The Italian Navy AV-8B Program Office and the U.S. Navy’s AV-8B Weapon Systems Program Office (PMA-257) recently recognized Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) for its outstanding support of the Italian AV-8B Harrier fleet.

Italian Navy AV-8B Deputy Program Manager Cdr. Sergio D’Agostini presented six FRCE employees with letters of appreciation citing the successful completion of Harrier upgrades the team performed at Naval Air Station Grottaglie in Italy. AV-8B Weapon Systems Program Office (PMA-257) Program Manager Col. Mark Amspacher was also on hand to recognize the FRCE personnel.

FRCE Commanding Officer Capt. James Belmont said he was pleased to see the team’s hard work and dedication recognized by the Italian Navy.

“I am very proud of the FRC East team,” Belmont said. “They went in and not only completed their mission – they exceeded all objectives. To see them recognized like this by one of our allies highlights their professionalism, expertise and dedication. Our people are our greatest asset at FRC East and I think this demonstrates that.”

The team from FRCE traveled to Naval Air Station Grottaglie earlier this year to perform LINK-16 modifications to four Italian Navy AV-8B Harriers. LINK-16 is a standardized communications system used by the United States, NATO and coalition forces to transmit and exchange real time tactical data.

The multidisciplinary team comprised Matt Dryden, Jesse Kerr, Eric Ellenberger, Roger Freeman and Victor Smith.

According to Dryden, FRCE’s project manager for AV-8B International LINK-16 modifications, the initial goal was to complete four planes within 90 days.

“The team was so efficient that they completed the fourth Harrier with nearly a month to go,” Dryden said. “The Italian Navy contacted me before the completion of the fourth aircraft with the desire to add a fifth aircraft to our schedule. The team agreed. I think that really speaks to their professionalism, dedication, and that mindset of supporting our allies and getting the job done.”

Dryden said the modifications went smoothly despite the team working in a foreign environment, outside of the standardized hangars they are accustomed to at FRCE or Marine Corps squadrons.

“Things like the physical layout of the hangar and tooling are different in Grottaglie,” said Dryden. “With the Marine Corps squadrons, we’re all lockstep and our standards are the same. In Grottaglie, they were a little different, but this team familiarized themselves with the layout and became accustomed to their temporary working environment. There was also a language barrier that this team overcame through the use of translation tools on their mobile devices.”

Dryden said members of the team worked closely with the Italian Navy prior to the start of the modifications to ensure the process went smoothly. He also cited the flexibility and expertise of the FRCE team as crucial factors in the project’s success.

“Our three artisans and our Fleet Support Team engineer deserve all of the credit,” said Dryden. “Here at the depot, we were all in support of this team, but they were the ones who were out there where the wheels hit the road. They took this project and accomplished the mission well under budget and ahead of schedule.

“We finished 18% better than the original estimate, which was for only four aircraft,” continued Dryden. “We actually finished around 30% under budget when you factor in the completion of the fifth aircraft.”

In addition to the LINK-16 modification team, FRCE Engineer Justin Cox, was also recognized for his work with the Italian Navy’s Harrier program while stationed at Naval Air Station Grottaglie for the past several years.

FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.