By John B. SnyderAugust 27, 2013
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (August 27, 2013) -- "I knew that when I started working at the arsenal in 1972 that I would retire on the arsenal's 200th anniversary," said Robert "Bob" Tilley, the arsenal's instrument mechanic inspection leader.
This has been a challenging year for the arsenal in regards to personnel issues, and most of the challenges have come from sources outside of the arsenal's control. The workforce entered its third year of a pay freeze and sequestration imposed a hiring freeze, furloughs, and limited overtime. But there is one other dynamic occurring on the arsenal and it may or may not be subject to outside influences … there is currently a significant exodus of seasoned employees retiring.
Therefore, it should be fitting that as the arsenal re-launches the Face of Strength column, which it has used in previous newsletters to highlight an outstanding employee each month, that this month's focus be on one of those who are about to turn their dream world into reality by entering retirement.
Oh, 1972, was such a good year. The Miami Dolphins had an undefeated season; Eugene Cernan became the last person to walk on the moon; U.S. troop levels in South Vietnam fell below 30,000; and Bob Tilley entered the arsenal apprentice program.
Now, after a remarkable 41-plus-year career supporting our nation's warfighters, Bob is retiring. Bob is part of the retirement-age bubble that has hovered around 35-40 percent of the workforce for many years. Nearly 200 of today's arsenal employees are eligible to retire within the next two years.
Bob said that when he graduated from the Hudson Valley Community College in 1972, with a degree in Environmental Technology, the arsenal contacted him for a machinist apprenticeship. He had to make a tough choice between working in the new, rising field of environmental controls or machining. He opted for the apprentice program as part of Class #57. As it turned out, it definitely was the right choice for Bob and for the Army.
As an apprentice, he was one of just a few apprentices who were at the top of their class to become part of a prototype development team that worked on such projects as a new dual-feeder system for a 20 mm gun.
After graduating from the apprentice program, Bob continued working on prototype projects, as well as became one of the first arsenal machinists to set up and instruct others how to operate a new form of machinery called Computer Numerical Controlled, or CNC machines. He went back to Hudson Valley and in 1979 attained a second degree, this time in Industrial Management.
In 1980, Bob left the machines that he had grown to love to become a Quality Assurance Inspector. This must have been a difficult decision for Bob as machining was in his blood. His father was a life-long machinist at home and at work. His father worked in the machine shop for Detroit Supply in Troy, N.Y. Nevertheless, Bob said the time was right for a change as he wanted to become part of the team that assured arsenal products were of high quality.
More than 33 years later, Bob now leads a team of 14 quality assurance inspectors. This team ensures that every item purchased for production, such as fixtures, special tooling, and gages, as well as raw stock products coming into the arsenal for production, meet high technical standards. From something as small as a washer for a mortar system to as large as a pre-form tube weighing more than 2,000 pounds, Bob and his team meticulously check and assure that standards are met before production begins.
When asked about his thoughts on his career, he offered two comments.
"I have been blessed that every day I came to work I did a job that I loved," Bob said. "And the highlight of my career was working with a truly great team of people who through the years have helped me solve problems and to make things happen."
As Apprentice Class #82 readied for graduation on August 22, Bob had a note of advice.
"Don't choose a position just for the money," Bob said. "You must want to come to work and do the job you love because it means something special to you."
During Bob's 41-plus-year career, he has touched tens of thousands of wartime products that have either made our troops more lethal or more survivable on the battlefield.
By the time this article is released, Bob will have about 30 days left before he retires. He is an outstanding example of the arsenal employees who are retiring this year and is very deserving to be called a Face of Strength for the arsenal.
The Watervliet Arsenal (pronounced water-vuh-leet") is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility located in Watervliet, New York. The arsenal is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States, having begun operations during the War of 1812. The arsenal celebrated its 200th anniversary 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.