Like so many other businesses around the globe, Fleet Readiness Center Southeast is acclimating and making progressive strides in its production efforts despite challenges related to COVID-19.
These days, amidst the pandemic, FRCSE’s hangars and workspaces are different. No longer do you see the routine handshakes, gatherings at break times and crowded office spaces. Though it seems a lot different, it’s merely an adaptation. Everyday life at the depot hasn’t stopped, just evolved as personnel and leadership navigate a changed scope of work life.
“At the onset of the pandemic, we leveraged maximum telework and utilized leave opportunities for our high-risk employees in a depot-wide attempt to flatten the curve. The preventative measures have allowed us to protect the health and welfare of the workforce while still accomplishing our mission,” said Col. Fred Schenk, FRCSE’s Commanding Officer.
“We are meeting our production goals just as we did before COVID-19. Just last week, we sold seven aircraft. That’s a high water mark we haven’t achieved in quite some time,” he said.
The depot’s mission, providing war-ready aircraft, engines, and components to our nation’s military, is just as vital as it was in a pre-COVID-19 world. Based on current world events, one might even say, sustaining these objectives is more critical than ever.
Yet, despite the reduction in workforce due to personnel on Weather and Safety leave, production, manufacturing and industrial processes remain above their mid-year goals. The depot has rolled out and implemented new plans for each production line, and in doing so, it utilized dozens of resources to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19.
In fact, March and April were strong months for FRCSE overall. With the F414 Engine Team producing 178 modules for the F/A-18 Fleet at a 58-engine build rate in March and delivering seven aircraft back to the fleet during April. The current fiscal year production totals have exceed 2019 numbers during the same timeframe.
“We have an important part to play in keeping our military at the ready, by repairing and delivering safe, quality products back to the Fleet,” said FRCSE’s MRO Production Director, Rebecca Thacker. “I am extremely proud of our folks. Even in an unprecedented situation, we continue to strike a balance personally and professionally to perform our jobs and perform them well.”
FRCSE has also engaged its apprentices to help support product lines. According to Mark McManus, FRCSE’s Apprentice Program Branch Head, it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the trainees.
“Due to the size of the Sheet Metal Lab, we needed to find alternate work sites to maintain social distance,” he said. “Opening up the depot floor to apprentices has had a dual-benefit. It provided the apprentices with a better understanding of the processes involved in operating a depot-level repair facility, while also offering work centers additional manpower.”
After the call went out to Production Lines and work areas about the opportunity to recruit apprentices, Mark and his cohorts had to prioritize. Even with a hungry and eager team of apprentices ready to help get the job done, there wasn’t enough personnel to support all the requests. Apprentices are assisting in several different areas ranging from engines to sheet metal.
“The feedback we’ve received from the supervisors in the various work centers has been all good news,” he continued. “The apprentices are helping us stay focused on the mission, and that benefits the command, the Navy and the country,” he said.
While depot employees, apprentices and leadership alike anxiously await the familiar rumble of business as usual, policies, guidance and procedures will continue to adjust to keep safety paramount. The future of the pandemic here in the United States is unclear, but what is certain is that the quality and quantity of work produced by FRCSE will remain paramount, ready at the warfighter’s call.