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Jul 26, 2021

Varonfakis breaking barriers as the first female Full Time Support Aerospace Maintenance Duty Officer selected for Captain

History was made this month as Cmdr. Kelly Varonfakis became the first-ever female Full Time Support (FTS) Aerospace Maintenance Duty Officer (AMDO) selected for the rank of Captain.

The Navy selected Varonfakis for the O-6 grade breaking a barrier in place since the FTS AMDO community was established 31 years ago. Assigned to Commander Fleet Readiness Centers (COMFRC) Headquarters, she is the Vertical Lift Production Lead and oversees aircraft and engine production for all Navy and Marine Corps rotary aircraft.

“I am honored to be among a phenomenal group of women leaders who are true trailblazers – women like Cmdr. Deb Vavrus, who started as an Aviation Structural Mechanic and served for 35 years until her retirement. I am grateful for her faith-forward leadership and mentorship and the path she forged,” Varonfakis said.

Commander Fleet Readiness Centers, Rear Admiral Joseph Hornbuckle lauded this historic moment and noted there is still work to be done, “Capt. (sel) Varonfakis is a testament to the kind of resilience and fortitude needed to be successful. It is an honor to celebrate her ingenuity and expertise. This historic selection is something to be celebrated and built upon.” 

In addition to Varonfakis’ selection, the AMDO FTS community also selected Commander Des Price-Jordan, deputy program manager for Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) Tactical Airlift Program Office, for the rank of Captain. She will become the first woman Commanding Officer at NAVAIR and potentially the first Fleet Readiness Center Commanding Officer for COMFRC next year. “The ceiling wasn’t merely broken in this board, it was blown to pieces, and I am thrilled to share this moment with Price-Jordan,” Varonfakis said.

Price-Jordan is breaking multiple barriers becoming the first African-American woman to reach the highest level of responsibility and authority in this community. “I am extremely humbled and blessed to play a role in this moment in history. Sharing this moment with Varonfakis is surreal,” she said.

As the Navy’s senior-ranking AMDO officer, COMFRC Vice Commander, Christopher Couch reflected on what this significant milestone means to the community. “Cmdr. Varonfakis’ selection to Captain is just beginning to tap the potential to bring further diversity to the aviation maintenance community,” he said.

As Vertical Lift Production Lead, Varonfakis leads two integrated Product Teams (IPT) which include aircraft and engine production of the Navy and Marine Corps rotary variants.

In addition to managing COMFRC’s production effort, Varonfakis works with nine Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) sites and their stakeholders to eliminate barriers and lean forward to address and mitigate future constraints. She has also represented depot interests on a Secretary of the Navy directed joint task force; Deputy, Assistant Secretary of the Navy working groups; and has provided data and analysis used for House Armed Senate Committee briefings.

“The depots are incredible at what they do, and it is an honor to represent them. Their desire to support our Sailors and Marines often requires them to work under less than optimal conditions including poor material condition of aircraft as they come in, shortages of parts and unpredictable schedules. These obstacles and other compounding factors can lead to unavoidable delays,” Varonfakis said.

The V-22, H-53 and H-60 type/model/series aircraft are currently in various stages of Naval Sustainment System for Aviation (NSS-A) implementation. The goal of NSS-A is to transform both readiness and sustainment of all aircraft. FRCs have experienced substantial improvements in workspace layouts, turnaround times for maintenance, unfilled customer orders and deliberate planning for future activities.

“Her work on the H-60 team has been instrumental in fully integrating the Naval Sustainment System for this type/model/series,” said Hornbuckle.

“To see how each production line is empowered to take control, and demand and receive the support they need is rewarding to witness as this effort unfolds,” said Varonfakis.

