ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- For more than 106 years, the Machinist Apprentice Program has trained men and women at Rock Island Arsenal to become skilled machinists to meet the needs of the Army. The ceremony for the program's most recent eight graduates was held in the Baylor Conference Room, Building 103 at Rock Island Arsenal, Nov. 4.

The Machinist Apprentice Program spans four years, and includes approximately 8,000 hours of schooling and on-the-job training. For the first two years, students complete about 700 hours of college courses while rotating through different departments at the Rock Island Arsenal-Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center.

Graduates said the program prepared them to immediately contribute to the Army's mission.

"The four years we spent fine-tuning our skills gives me the ability to hit the ground running," said Richard Johnson, one of the graduates. "I have the readiness to be a contributing member of the workforce."

RIA-JMTC has the capability to manufacture nearly anything metal that the Army needs. Its operations range from pouring molten metal in a foundry to final assembly and painting.

Brent Tutor, another graduate, said the apprenticeship adds to the Army's readiness by improving employees' abilities to address a wide range of challenges.

"With our training, whatever is handed to us that needs to be made right now, we can do it right away, without having to be taught something new," he said.

Nick Miller, supervisor, RIA-JMTC Apprentice Department, said the program helps to keep RIA-JMTC competitive and innovative.

"We are always trying new things, always working with new manufacturing techniques," he said.

Both Tutor and Johnson said the program is rigorous and thorough.

"It was very detailed and organized," said Johnson. "It starts from the infancy stage; they don't make you feel overwhelmed."

"You learn every stage of the machining process, from learning how to make molds in the foundry to learning how to operate different precision machines," said Tutor. "You learn computer programing and metallurgy, which is the properties of the metals."

Johnson said he appreciated how practical the hands-on training was.

"The very first thing we started on was on a bench with hacksaws, and we worked our way to becoming full-blown operators," he said, adding that he did not have previous machining experience.

While the program was challenging, the graduates said they were successful because they supported each other.

"We would study together, remind each other of assignments, and help each other whenever one of us was struggling," said Tutor. "Where ever one of us might have had a weakness, another of us excelled."

Miller said it is common for camaraderie to develop among apprentices.

"Most of the classes get along very well," he said. "They've also always helped one another, with previous classes helping new classes."

The graduates said they are proud to be a part of the Army's mission.

"I take a certain amount of pride from being a veteran and working here," said Johnson. "I understand that we are supporting the warfighter -- I understand whose hands will use our products."

Don Gordon, chairman, Apprenticeship Committee, welcomed and congratulated the graduates at the ceremony. He encouraged them to focus on teamwork, manufacturing quality products and on the Army's mission.

Greg Lupton, deputy commander, RIA-JMTC, also provided remarks, emphasizing the importance of the apprenticeship to the core functions of RIA-JMTC.

The commencement speaker was Stephanie Acri, president of Evans Premium Manufacturing. Evans Manufacturing is a woman-owned business that produces cylindrical metal parts and is located in Rock Island, Illinois.

"Machinists are the lifeblood of any true manufacturing organization," she said. "So rest assured that your investment in this Machinist Apprentice Program was a good investment."

The graduates were: Marcus Blieu, Richard Michael Johnson, Andrew R. Rice, Samuel J. Stevens, Esteban Tristan Jr., Brent E. Tutor, Terry C. Weigandt and Greg Wuestenberg.