James Thrasher and Trey Baxter started welding for Tinker’s 548th Propulsion Maintenance Squadron on May 17, 1999. They’ve never left.
Last month, the two veteran welders celebrated 20 years at Tinker AFB, a feat Welding Supervisor Kelly Wright said he doesn’t see very often.
“Either we have people who move to other organizations on base due to promotions, new assignments or reassignments. But Thrasher and Baxter have persisted through together, Wright said. Their shop, which includes 10 welders, is one of three of the welding shops assigned to the 548th PMXS.
“It really helps having that level of knowledge in the shop. They’ve seen it all,” he said. “They worked on and have become proficient in everything we do here. They make everything look easier than it actually is. It’s been really beneficial having had them for so long.”
Thrasher and Baxter walked in May 17, 1999, as part of a mass hiring event after Tinker was awarded the workload for the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine following the U.S. Air Force’s decision to close the San Antonio ALC.
“All of that workload was moving to Tinker, so they needed workers, in all trades,” Wright said. “They worked their way up through the grades, together.”
Wright said Thrasher and Baxter are “tremendous” assets, which has led both of them to become work leaders, positions they take great pride in. Even though Thrasher and Baxter came in together, their exposure to Tinker prior to joining the welding shop is completely different.
Thrasher says his family has a long history at Tinker.
“Several of my family members including father, grandfather, brother and nephew have or currently work at Tinker,” he said.
With the exception of an uncle who had a short stint at Tinker several years ago, Baxter says none of his family ever worked at the base.
Although their beginnings at Tinker weren’t the same, their dedication to the base and the U.S. Air Force mission are very similar.
“I love it out here,” Thrasher said. “Welding was something that just clicked for me. The opportunity to do something I love for an employer who has employed a lot of my family over the years has been an amazing experience.”
Baxter, who was 20 years old when he started, agreed.
“Tinker has been good to me and my family,” he said. “It’s been a blessing in disguise, really. The year I was hired here was a big year for me. I married my wife. I had my first child.”
Wright, who said he was also a part of that 1999 group, but worked in other areas at Tinker, beforehand.
In addition to Thrasher and Baxter, Wright says he will also have another two welders celebrating 20 years later this year. Every shop within the 548th will have several others reaching the 20-year milestone this year.
“It’s tremendous having half of my people with 20 years of service,” he said.
Thrasher, Baxter and the rest of Wright’s welders primarily work on the TF33, F110-100/129 F101 and F108 engines. They all are required to maintain 38 certifications. Thrasher and Baxter have both had the opportunity to attend training conferences in Canada, where the group’s primary welding tool, the Liburdi Laws 5000, is manufactured.
“There are modifications the manufacturer has made to the machine that we as a group came up with,” Baxter said.
Thrasher and Baxter said what has kept them at Tinker for so long is the camaraderie.
“It’s all about supporting the warfighter and the overall mission,” Baxter said. “All of us here have wholeheartedly support that mission.”