Being a trailblazer in the AMDO community is especially meaningful for Varonfakis given her early commitment to the Navy. “I was in the second grade when I first declared I wanted to join the Navy. I didn't grow up far from Naval Air Station Miramar, and could see the jets flying overhead. I loved it.  I don't recall anyone encouraging me, but instead was told time and again, 'No sweetie, girls don't do that.'  I am both thrilled at the progress we have made as a country and Navy, but am appalled there are still so many barriers, and ceilings left to break,” she said. 

Having joined the Navy in 1986, Price-Jordan said it wasn’t always easy being the only woman in the wardroom. “I look forward to the day when we no longer have to say 'she is the first,' but it becomes the norm to see women seated in senior leadership positions. We may be the first, but we will not be the last,” she said.

Both Varonfakis and Price-Jordan are leading the charge for women across the Navy and the nation.

 

Jul 20, 2021

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast hosts ribbon cutting ceremony for new engineering and logistics building

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 20 to induct Building 226, a new engineering and logistics facility, as the latest addition to the Capt. Christopher J. Roum Engineering and Logistics Complex onboard Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS JAX).

The $2M facility is more than 3,000 sq. ft. and was constructed by MIA General Contracting Inc.

Despite groundbreaking taking place in June 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility took only about 13 months to complete. Though a bit more work needs to be finalized before the FRCSE Fleet Support Team (FST) can officially begin moving in, the keys were handed over to FRCSE on July 14.

'Building 226 is a great reminder of the growing technological advancement of the Navy, and how essential it is that FRCSE can continue surpassing Fleet demand with unparalleled timeliness and product quality,' said FRCSE's Commanding Officer Capt. Grady Duffey. 'We are honored to add another building to the Capt. Christopher J. Roum Engineering and Logistics Complex and we are looking forward to watching tremendous strides take place under its roof.'

The complex honors the efforts of the late Capt. Christopher J. Roum, a former Naval Air Depot Jacksonville Commanding Officer, whose innovative efforts supported the Navy's growing requirements for industrial and maintenance capabilities. The complex initially housed only two buildings aboard NAS JAX, but the FST support facility paints a clear picture of the continuous need for expansion to support the Navy's advancing aircraft platforms.

'With regard to the future activity in Building 226, FST engineering and logistics personnel will provide the gamut of technical and product support for Navy and Marine Corps program executive offices, program offices, type commanders and operating activities,' said Tim Pfannenstein, FRCSE's FST Site Director. 'Design and development of aircraft and sub-system modifications, to mishap investigations, technology insertion and oversite of all aspects of maintenance planning and logistics product support are just some of the efforts that will take place within the new facility.'

Building 226 is just one of more than 73 facilities utilized by FRCSE.

About Fleet Readiness Center Southeast

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) is Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, employing more than 5,000 civilian, military and contract workers. With annual revenue exceeding $1 billion, the organization serves as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers by maintaining the combat airpower for America's military forces. 

 

Jul 20, 2021

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast hosts ribbon cutting ceremony for new engineering and logistics building

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 20 to induct Building 226, a new engineering and logistics facility, as the latest addition to the Capt. Christopher J. Roum Engineering and Logistics Complex onboard Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS JAX).

The $2M facility is more than 3,000 sq. ft. and was constructed by MIA General Contracting Inc.

Despite groundbreaking taking place in June 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility took only about 13 months to complete. Though a bit more work needs to be finalized before the FRCSE Fleet Support Team (FST) can officially begin moving in, the keys were handed over to FRCSE on July 14.

'Building 226 is a great reminder of the growing technological advancement of the Navy, and how essential it is that FRCSE can continue surpassing Fleet demand with unparalleled timeliness and product quality,' said FRCSE's Commanding Officer Capt. Grady Duffey. 'We are honored to add another building to the Capt. Christopher J. Roum Engineering and Logistics Complex and we are looking forward to watching tremendous strides take place under its roof.'

