WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (January 22, 2016) -- A former General Electric machinist obtained a place at the table on January 21 with senior leaders at the oldest, continuously operating manufacturing center in New York's Capital District -- the Army's Watervliet Arsenal.
James Yermas, the New York State American Legion commander and former machinist at the General Electric plant in Schenectady, was in town this week preparing for his organization's Mid-Winter Conference in Albany when Arsenal Commander, Col. Lee H. Schiller Jr., leveraged a rare opportunity by inviting Yermas to the Arsenal for a command briefing and tour. Yermas was elected New York State's Department Commander last July.
Every year, the Arsenal hosts a variety of visitors to its manufacturing center, from four-star generals to elected officials. But what made this visit different than all others is Yermas' background as a machinist.
Machining is a profession that the Arsenal workforce wells knows as its 202-year history is tied to those artisans who through the years have turned raw stock material into some of the finest weapons systems known to the U.S. military.
Despite Yermas' extensive machining knowledge and having lived about a 45-minute drive away from the Arsenal, he admitted that he learned more about military manufacturing today than he had ever known.
"This visit is truly great because I am able to see firsthand many of the weapon systems that I have seen on television or in the movies and they look more impressive close up," Yermas said. "I am amazed at not only the Arsenal's distinguished history, but also in the capability the Arsenal has in manufacturing the weapons for our troops."
Beyond sharing common technical experiences, the Arsenal's leadership and Yermas also shared a common, historical bond to the nation's military.
New York's American Legion, some 113,000 members strong, has a nearly 100-year history of standing up for Veterans and their family members. There isn't a community event today, from supporting youth baseball to funding college scholarships to building homes for Veterans, where the Legion does not have an active involvement.
Nevertheless, by the time the American Legion had been established in 1919, the Arsenal had been in operation for more than 100 years. Ever since that warm summer's day in 1813 when the Arsenal's gates first opened, it has also supported the nation's military with its sweat and blood.
Similar to the American Legion, the Arsenal's workforce can often be found today in community events, from building baseball fields to marching in parades to working as volunteer firefighters.
And so, for a few hours, skilled artisans shared common experiences, stories, and a profound understanding of the challenges that America's industrial base and its military face today.
Both organizations have strong historical ties to all branches of the military; both strive to build strong communities; and both organizations never lose sight on the proper care of the Nation's Veterans and their family members.
This was Yermas' first official visit to the historic Arsenal that has since the War of 1812 manufactured the products that have helped hundreds of thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to safely come home from war. The Arsenal began last year hosting New York's Department Commander, as well as the American Legion's National Commander, at the Arsenal to build on a relationship that dates back to 1924. The American Legion National Commander will visit the Arsenal in April.
The Army's Benét Laboratories, which is collocated on the Watervliet Arsenal, was part of the visit by Yermas.
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