ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - Whether it’s exploring a new career, learning different skills or taking on a fresh set of challenges to encompass the Army slogan of “Be All You Can Be,” the newest graduates from the Rock Island Arsenal-Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center apprenticeship program are ready to move forward in their professions.
“I always wanted to be in the military,” Larry Clemons II, an upcoming RIA-JMTC Machinist Apprentice graduate, said. “My father was in the Army. He served roughly 25 years. I was actually aspiring to become a Marine. My father kind of stopped that, I believe, out of fear from his experiences through Vietnam. He basically told me I could serve other ways, and this is my way.”
Clemons is just one of 12 graduates ready to move out of the machinist program and into their new roles across the government owned fully vertically-integrated three million square foot factory located on the Rock Island Arsenal. The curriculum helps the U.S. Department of Defense modernize and develop its workforce and support warfighters across the globe with high-quality equipment. While each of the graduates has been preparing four years for their graduation day, each has a different story and reason to get involved in government service.
“(I) initially went through law enforcement program and was in the Air Force National Guard at the time and decided I didn't want to have a chance to get shot at twice,” Rob Thompson said. “I transferred to Western (Illinois University) to get my bachelors through the law enforcement program. I decided to back out because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. So, I worked a couple different factory jobs then I came out to RIA-JMTC in 2007.”
Thompson, like several other of the graduates, had several years of experiencing working at the factory located on an island in the Mississippi River before they were accepted into the machinist apprenticeship program. Others’ unique backgrounds include careers in other parts of the country before returning to their hometowns.
“I got on with a Department of Navy. I was out there for two years as a civilian and an apprenticeship, and then my grandma had to have surgery and (I) moved back to the area to take care of her,” said Matthew Clong. “I've been trying to get on the Arsenal ever since I moved back in 2006. Every time I was just missing, getting hired on. And then I keep trying just missed the cutoff. So finally, I got the call four years ago to come back on.”
The RIA-JMTC Machinist Apprentice Program consists of four years of both hands-on-learning and classroom instruction at a Quad City area community college. The higher-education program provides a wide variety of science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) courses like trigonometry, and those who complete the program are close to graduating with an associate’s degree. While the hands-on-learning portion moves them across the factory, learning multiple jobs that they could be doing full-time once they complete the program. After graduating from the Department of Labor recognized program, the former apprentices are assigned to a machinist position in the factory. The combination leads to a well-rounded Army Civilian who is ready to build high quality, on-time readiness solutions to support the warfighter.
“My children ask, ‘dad, what are you working on?’ and I tell them I’m working on parts for this and that,” Clemons said. “They’re like, ‘you build tanks and guns!’ They think of these large pieces of equipment for war. That’s great. Just being here, working on what I do, it’s already put a foothold in my children. If it saves the life out on the battlefield or helps a Soldier through their career, that’s what it’s all about.”
“Especially in machining, attention to detail is very important,” Thompson said while reflecting on his time in the Air Force National Guard and comparing it to working as an Army Civilian. “There's a lot to remember and it's driven pretty heavily starting in basic training. You have different duties and if you don’t do those duties, you get called out. It's highly reinforced that you pay attention to that.”
While the graduates are prepared for what’s next in the workforce, they’re also excited to share their accomplishment of graduating with their families.
“I’m looking forward to bring them on the island for our tour,” Clemons said. “Just them being here is going to inspire them. Do I want my children to be in manufacturing? If that’s their calling, great! But my goal is to carry my father’s legacy.”
Rock Island Arsenal - Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center develops, manufactures and delivers readiness solutions through conventional and advanced manufacturing processes for the U.S. Army and Department of Defense systems globally.