FORT BRAGG, North Carolina -- (Dec. 20, 2016) Soldiers from the Mission and Installation Contracting Command's 900th Contracting Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, got a firsthand look production operations Dec. 7 during a visit to a nonprofit organization providing contract support to Soldiers.

Soldiers visited LC Industries in nearby Durham, which operates 35 base supply centers around the country, including three on Fort Bragg, and 250,000 square feet of distribution center space in Durham and Las Vegas. LC Industries is a non-profit factory affiliated with AbilityOne and the National Industries for the Blind, whose mission is to provide meaningful employment for people who are blind or significantly disabled.

Jeffrey Hawting, the president of LC Industries, began the visit with a presentation of the history and capabilities of the nonprofit. He highlighted familiar products used every day by the U.S. military that includes mattresses, water cans, Meals Ready to Eat spoons, tissues, locks, chemical lights and file folders. Hawting also spoke of the dedicated employees that have spent, in some cases, more than 40 years with the company and thoroughly enjoy contributing to the military mission.

The tour included a walk around the production floor. Soldiers gained a better understanding of the manufacturing process and discovered how the blind accomplish their tasks with minimal help from employees with sight. More than 75 percent of the direct labor is performed by the legally blind. Products manufactured in Durham include mattresses, MRE salt and pepper packets, file folders and sleeping bags. The blind also perform final assembly and packaging of many other products such as chemical lights and American Lock padlocks.

"The highlight of the tour was interacting and speaking with many of the blind employees who work and contribute to the success of LC Industries," said Master Sgt. Koreem Rhodes, the 900th CBN contracting support plans and operations non-commissioned officer-in-charge. "Learning and understanding their dedication to being a part of the workforce despite their limitation was inspiring to everyone involved. Noticing the employees navigate the large facility with the use of a cane, their memory and, in some cases, a service animal, was incredible as well."

The day also included a tour of the LC Industries distribution center located a few miles away. While there are no blind employees in the warehouse due to the nature of the work, Soldiers observed how technology has changed the way products arrive and ship.

The tour of the factory and distribution center allowed 900th CBN Soldiers a chance to better develop their understanding of LC Industries' operations and history.

"The AbilityOne program provides valuable opportunity to people who could not otherwise work and contribute," Rhodes said. "All of the Soldiers agreed that taking part in a segment of blind employees' lives left an appreciation and respect for the value they perform in support of the military mission."