Blind workers help Air Force save money

  • Published
  • By Wayne Crenshaw
  • 78th ABW/PA
In an old hangar near the south end of Robins, a unique operation is saving money while giving independence to people who might otherwise have trouble getting a job.

Defense Logistics Agency Warner Robins and Georgia Industries for the Blind formed a partnership last summer to capture expensive packaging materials for reuse.

The operation has a staff of five contractors, employed by the Georgia Industries for the Blind, including a supervisor and four people who are legally blind. They take boxes which have been used to ship parts and equipment to the flightline, remove the shipping labels, and make any necessary repairs so the boxes can be used again.

It's cost effective not because of the cardboard box but because of the foam packaging inside.

The specially-made packaging is designed to ensure the safe travel of expensive items and can cost more than $100 per box. Because the boxes can be used on average 8-10 times, the program can save as much as $1,000 over the life of each box.

Both parties agree the arrangement is working well. In fact, the Georgia Industries for the Blind would like to see other Air Force bases with large distribution volumes follow suit. Currently, only Hill Air Force Base, which has been doing it for 20 years, has a similar operation.

Site supervisor Pete Richardson said he wouldn't trade his crew for four people with 20/20 vision.

"One, they want to work, and two, they like to work," he said. "It's a source of pride for them to be able to come to work every day. They have good attendance and good attitudes."

Watching the team work, one cannot tell they are legally blind. They are able to do the job because they can see well enough directly in front of them. It's beyond that where they have problems. None of them are able to drive.

The team includes Stanley Parham, who is deaf and blind, Chad Annis, Deon Jones and Jeffery Robertson.

Robertson, 21, lives by himself in Cochran and gets here on a transit bus for Robins workers. At one time, he worried he would never have a real job, but he did an internship at Robins as a high school senior which gave him confidence. This is his first full-time job.

"I love doing things with my hands," he said. "It's a load off to be independent and out in the real world."

Hilliard Reese, DLA-WR special assets division chief, said the organization previously reclaimed used boxes, but that was taking away from the regular duties of those who were doing it. They thought it would be more efficient to have people dedicated to "sanitizing" the boxes, and the partnership was formed, Reese said.

The Georgia Industries for the Blind is a state Department of Labor organization which helps provide employment opportunities for the blind.

Becky Labat, services director for the organization, said employers who have jobs the blind can do, will find no shortage of willing and able employees.

"Jobs are tough for them to get, so when they do get one, they give it everything they've got," she said.