The complex honors the efforts of the late Capt. Christopher J. Roum, a former Naval Air Depot Jacksonville Commanding Officer, whose innovative efforts supported the Navy's growing requirements for industrial and maintenance capabilities. The complex initially housed only two buildings aboard NAS JAX, but the FST support facility paints a clear picture of the continuous need for expansion to support the Navy's advancing aircraft platforms.

'With regard to the future activity in Building 226, FST engineering and logistics personnel will provide the gamut of technical and product support for Navy and Marine Corps program executive offices, program offices, type commanders and operating activities,' said Tim Pfannenstein, FRCSE's FST Site Director. 'Design and development of aircraft and sub-system modifications, to mishap investigations, technology insertion and oversite of all aspects of maintenance planning and logistics product support are just some of the efforts that will take place within the new facility.'

Building 226 is just one of more than 73 facilities utilized by FRCSE.

About Fleet Readiness Center Southeast

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) is Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, employing more than 5,000 civilian, military and contract workers. With annual revenue exceeding $1 billion, the organization serves as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers by maintaining the combat airpower for America's military forces. 

 

Jul 16, 2021

FRCE marks 100th F-35 induction

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) marked a milestone in its support of the F-35 Lightning II program when the depot inducted its 100th F-35 for modifications June 11.

The induction signifies more than just a number – it represents eight years of efforts to stand up and grow the F-35 modification line at the depot, said FRCE Commanding Officer Col. Thomas A. Atkinson.

“We are very proud to support the F-35 platform and achieve this important milestone,” Atkinson said. “The F-35 maintenance concept is different than what we see on other platforms. Our experience on these 100 jets has made us stronger as a command and we look forward to continuing our contribution as more F-35s are fielded.”

The depot has been able to meet this milestone only through the diligence and commitment of the team servicing the aircraft, said FRCE F-35 Branch Head Ike Rettenmair.

“The team has come a long way since the first induction, and is one of the most dedicated teams I have been a part of,” Rettenmair said. “This platform has challenges that are unlike most others, and the team takes them head on. FRCE is 100 percent behind the partnered effort to make the F-35 program successful and, although we are only one piece of the pie in the enterprise, we take pride in supplying the warfighter with a capable and quality aircraft.”

In addition to marking a milestone, the 100th F-35 induction also serves as a stepping stone to the future of the program at the depot, said Matt Crisp, FRCE site lead for the F-35 Joint Program Office. An additional workload of F-35 components, a new lift fan facility and expansion of the F-35 aircraft line’s capacity are all coming into view on the horizon.

“This is not the finish line,” Crisp said. “We’re just getting up to speed at this point. We’ve come a long way, and things are looking good going forward for FRC East and the people who work here, who live here, and rely on this program as how they support their families. There are a lot of really good things coming to our area.”

Rettenmair said he also looks forward to watching the program continue to grow.

“Although 100 is a great milestone, there are still may more years to go in support of the F-35,” he said. “I have only been on the F-35 program for a short stint and I’m still getting my feet wet; however, it didn’t take me long to realize this is a special team and I’m glad to help lead the way into the future. I hope I’m still here to see our 200th aircraft induction and beyond, as FRCE continues to meet the mission with pride, teamwork and – at times – frustration, and always safely and with quality.”  

FRCE inducted its first F-35 aircraft for modification in July 2013 after having just eight months to prepare for the workload, said Jeanie Holder, the F-35 Joint Program Office induction manager at FRCE. Despite the compressed timeline, the facility was able to induct its first F-35B short takeoff-vertical landing variant on schedule, and has since proven capabilities on the remaining two aircraft variants: the F-35C carrier variant, and the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant.

“There have been a lot of hands-on work and tireless hours executed to make this depot sufficient to support a fifth-generation jet that, at the time, we weren’t used to doing here,” Holder said. “For us to hit 100 aircraft is a huge accomplishment that shows just how hard we’ve collectively worked. It’s not just FRC East or the F-35 Joint Program Office or Lockheed Martin – it’s been a real team effort.”

