Archive for December, 2014

Small company has big task fixing C-5s

..Maintaining a C-5 Galaxy is a lot like taking care of an old house. You never know
what you’ll find when you start looking for problems — corrosion, cracks and other
“You pull off one part that you think you’re going to repair and you find a lot more
problems,” said Tony Fiorentino, president of Marianna Airmotive, which repairs
venerable C-5s for the U.S. Air Force.
The company, which had 18 employees in the late 1990s, now has about 125
working in Cantonment, 10 miles north of downtown Pensacola.
Fiorentino is proud that his company has the people who can handle the often
complicated work. It can be a real challenge.
“It’s a thrill that we can do this,” he said. “It’s great to see something come in here
all beat to hell and our engineering department and other employees can develop
and repair and do all the ancillary work that needs to be done” to meet Air Force

On the job
The company, which got its start in 1968 in Marianna, Fla., moved to Cantonment
in 1989 and took over an old, largely vacant Boise Cascade Co. plywood facility to
meet growing Air Force contracts.
The work began with inlet cowls, but the assignments expanded as the company
showed the Air Force it could do much more.
Now Marianna Airmotive overhauls, remanufactures and fabricates parts for the C-
5, the largest airlifter made in the United States. Built by Lockheed Martin, it can
carry 265,000 pounds of cargo 4,000 miles, holding up to five helicopters on military
missions that included Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. C-5s also have
been used worldwide for humanitarian missions in the wake of hurricanes, tsunamis
and earthquakes.
“Nothing else (made in the United States) can haul what they can haul,” said
Fiorentino about the Galaxy.
With that kind of age and workload on the aircraft, it’s not hard to imagine the
stress on parts and the patchwork of field repairs that require more permanent fixes.
And the C-5 is so old that replacement parts sometimes don’t exist, requiring
Marianna to make new ones.
“You’re always chasing your tail,” said Fiorentino as he walked through the plant,
introducing a visitor to employees working on doors, frames and other parts in need
of overhaul.
In most cases, Fiorentino said, “it’s a major, major overhaul. Some stuff is beyond
Marianna Airmotive keeps three aeronautical engineers busy working on repair
designs, which must be approved by the Air Force before they can be executed.
“The engineering department is what really keeps us alive,” says Fiorentino, who
first came to Pensacola as a naval flight student.
After 20 years as a lawyer, he closed his practice in the late 1990s and bought an
interest in Marianna Airmotive, bringing him back to his first love, aviation. He’s been
hooked on aircraft since he was a kid growing up near an airport in Elkins, W. Va.
Now he even owns his own airfield in Pensacola, Coastal Airport, where 10-12 aircraft
are based.

The future
The Marianna Airmotive plant took a beating from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, but the
rebuilding inspired the company to make itself storm-resistant as well as to enhance
existing facilities.
It covers 160,000 square feet of space for production, warehouse, sheet metal,
bonding, paint, welding, autoclave and manufacturing. The redesign took some
clever steps, building offices, for example, in the space over old railroad tracks left
from the Boise Cascade days.
The sections and parts are trucked into the facility, though workers can also travel
to locations where the C-5s are located to do on-site work.
Workers have all the modern equipment, a computer-controlled cutting machine, a
FaroArm for measurement. Still, they sometimes prefer to put the high-tech tools
aside and work by hand for up-close jobs that require the human touch.
The typical employee has been at Marianna Airmotive for more than nine years,
giving the company “a very steady workforce,” Fiorentino says. It’s a blend of ex-
military and civilian workers, and Fiorentino is eager to win new contracts with the Air
Force on the C-5 and other aircraft. That could include working on the Lockheed C-
130, P3 or other similar aircraft.
Fiorentino says the company and its workforce have a proven track record for
technical capability, quality precision, attention to detail and thorough documentation.
“We’d like to branch out and enter other areas,” he said.

I wrote this in December for the Gulf Coast Reporters League, which covers aerospace in Northwest Florida, South Alabama and South Mississippi.

War on Drugs needn’t be a bust

In the 1800s Americans could legally smoke opium. Then Chinese people came to California and started taking jobs from native-born Americans. California couldn’t kick out the Chinese, but they could take away their their opium, and that’s when the state banned opium.

