Airman Sweeps up Savings With Brass Casings

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LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- With a resounding crack, the M4 carbine fires, kicking into the Airman's shoulder as the bolt is sent to the rear, launching the small brass casing through the ejection port.

Clattering to the ground, the casings are ignored by all, save for one Airman who saw the potential to save big.

Staff Sgt. Justin Wood, the 47th Security Forces Squadron assistant NCO in charge of combat arms, along with several of his fellow instructors, decided to change how Airmen at Laughlin Air Force Base recycled their spent ammunition shells, helping to save the base money.

"The changes were pretty easy, and really spur of the moment," Wood said. "It was something that worked for us and is great for other small bases and possibly larger ones, too."

After noticing 60 crates filled with brass casings stacked outside the firing range waiting to be recycled, Wood decided they looked tacky and something had to be done.

The six-year veteran of security forces decided to cut out the middle man and do a little leg work.

"Normally we take the used casings to our munitions guys to handle recycling and they, in turn, have the casings picked up by the recycling center," Wood said. "We chose to save them time by contacting our recycling guys and seeing how we could turn in the stuff ourselves."

Wood discovered that Laughlin AFB's recycling center cannot recycle the brass casings but has a contract with an outside recycler who can.

The base center gets a fraction of the recycling profits, which they use to cover their overhead, and anything above their profit cap goes back to the base.

By transporting the brass themselves to this outside recycler, Wood earned an average of 50 cents more per pound. This turned the 60 crates of brass, weighing in at 2,000 pounds, into $3,100 for the base recycling program -- an impressive feat for a small base like Laughlin AFB, which only sees 850 students a year at the firing range.

"We coordinated the truck and turned it all in," Wood said. "We do the leg work, and we get a better price on recycling."

In comparison, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, puts more than 37,000 people and more than 1 million rounds of ammunition through Combat Arms Training and Maintenance each year, but has the ability to recycle its casings at their base's recycling center, explained Staff Sgt. Christopher Manrique, a 37th Training Support Squadron Combat Weapons Flight range controller.

"It's a great idea for smaller bases in a similar situation," Manrique said. "It saves money as tougher budget issues loom."

Wood never thought the simple notion of cutting out the middleman to get rid of a pile of spent casings would garner so much attention, but according to the Air Education and Training Command's cost conscience culture initiative, if each AETC Airman saves just $3 per day, the command can save $37 million in a year.

"After figuring out the 'how,' it was all pretty easy," Wood said. "I didn't see this idea going anywhere."

Wood's idea was passed up to AETC as a way to reduce costs throughout the command.

Wood's fellow instructors, who helped make the changes, can't help but praise him.

"Wood thought this was something that needed to be done, and he was right," said Senior Airman Richard Bates, a 47th SFS combat arms instructor.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Jackson, a 47th SFS NCO in charge of combat arms, believes that Wood's idea has the potential to make a big impact.

"Some don't know the steps on how to do this, and (Staff Sgt.) Wood found those steps. That's most of the legwork needed to get started right there," Jackson said.

Wood's initial intent might have simply been to clean up, but his idea has plenty of potential.

"We try to save money where we can. We don't even have our lights on most of the time at CATM," Wood said. "I'm glad, in the end, my idea saves money."

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