Pipes & Pumps – C.E. Airmen Find Satisfaction in the Guard

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Twenty-two years ago - way back in the last century - Chris Wellman enlisted in the military. Now-a-days, about once a month, Wellman reaches into his closet and takes out his military uniform. He checks it for fraying cuffs and loose strings. He brushes off any dust that may have accumulated. And then he puts it on. It still fits.

Still serving, Wellman is a technical sergeant in the Michigan Air National Guard.

"I've reached a point in my life where I'm not ready to say 'I was in the military,'" he said. "I still like to be able to say 'I am in the military.'"

For all his time in the military, first as a Sailor in the Navy, then, for the past 12 years, as an Airman in the Air National Guard, Wellman has worked as a utilities specialist. He's had different military job titles over the years, but all along, he's worked in the construction and building trades as a specialist in pipes and pumps and related systems. In his civilian job, he's been a licensed master plumber for years.

"I got my training, got my start in the military," Wellman said. "Now I like working with some of the younger guys and helping them as they start out."

Increasingly, say ANG recruiters at the 127th Wing, young people who contact them have a specific plan in mind, not only that they are interested in putting on the Air Force's blue suit, but they have a specific career path in mind as well.

"Many of the applicants we see are very educated about what jobs are out there in the Air Force and what specific jobs they are interested in," said TSgt. Kevin Shirkey, a recruiter with the 127th Wing at Selfridge. "They have already looked at the Web site, they have talked to people. In many cases, they are being more selective in what field they want to go into than perhaps their predecessors were."

The recruiters recently listed the utilities worker career field, along with several others, as a local priority.

Teamwork and career options are two of the high points recruiters often mention.

"It is an old saying, but it is true - the airplanes don't fly unless someone is making sure the people get paid, someone is making sure the people get fed," said TSgt. Nathan Burrows, another recruiter. "If the plumbing doesn't work, that's a problem for the whole team."

Burrows said he often points out to potential recruiters that working in a career field they hadn't perhaps originally planned on provides that individual with more options down the road.

"In today's world, to have skills in more than one career field is a pretty valuable benefit," he said. "It puts another tool in the employability tool box."

Most potential recruits also ask about money to help pay for college.

"Even if that isn't their specific number one priority, everyone wants to know about the college benefits," Shirkey said.

One such Airman is SSgt. Henry McCall. He and Wellman are both Water & Fuel Systems Maintenance specialists - 3E4x1's in Air Forcespeak -- for the 127th Civil Engineer Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. McCall has been in the unit for all seven of his years in the military.

McCall was working as a plumber and plumber's assistant as a civilian, but after returning home from a recent deployment with the Guard to Afghanistan, he decided to utilize some of his GI Bill educational benefits and return to school as a full-time student. He is enrolled in the construction management program at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College, with plans to eventually transfer into a bachelor's degree program in the same field at Grand Valley State University.

Under the provisions of the GI Bill available to traditional members of the Air National Guard, full-time college students can receive about $350 per month to help finance their students. Those who are deployed or spend additional time on active duty can qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which has additional benefits, including a living allowance stipend in some cases.

"I love being a part of the civil engineers," McCall said. "I work in my field but also work closely with all the building trades. I have confidence in just about every field of building because of the work I have done around these guys."

Wellman said the local civil engineer squadron has a strong sense of belonging that makes Airmen proud to be a part of the squadron and eager to stay.

"I think our strongest attribute is the camaraderie we have across the whole unit," he said.

For information on opportunities that exist in the 127th Wing - jobs ranging from ammunitions loader to cyber security specialist are now available - call (800) 645-9420. Information on career opportunities in the Air National Guard is also available at www.goang.com