ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – Ten apprentices will continue a 112-year tradition as they join the ranks of more than 1,200 graduates of the Rock Island Arsenal – Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center’s Machinist Apprenticeship Program during a ceremony in August.
The four-year program began at RIA-JMTC in 1910 with a class of 50, designed to ensure thorough training and the continuance of a high standard of production. This remains the goal even today. The RIA-JMTC mission is committed to supporting the warfighter and this program helps to ensure they receive the best equipment from a highly-skilled workforce. The factory has produced a variety of items for the warfighter throughout its 160-year history including add-on armor, mobile maintenance vehicles, ambulances, howitzers and small arms parts.
“I feel truly honored to be a part of that history,” said Shawn Behel, a graduating apprentice. “Thinking about all that history here at the Rock… all the warfighters affected, benefited or saved from our products. It really is an amazing cycle of time when you roll it out and think about it.”
Behel said he applied to the program for a variety of reasons including increasing his earning potential by obtaining his Journeyman card, increasing his knowledge and honoring his machining skills. Journeymen machinists have the potential to earn approximately twice as much as their non-Journeyman peers. Behel’s journey from him getting into the program was a bit longer than most. I have applied four times, scoring high enough to be interviewed, but not making the cut. This was his fifth application of it.
“I had interviews, but did not make the final 15 on those times,” he said. “I remember there being 600 or more applicants for several tests.”
A majority of classes are limited to 15 students so the program is very competitive. Behel had already worked at RIA-JMTC for 12 years and had discussed the apprenticeship with several co-workers. He was determined to make it.
“I wanted the Journeyman Machinist Card going forward, not only as a certified document of my skills, but a mental bonus of a personal accomplishment,” he said.
With his background in logistics and manufacturing, Behel has used his experiences at the factory to mentor the new apprentices.
“Shawn has a strong desire to succeed and a willingness to help others,” said Robert McCartney, machinist apprentice supervisor. “Shawn has grown over the years and expanded his view of the organization. I have seen him use this experience to help some of the newer apprentices not make some of the same mistakes he made in the past.”
Behel didn’t find the machining portion of the program difficult as he already had basic manufacturing experience. He said his challenge to him was within his first two years. While apprentices do begin manually machining parts at this juncture, they are also required to take two years of machining-focused classes through a local college.
“I would say (the hardest part was) getting back into official learning mode for college courses and maintaining that discipline for two years to completion,” he said.
Behel feels the apprentice program has opened opportunities to him that help him feel a part of the RIA-JMTC team.
“In my old job, I was isolated to one area so never had the opportunity to get to know a lot of our team members,” said Behel. “The apprenticeship really changed that. We all play a part and are supporting one another… We are one team, focused on mission accomplishment. I’m proud to be part of it!”
This is part of a series highlighting apprentices graduating from the RIA-JMTC Machinist Apprenticeship Program in 2022.