Submarine preparations progressing at Kings Bay
By GORDON JACKSON | The Brunswick News, Ga. | Published: December 5, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — Work is ramping up at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in preparation for the arrival of the first Columbia-class submarine in 2028.
While eight years may seem like plenty of time, the base is undergoing extensive renovations that will cost more than $1 billion, and the work has to be done before the first boat arrives.
Capt. Chester Parks, commanding officer at Kings Bay, participated in a presentation Friday to explain the scope of the project and the support needed to complete the work.
Parks said some of the planned work was "already behind the curve," but he expressed confidence the crews will catch up.
One challenge is preparing for a new class of submarines while maintaining the existing fleet of Ohio-class submarines until they are phased out.
Parks said Kings Bay is starting to show its age 42 years after it was first created.
The work will include an "entire recapitalization" of everything on base. The goal is to make the base renovations last until 2084, the year the last Columbia-class submarine is expected to remain in service.
To accomplish the goal, Parks said contractors will need skilled labor across the spectrum.
"There's not just one skill set that we'll need," he said.
Capt. Edward Robledo, commanding officer at Trident Refit Facility, the command that maintains the boats on base, said the ongoing apprenticeship program is needed to replace the aging civilian workforce on base. The command has an estimated 1,700 civilian employees and 300 active-duty military.
He said the program is a great opportunity for a high school graduate to get a free education while earning a salary at the same time. And those who complete the apprentice program have good-paying jobs that can become lifelong careers, while ensuring the boats continue to serve as a deterrent to nuclear war.
"These submarines cannot do their mission without Trident Refit Facility," he said. "Trident Refit Facility is the front line of national defense."
The command will be advertising for another 40 to 50 apprentices in early 2021, Robledo said.
One challenge is finding the trained workforce, which is where Coastal Pines Technical College is playing a helpful role by helping with the testing process for apprentices, as well as training potential employees.
Sara Bennett, the apprentice program specialist at TRF, said there are currently 142 active apprentices at varying stages in the four-year program. By the time they graduate, they will earn anywhere from $23.72 to $26.80 an hour, she said.
"You can't beat it. You get paid to go to college," she said.
Lonnie Roberts, provost at Coastal Pines, described the college's relationship with TRF as "outstanding."
"We think we are the front line in workforce development," he said. "We are prepared and ready to help the base and contractors."
The presentation also included information about the role Electric Boat, the contractor building the new submarines, will play on base. The company will need 50 new employees, including welders, mechanics, steel fitters, sheet metal specialists and a wide variety of other skilled jobs.
Joe Clough, a site manager for Electric Boat, said one problem he and other contractors are having is applicants sending bad resumes with spelling errors, poor grammar, or are out of date. Clough said his company recently advertised for six positions and received 28 resumes. Only 13 of the resumes were worth looking at, he said.
Paul Chamberlin, training manager with Lockheed Martin, said his company, which employes more than 500 people at Kings Bay, is responsible for building the ballistic missiles carried on the submarines. Like Clough, Chamberlin said his company is looking for new employees to replace an aging workforce.
"We're looking for the folks who are going to replace us," he said.
His company doesn't have an apprentice program, but it does have an intern program that can create opportunities for a career.
"There are opportunities everywhere," he said. "You just have to know what you're looking for."
Resumes are very important for people serious about a job with his company, Chamberlin said.
"You have to make yourself stand out," he said. "We're building the missiles that will go into those Columbia-class submarines."
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