LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas—Two Laughlin maintainers, a husband and wife team, are both a product of a different facet of the Grow Your Own Program.
Grow Your Own is a program which has brought more than 300 maintainers into the 47th Maintenance Directorate throughout its 30 year history.
In the husband’s case, it enabled him to get on-the-job training during high school in case maintenance was a trade he was interested in after graduating. Another similar option was presented by the local community college as a trade school, and that was the path the wife took.
Jonathan Merscham, a 47th MXD aircraft attendant, loves working on Laughlin’s flightline. Having gone through Grow Your Own in high school, he wasn’t decided on maintenance after graduation. However, a few years down the road, he made the choice to come back.
“I was nervous because I thought I had forgotten everything Grow Your Own taught me,” Jonathan said. “When they hired me, and I began training, the knowledge started coming back to mind such as launching aircraft, safety procedures, professionalism and the importance of the job.”
His wife, Michelle Merscham, 47th MXD aircraft attendant, worked contentedly at an accounting job until, one day, driving to work when she heard a local radio ad promoting a Grow Your Own aircraft maintenance learning opportunity.
Michelle decided to act. She went to Del Rio’s Southwest Texas Junior College and applied for the program.
After a year’s worth of academic and hands-on training, Michelle began the interviewing process to be hired onto Laughlin’s maintenance team. It took 11 attempts just to be referred for the job. The referral, tentative job offer and firm job offer spanned six months.
“I was getting very discouraged, but I decided this was what I really wanted to do, and I had faith that somewhere along the line, I’d get picked up,” Michelle said.
At long last, after two years’ hard work, Michelle and Jonathan work on the same flightline where she now launches, recovers, services and inspects T-6A Texan II’s every day.
“The process, although it can seem very long, is definitely worth the wait and the patience because I can develop a career out of it,” Michelle said. “I thank God for the opportunity he gives me every day to come to work and do my job with respect, discipline and integrity. I take a lot of pride when I launch out the future pilots of the Air Force—it’s so much fun.”
In addition to becoming a part of Team XL, Michelle values the chance she has to work a few rows of T-6’s away from her husband.
“It’s fun to know my other half is right there across the lines,” Michelle said. “It’s cool because throughout the growth of our relationship, we always worked separate shifts so the only time we spent together was on the weekends. It’s a privilege to have more time together.”
Now they work in the same environment, his coworkers tease him when they see Michelle on the flightline.
“A lot of my employees think it’s really cool I have the opportunity to work with my spouse,” Jonathan said. “My wife’s family is blown away by what she does. I wish her family could come to the flightline and see how hard she works on the aircraft.”
According to Rick Kopp, 47th MXD deputy director of maintenance, the 47th MXD depends on the Del Rio High School and the Southwest Texas Community College to sustain the flightline workforce, today and into tomorrow.
“We appreciate the skills Grow Your Own employees bring with them and the enthusiasm they display,” Kopp said. “Approximately 40 percent of our maintainers came into our work force through the Grow Your Own program. They not only provide high-quality maintenance, but we can also count on their commitment because they’re from the local area.”
Laughlin maintainers play a crucial part in keeping the 47th Flying Training Wing’s mission alive. They go home smelling like fuel, after feeling the fumes from the exhaust ripple in heat waves, and the sun beating down of the backs of their necks. Even so, many maintainers are passionate about what they do and have worked on the flightline for decades or plan to do so for decades to come.