That team effort has made the program more efficient as relationships between key stakeholders have developed and strengthened, noted Allen Williamson, an overhaul and repair supervisor on the F-35 line.

“A lot of our government and industry partnerships have grown, and we’re getting buy-in from the partners to be able to turn these jets around as quickly as possible,” Williamson noted. “We’ve opened up and taken advice from Lockheed Martin and the Joint Program Office, and when we run into an issue we now have a consolidated team coming together to address it and figure out a way forward that works for all of us. I think we’ve been really successful at that.”

Joseph Simonds, an F-35 airframes work leader who has been with the program since the very first induction eight years ago, said this teamwork has helped the program make great strides in efficiency.

“We've gotten better, we’ve gotten quicker,” Simonds said. “A lot of the processes have gotten smoother because, just like any other program, when we first started there were a lot of unknowns. Over the years, everything has slowly fallen into line and the program gets better with that. Now it’s like, Here’s everything you need to do your job, so have at it.”

While the program has been improving efficiency and strengthening partnerships, the workforce modifying the aircraft has made gains in knowledge, Williamson added, which helps them quickly and competently address any new aircraft issues that might arise.

“We still run into new hurdles all the time, but teamwork has gotten us to the 100th induction and will take us well beyond,” he said. “We know where to go when we need help, and who can help us, and we don’t delay in going there.

“The knowledge our mechanics have accumulated in just 100 jets, it’s great,” Williamson continued. “It’s amazing that they can troubleshoot these jets with the knowledge they’ve developed through working on these aircraft, taking things apart and putting them back together, and they can go in and pinpoint problems in a timely manner.”

The facilities, skills and knowledge of the artisans and strong partnerships that have facilitated the growth of the F-35 program at FRCE since its first induction have laid the groundwork for future success, Crisp said.

“It is pretty remarkable when you think about where we've come from eight years ago, strike a baseline here and then look forward at what's coming this way,” he said. “Over these eight years, we haven’t just added dock space and added people; we’ve developed every one of the supporting logistical elements that put the tools in place so the production floor can go and execute, and gotten better, faster and stronger at what we’re doing.

“We're talking 100 airplanes – that's hundreds of thousands of hours of touch labor, and engineering and logistics support, just on the aircraft that have come through FRC East, not to mention the Rapid Response Team, depot field teams, and weight and balance teams going out to the fleet to assist. We’re talking parts manufacturing, the facilities and infrastructure we have improved, building those relationships; these have all been absolutely critical for us to have gotten to where we are, and to get us to where we need to go in the future.”

As the F-35 program continues to grow at the depot, Crisp said he anticipates even further development of the key support elements. For example, FRCE declared capabilities on several F-35 components in 2020 - meaning FRCE is now a verified source of repair and testing for these items – and is on track to declare for additional components this year and in the future. A lift fan facility scheduled for groundbreaking this year will provide FRCE with one of only two sites in the world that can service that system, and the F-35 program has plans for expanding the amount of aircraft FRCE can accommodate at once.

“FRC East is absolutely critical not only to the United States Marine Corps, but to all of our international partners who are procuring F-35B aircraft, of which there are multiple,” Crisp said. “There’s a lot of work, a lot of jobs and a lot of touch labor that we’re going to need in the future, so that’s very exciting. And then when you look three to five years out, we’re going to start having active F-35 squadrons that are arriving here at Cherry Point – we’ll be able to walk down the street to a whole flight line of deployable F-35s and share knowledge and expertise with the squadrons. We’ll continue to build relationships that will benefit both the squadrons and the depot.”

The success of the F-35 program at FRCE, lies with the depot’s people, Holder said, and those people will continue to push for excellence as the program grows into the future.

“From the floor up to our leadership here, you’ve got an A-team and that’s the only reason we’ve been as successful as we have,” Holder noted. “We all take our jobs very seriously, we own them, and we do what we have to do to make sure we are successful in getting these jets back to the fleet on time.”