Until the 1900s, Americans could legally smoke marijuana. But when Mexicans started moving to the United States and taking jobs from native-born Americans, government got involved. It could’t kick out the Mexicans, but they banned marijuana, which many Mexicans used.

Heroin and cocaine were low on the radar until blacks began moving in large numbers from the South to the North, where they took jobs that white folks might want. Crackdowns on cocaine and heroin soon followed.

Ditto the much harsher punishments required for crack cocaine than for powdered cocaine. Crack cocaine is just a form of powdered cocaine, but it’s associated mostly with black people while powdered cocaine is used primarily by white people.

These tidbits are contained in “The House I Live In,” a documentary that looks at the twisted course taken by America’s War on Drugs.

When President Richard Nixon officially declared the War on Drugs more than 40 years ago, the documentary points out, only one-third of the money was to be used for law enforcement. The other two-thirds wen to rehabilitation programs.

But politicians and cops know you get better headlines for putting people in prison than for providing rehab, so the money soon migrated to the law enforcement side.

The documentary tells us something we all know: The War on Drugs is a bust.

“Our insane regime of drug laws have caused us to spend $1 trillion over 40 years, conducting 45 million drug arrests, and with what to show for it? A complete record of failure. Drugs are cheaper, purer, more available now, and used by younger and younger people than ever before,” says  the movie’s director, Eugene Jarecki, in an interview with Forbes.

His comments are seconded by many people, on the right as well as the left.

But who will do something about it?

Not Florida’s politicians. It might cost them votes and campaign donations.

But the citizens can do something: Put measures on the ballot to amend Florida’s laws.

California voters did that just last month, approving a measure that could lead to the release of 10,000 nonviolent prisoners. Nonviolent felonies like shoplifting and drug possession will be reduced to misdemeanors. In addition to those released, an estimated 40,000 defendants will be eligible for misdemeanor rather than felony convictions.

It’s about time; California is locked in a long-running and expensive dispute with the courts over its jam-packed prisons.

The savings – hundreds of millions of dollars – will be used for education, mental health and addiction services, an acknowledgement that drug abuse is a health problem.

California is far from alone. Other states also have taken action, with mixed results, as shows.

But at least the results are better than Florida’s approach of lock ‘em up and leave ‘em there.

Arkansas: In 2011, the state began allowing nonviolent offenders to be sentenced to work with the Department of Community Corrections rather than be incarcerated. The prison population dropped, but then bounced back after the state enacted tougher rules on parole violators.

Georgia: A 2012 law allows alternative sentencing for low-level nonviolent offenders. The state’s prison population fell 14 percent and its crime rate dropped 4 percent.

Kentucky: Since 2011, the state has let minor drug offenders be sentenced to probation and treatment. The prison population increased by 9 percent in 2012, but the The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project reports that Kentucky saved $29 million and a net 872 prison beds annually by the end of 2013 because of the law. Kentucky’s crime rate rose 3 percent between 2011 and 2013.

Texas: The state’s 2007 budget allocated $241 million for treatment-oriented programs for nonviolent offenders, which resulted in a 4.5 percent decrease in the state’s incarceration rate by 2008. The state has since saved an estimated $2 billion; its  crime rate dropped 11 percent between 2007 and 2012.

There are plenty of examples of what works elsewhere; Florida needs to adopt the best practices; we could be saving lives and money.

Mark O’Brien is a writer who lives in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

4 lessons learned in 3 years of self-employment

Since I opened in December 2011, I have written all sorts of material, primarily for various businesses and individuals. 

This is my first time being self-employed after working all my career for newspapers and public relations agencies that took care of “the paperwork” — Social Security, taxes, insurance, paid vacations and other stuff I barely considered before I went to work for myself.

I have ghostwritten books for other people — on marketing and social media as well as a man’s memoir. 

I have written short stuff, too — a postcard mailer that needed some zing for an insurance agent, Twitter and Facebook campaigns for events. I’ve researched and written blogs on insurance, audio and fire safety systems, cranked out electronic brochures on chemistry, news releases for numerous organizations, and scripts for business videos. I’ve also provided plenty of public relations advice and donated my services to several nonprofits. I’ve enjoyed it all. 

