Since Boeing delivered the first C-17 Globemaster III to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 1999, the aircraft manufacturing giant has maintained a working relationship with the Department of Defense through Field Integrated Services hubs for various installations.
This includes Boeing’s Globemaster III Integrated Sustainment Partnership with JBLM. The team is made up of engineers, mechanics, technical representatives and part specialists — about 80 to 90 percent of whom are military retirees and veterans, some of whom are former service members who have spent time on JBLM.
Some were active duty when the first C-17 arrived on base and have made the transition to the other side of the flightline, so to speak.
Having the veteran presence has helped Boeing maintain a high level of customer service for the 48 C-17 aircraft on JBLM, which is tied for the largest C-17 fleet with Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.
“The veteran comes in with customer knowledge, plus there’s an immediate rapport,” said Don Gallion, a retired Air Force colonel and the west coast hub manager for Boeing’s Field Integrated Services.
That rapport and knowledge made the transition easy for Matthew Sanchez, who retired as an Air Force master sergeant in 2008. His experience with Boeing’s C-17 partnership began as an Airman moving up the ranks.
As a mechanic for the program’s repair and modification services, Sanchez understands the needs of the customer: units on McChord Field.
He and the rest of the RAMS team provide maintenance and modifications for the aircraft, as well as recovery services.
Sanchez works with a lot of the equipment that he did as a member of the Air Force who first came to McChord Field in 1992. He did a brief stint as a helicopter maintenance contractor on Lewis Main before joining Boeing in 2008.
“It’s a unique position where we not only follow all of the procedures for Boeing, but we also have to do all of the procedures for the Air Force,” Sanchez said. “We have to be familiar with what the Air Force requires and that’s helped me (in my transition).”
Kristen Cadenhead, an Air Force veteran, joined Boeing’s program in 2006 under the RAMS program. In 2012, she made the move to the Base Level Engine Management office.
Cadenhead and the BLEM team schedule all of the routine maintenance for the C-17 engines during their home station checks, as well as unscheduled maintenance that comes from the engineers through the product notifications.
Cadenhead said those notifications identify engine performance issues that may not be seen on the C-17 — similar to the work of an auto mechanic.
“The Air Force may only see a check engine light, but we have the reader that you plug into the car,” Cadenhead said.
Like most offices under Boeing’s C-17 program, Cadenhead said the rest of her team is composed of retired service members who provide what she described as a “diverse perspective on how to support the military.”
“We have people who work for Boeing and have only worked for Boeing, but we have employees who have been in those shoes (in the military) and know how diverse the military can be and what specific support they need,” Cadenhead said.
Mary Kuiken, a retired Air Force master sergeant, is also part of a team that has that previous military service. She also worked as a supply chain management analyst for Boeing’s plant in Auburn.
In addition to helping service members get the right parts to fit on the C-17 aircraft, Kuiken said she finds herself answering Airmen questions about being a Boeing employee.
She takes the opportunity to provide tips and advice for service members who are already thinking about transitioning into a civilian career like she did nine years ago.
“Getting to work with the Air Force after retiring — it doesn’t get any better than supporting the young kids behind us,” Kuiken said. “I’m not flying anymore, but I am supporting the mission every day, and that doesn’t go away.”