WATERVLIET ARSENAL- Although they traveled different roads and for different reasons, they now come together with a common purpose - to support our nation's servicemen and women.

Such is the feeling and compassion of the apprentices at the U.S. Army's Watervliet Arsenal, according to Al Frament, the Arsenal's Apprenticeship Program Coordinator.

Frament said that each one of the 38 apprentices, who undergo a challenging 8,000 hours of training at the Arsenal and four years of schooling at the Hudson Valley Community College, have different backgrounds, training, and experiences.

"But the one thing that brings them together is an intense sense of pride," Frament added. "After all, what they do may save the life of a young man or woman who is serving in Iraq or Afghanistan."

One of the more recent graduates, Roxanne "Rocky" Mesick, said the four-year program is very tough on apprentices. "On most days, we had to work nine-hour shifts at the Arsenal and then head off to several more hours of classroom work at Hudson Valley Community College," Mesick said.

Mesick said the program was well worth her effort. When told that upon her graduation from the program she would have a three-year payback obligation to the Arsenal, she asked if the Army would make it 30 years.

Mesick added that although working at the Arsenal provides her much needed financial security and a new trade, she has never lost focus on the customer. She said that she thinks about our Soldiers everyday and that makes her want to perfect every product that she works on at the Arsenal.

Mesick, from Ballston Lake, joined the apprenticeship program after serving six years in the Air Force and a stint at the Albany International Airport.

Two of the Arsenal's third-year program apprentices, Merico "Mike" Catallo, from Waterford, and Jeffrey Kinder, from Schenectady, also share Frament and Mesick's passion for the program.

Catallo said he was working for the New York State government when a new apprentice class was about to start three years ago. Catallo said that he always liked working with his hands and so, working at the Arsenal was a natural fit.

Nevertheless, Catallo's parents, who either currently work or have worked at the Arsenal, raised him to be patriotic, according to Catallo.

"Working at the Arsenal is not like manufacturing ball point pens," said Catallo. "What we do everyday is very important to our nation because it directly supports our military."

Kinder, who recently completed a 21-year career in the Air Force, said it was the financial security the program provides that initially caught his eye. But after he was accepted into the program he realized that he still had compassion to serve his country.

"I served in Iraq in the early days of the conflict and so I had seen first-hand the products that the Arsenal manufactures," said Kinder. "I know what we do is very important."

Frament began the 81st Arsenal apprentice class on Aug. 18, 2008. These apprentices are the Arsenal's future, said Frament.

"You can't walk in off the street and start using a drill press. It takes a lot of mentorship, coaching, and four years to grow one of our machinists," Frament said.

"The last thing we would ever want to do is to tell a Soldier that he or she must wait on us. That will never happen," said Frament.

That is why the Arsenal takes such pain-staking efforts to shape the future of the Arsenal workforce, Frament added.