My biggest challenges have come in cases that I never anticipated, perhaps because I went into this venture with little forethought.

Some things I have learned since I went into business for myself three years ago:

•Lots of people say they will call you, often without you even soliciting their business. But few do.

Don’t take it personally. People do this because they have dreams of improving their website or writing a book, but then they get back to reality and forget their goals. Or maybe they think they’re being polite by saying they will call.

Should I call them? It makes me feel so needy, and it leads to awkward encounters. 

I wrestled with this issue a lot, and now I send them a simple email saying, “You said you want to talk. Here’s my contact info. Get in touch when you’re ready.”

Hardly anyone follows up, but the few who do have been great clients.

•Be grateful for small clients.

I know the maxim is that it’s more efficient to work for a few big clients than a bunch of small clients, but I like little guys.

They’re down-to-earth, their causes are interesting, and they tend to pay promptly, perhaps because they know firsthand the squeeze that slow-payers can put on a business. 

Being a big client too often means never paying a bill in less than 45 or 60 days.

Must. Budget. Accordingly.

•I need to spend more time “Marketing Mark.” I enjoy research, writing and editing, but I need to mingle more with people in business so I can attract more work and build stronger relationships. For instance, I do a lot of tourism work, which I like, but it’s seasonal. More clients would mean both more continuity and more writing challenges.

•Always do your best work. When a client is being troublesome or cheap, the urge may be to cut corners, but I force myself to do my best anyway.

Ultimately, I’m my own boss and I have to answer to myself.

What do you think? Do you have any advice for me as I enter my fourth year in business for myself?

Please contact me at

O ROMEO, ROMEO, quit whining

I see these groups everywhere I go in Florida.

They take over tables in restaurants for breakfast or lunch, muttering here, laughing there, flirting with waitresses a third their age.

I’m talking about those gangs known as ROMEOs — Retired Old Men Eating Out.

Their membership varies widely — ex-business tycoons sit with former ditch-diggers, military lifers and car salesmen.

I’ve been watching them from afar, wondering what they had in common besides their addiction to Fox News and endless conversations about the weather.

Recently, I summoned my courage to infiltrate some of these groups. (No great job of acting by me, says my wife, noting that I too am the age of many a ROMEO.)

Anyway, I was able to pass myself off as a ROMEO in good standing by grumbling about young people these days, denouncing the Affordable Health Care Act and repeatedly saying, “Old age ain’t for sissies.”

Eventually, after attending enough meetings, I obtained an agenda that serves as a blueprint for almost every ROMEO meeting.

Meeting begins:

Item A. General griping: Drivers these days, “rap music” and the need for a bigger automatic cost-of-living increase in Social Security checks.

Consensus: World’s gone to hell. Because? Obama.

Sergeant-at-arms restores order as Geezers A and B talk a little too long and a little too intimately to the waitress, who secretly hopes that one of these ROMEOs will leave her a ton of money in his will.

Real soon.

Item B. Subcommittees meet to review the same ground they plowed at the last ROMEO session: Careers, golf games, high school experiences, what’s wrong with women golfers, dirty jokes from 20 years ago, grown children doing a poor job of raising the grandkids, biased liberal news media.

Item C. Medical report.

Stents? Hip transplants? Runny noses? Paper cuts? “Hey, they changed the size of my pills.” (Please limit your comments to 10 minutes. Other guys need to get home and take their naps.)

Item D. More general griping: Air travel, social media, investments, women, football season, last night’s dinner.

Consensus: All bad. Because? Obama.

Adjourn. To parking lot for more grumbling.

These meetings make me wonder why many old guys complain so much.

Sure, decline and death are on the horizon. Worse yet, they come with the prospect of long, lonely days in airless, understaffed, brightly lit hospital rooms and the realization that we made mistakes and didn’t accomplish all that we set out to accomplish.

Still, most of us have had great lives, and we’re still alive and kicking, as the old folks say.

The glass is half-full, gentlemen. Enjoy!

Mark O’Brien is a writer who lives in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida. Dec. 2, 2014.