by Senior Airman Rachel Hammes
55th Wing Public Affairs
1/26/2016 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Students
studying Airframe and Power Plant disciplines at Iowa Western Community
College have a unique opportunity to intern with the 55th Maintenance
Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
Twelve years ago, the squadron cut roughly 300 military slots and
replaced them with approximately 150 civilian slots in a move to save
the Air Force money. The squadron hired their civilians from a pool
filled predominately with retired Air Force service members. That pool
has been getting smaller.
"Basically, about nine months ago we were having trouble hiring
civilians to fill slots that were coming open," said Wayne Welter, the
Aircraft Maintenance Flight Chief of the squadron.
"What we've been trying to do is recruit across the nation, but one of
the issues is we are one of the lower-paying areas because our economy
is really good here in the Midwest," Welter said. "It's hard to get
people to move from the east and west coasts to come here and take a
drop in pay."
By recruiting from IWCC near Offutt, the 55th Maintenance Squadron is
able to give students important experience, and there is an added bonus
"We give them an opportunity while they're in school, to come over here
and get paid, get job experience. If we have open slots once they
graduate they can be hired," Welter said. "It's great for us, because
they don't have to be trained and they have the experience already. They
can come right in, and we can continue working without skipping a
Even if the squadron doesn't have any open positions, the students are
qualified for any Department of Defense aircraft mechanic position.
"Trying to get into a government job without a military background is
hard, but this internship was a nice gateway for that," said David
Garretson, a second year student in the program. He has been interning
with the squadron since October.
Students ideally begin the program - known as the Grow Your Own Mechanic
Program - in their first year. They compete amongst themselves for the
six slots. If chosen, they start working 10 hours a week. As they grow
more proficient, their hours are increased. Students must have 642 hours
upon graduation to be hired.
"The first priority is their schooling, and we don't want to interfere with that," Welter said.
Even outside of the DoD, this internship provides students with valuable experience, he said.
"They will be qualified mechanics once they graduate, but the problem is
people are looking for experience," he said. "Just because you have the
book knowledge doesn't mean you'll be able to find a job. Most of their
training, too, is on the smaller Cessna planes, which are completely
different from what we have here. They're getting valuable experience
they might not get otherwise."
There are currently three students in the program, but Welter hopes to bring the number up to six.
"We have a full force right now, but any day we could have three or four
retirements, or someone could be married to a military member who PCSs
to another base," he said. "The more we can train, the better we can be
down the road."
By recruiting from close to home, Welter hopes to encourage the students to stay close to home.
"I think it'll encourage people to stay in the area, because if a job
opens, it's a great job to have," Garretson agreed. "A lot of the guys
who work in this shop were in the military for several years beforehand,
and for many of them this was their first base. They decided to work
the civilian side after leaving the military, which says a lot for the