Blind workers in Maryland take pride in crafting Army uniforms
Stars and Stripes June 19, 2003
Workers at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland are a cut above the rest when it comes to making Army battle dress uniforms and other military attire.
And they say they are proud to contribute to the nation’s defense through their cutting and sewing abilities.
“I’m very proud to be doing something for the military because they are sure doing a lot for us,” Knowles Hovington, a blind employee with the nonprofit organization for more than 31 years, said Tuesday. “It makes me feel pretty good.”
Hovington is one of 58 blind workers who helps produce an average of 72,000 battle dress uniforms and 11,300 physical fitness jackets for the Army each month at plants in Salisbury and Cumberland, Md.
Their work was in the national spotlight after seven American prisoners of war were rescued April 13 by U.S. Marines about 75 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq.
The former POWs — Army Spc. Joseph Hudson, Sgt. James Riley, Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Spc. Edgar Hernandez, Pfc. Patrick Miller and chief warrant officers Ronald Young Jr. and David S. Williams — wore the jackets when they returned April 18 to the United States.
Hudson, Riley, Johnson, Hernandez and Miller were captured March 23 after their convoy was ambushed by Iraqi forces near Nasiriyah, Iraq. Young and Williams were taken prisoner March 24 after their Apache helicopter gunship went down south of Baghdad.
“I actually had a hand in making those jackets,” Hovington said Tuesday of the jackets the former prisoners wore when returning.
Hovington said he stitched the sleeves and lining of the jackets.
“I’m very proud,” he said.
Co-worker Carolyn Palmer, whose daughter is in the Navy, agreed, adding the publicity of the soldiers return boosted blind workers’ confidence and patriotism.
“When I found out, I said, ‘Hey, that’s sweet. That’s neat,’” Palmer, a 12-year employee said. “It showed the outside world what we can do.”
According to Palmer, blind people are usually happy just to have a job. But at Blind Industries, workers are “very blessed.”
“It’s a great challenge to be able to work here,” she said Tuesday while taking a break from sewing physical fitness jackets. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to be a part of the military.”
Operations Manager Jack Grizzel said that attitude makes Blind Industries successful.
“Seventy-five percent of all our direct labor hours are done by blind individuals,” he said. “They’re committed; they’re dedicated. They take a great deal of pride in their accomplishments.”
Grizzel said Blind Industries is a subcontractor for Unicor, which contracts with the federal government to produce the battle dress uniforms and jackets.
Blind Industries, one of several organizations from throughout the country awarded military contracts associated with employing visually impaired workers, also produces some Navy dress neckerchiefs, the lining and exterior of bullet-proof vests, and workout clothing for cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“All here take a great deal of pride in their work,” Grizzel said.