applying for an arsenal apprenticeship in my senior year of high school."

Dylan never quit on the arsenal and neither did the arsenal quit on Dylan. One year later, with his freshman year at college behind him, Dylan applied again for the arsenal's apprenticeship program and was accepted.

John Zayhowski, who is the apprenticeship program supervisor, said Dylan's strong work ethic and natural machining ability was a great fit in every department he was assigned during his four years of hands-on training. Instantly, Dylan began to demonstrate the skills and traits that a true artisan-machinist possesses.

Apprentices are required to put in 8,000 hours of hands-on training at the arsenal as part of the program. During those long, hard hours an apprentice rotates through every manufacturing operation at the arsenal. Dylan quickly built a reputation as someone who has an exceptional work ethic and one who has a skill that has made America great, which is a natural ability to build things with his hands.

During Dylan's third year as an apprentice, he was selected to travel to a machine manufacturer to prove out a very accurate, state-of-the-art machine. Once this machine was delivered, Dylan set up the machine, produced a good part, and then trained senior machinists. This task is typically left to the arsenal's most skilled and seasoned machinists, certainly not for apprentices. But Dylan was not a typical apprentice.

Now having two months of experience as a journeyman machinist under his belt, most might think that Dylan would be working on the most basic of machining operations to gain experience before he moved on to more complex machining. But Dylan's leadership refused to let his potential be restricted and threw him a tremendous challenge.

Dylan is now part of the arsenal's prototype development team. This team takes new weapons designs from Army research labs and turns them into working, testable prototypes. Prototype development has historically been supported by senior machinists who have a special talent to turn a concept into reality.

Although Dylan is an example of the high quality of individuals the arsenal selects and retains through its apprenticeship program, he is but one example of the great talent coming from that program. In Dylan's graduating class, two of his apprentice counterparts, Robert Fournier and Peter Northup, maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA during their four years of classroom instruction.

Dylan Kusaywa is a fine example of the great machining talent the arsenal has been fortunate to discover for 200 years and he is also a great representative of the quality class of apprentices the arsenal has been rewarded with since the program began in 1905.

For what Dylan has achieved, where he is today in the critical process of prototype development, and his potential to soon be a master machinist, he is selected as this month's arsenal Face of Strength, as well as an arsenal Face of the Future.

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The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th year of continuous service to the nation on July 14, 2013.

Today's Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.

Page last updated Mon October 28th, 2013 at 12:43