MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (NNS) -- During his first official visit to Fleet Readiness Center East, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper focused his attention on FRCE’s future capabilities and workforce development.
The governor met with FRCE leadership Nov. 12 to discuss the depot’s role in the evolution of Navy and Marine Corps aviation. While aboard the facility, he toured the depot to get a firsthand look at aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul operations, and meet with several members of the workforce.
“This is a hidden gem in eastern North Carolina for good jobs for everyday people,” Cooper said. “I want to thank everybody for their hard work. We are so grateful for your presence, not only for jobs and economic impact, but for your defense of our country.
“We are excited to be here. We’re proud of you and proud of this effort, and we want to provide you what you need to be successful,” he added.
Cooper’s tour took him through hangars housing the F-35 Lightning II, H-53 and V-22 aircraft lines. Cooper also visited the future site of the F-35 Vertical Lift Fan Processing Center, which was partially funded through a $5 million investment awarded by the state of North Carolina in April to support F-35 related infrastructure.
The 17,600-square-foot facility, set for occupancy in fall 2021, will provide the depot with a space to repair, maintain and process F-35 lift fan systems. It will be located adjacent to a future F-35 lift fan test facility, which is still in planning stages. Investment in the depot’s infrastructure is key to FRCE remaining relevant as the Navy and Marine Corps shift toward next-generation fighters like the F-35, said FRCE Commanding Officer Capt. Mark E. Nieto.
“We needed to close the funding gap to make sure it’s happening here in North Carolina,” Cooper said. “It’s a small price to pay for what we’re getting back in economic investment in eastern North Carolina. The state of North Carolina stands ready to work with (FRC East) to make sure that this is a successful endeavor.
“North Carolina is indeed the most military-friendly state in the nation, and we are going to do everything we can to uphold that reputation,” he added.
FRCE leaders kicked off Cooper’s visit with an overview of the depot’s operations, during which the governor and other members of the official party – including Secretary Larry Hall and Assistant Secretary Ariel Aponte, both of the North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs – learned more about the makeup of the workforce.
FRCE employs more than 4,200 military, civilian and contract workers; of the civilian workforce, more than 40 percent are veterans. The National Apprenticeship Program – a newly launched developmental program led by Naval Air Systems Command – provides full-time, paid, on-the-job education and training for successful candidates with no prior aircraft maintenance experience. The depot also houses more than 900 engineers who provide technical services to military aviation organizations across the globe.
“Sometimes, people think of FRC East as a lot of wrench-turners fixing airplanes, but it’s so much more than that,” Nieto said. Partnerships with North Carolina’s public universities help keep the team of engineers strong, and the technical programs at community colleges provide a pool of quality applicants for the aircraft maintenance professional positions.
“We really do benefit from North Carolina’s public schools,” agreed FRCE Executive Director James Ogburn. “We’re blessed in terms of the support that the community and state provide. I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the quality of the community colleges in North Carolina; they have been a tremendous asset to us, and a force multiplier for us in terms of getting the workforce that we need.”
The state of North Carolina will continue to do everything in its power to provide FRCE with the skilled employees the depot needs, Cooper said, and to provide the education and training North Carolina residents need in order to be competitive for jobs like those available at FRCE. Partnerships like those with Craven Community College, which provides the education portion of the apprenticeship program, can help FRCE meet the needs of its evolving workforce.
“These are the kinds of jobs we want North Carolina families to have, where you can make a good living,” Cooper said. “But it also requires some expertise, and this is why we’ve got to continue to invest in education across our state … making sure this workforce is ready, not just for commerce in our area, but this workforce is ready to defend our country. It’s critical, and it’s exciting, the work that’s being done here.”
When visiting with engineers and aircraft maintenance professionals along the various aircraft lines at FRCE, Cooper said he was struck by the sense of pride he saw in the workforce.
“They’re working to provide for the defense of our country. You can hear the pride in their voice, of working on these aircraft, knowing they’re working to get them ready,” he said. “There’s a lot of pride in the work they do because of the importance of it, but also they’re grateful to get this kind of training that gives them the support they need for their families.”
The majority of the depot’s employees are from the five-county area that surrounds Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, Ogburn noted.
“A lot of roots run deep, not just in North Carolina but at FRC East,” he said.
FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider. Its annual revenue exceeds $835 million. The depot generates combat air power for America’s Marines and Naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.
For more news from Fleet Readiness Center East, visit www.navy.mil/local/FRCE/.