JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Something as simple as a stitch can be the one thing that saves an Airman's life or ensures they are capable of completing their day- to- day mission.
The civilians who work in the 437th Aircrew Flight Equipment Flight Fabrication Shop, devote their time to making sure every needle that plunges into a piece of fabric creates a lasting bond.
With more than 300 years of experience in this single shop, these civilians run the only fabrication shop in the Air Force that still cuts, binds and sews all fabric-related materials for aircraft and specifically the C-17 Globemaster III's at Joint Base Charleston.
"Many of our civilians performed this job as military members many years ago, but now working as civilians, they realize there are very few individuals still doing this special mission," said Scott Lewis, 437th AFE fabrication shop foreman.
With more than 50 C-17's at JB Charleston, and with the need to refurbish all fabric materials in each C-17 every two years, the civilians stay busy, but also continue to save the Air Force more than a million dollars every year.
"Since we fabricate all seats, straps, nettings and curtains in the aircraft, we are able to save more than $40,000 per aircraft," said Bobby Pierce, 437th AFE fabrication shop civilian.
Pierce is the oldest JB Charleston employee and has worked in the fabrication shop for more than 30 years. He retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service and since he loved working in the Aircrew Flight Equipment career field, decided to continue in the profession.
"I started out refurbishing and maintaining survival equipment and then transitioned to life-support equipment. After I retired, I came here," said Pierce. "I enjoyed sewing so much, I really didn't want to stop."
Aside from refurbishing the equipment, the fabrication team also personalizes specific pieces. They embroider "437th AW/315th AW" as well as a "palmetto tree" to give each aircraft a designation, letting anyone who flies on the C-17 know where the aircraft and crew are from no matter where they look.
"It's a great feeling knowing I am making the aircraft look brand new and pristine for the crews and passengers," said Pierce. "We receive compliments from the pilots and loadmaster sometimes, which is also nice to hear."
A total of 10 civilians man the shop, working on various sewing machines as well as using specialized saws to cut material as exotic as sheep's wool for seat covers. They manufacture whatever the aircraft requires.
"We are the last shop in the Air Force completing this mission on such a large scale and it reminds us that this is truly a dying art," said Pierce.