Sign shop points the way

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dillon White
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
Stop. Yield. Detour. Exit. Every sign on base, and in the missile field, carries a message and each one originates at the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron's metal and sign shops. 

New signs are continually needed for a variety of reasons, including replacement due to wear or loss, or updating information or graphics. For example, the transition from Air Force Space Command to Air Force Global Strike Command will require every sign with the AFSPC shield to be redone. 

"It's going to be a lot of work," said Cliff Holmes, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron sign craftsman. "It will take about six months and we will have to replace the [shield] graphic on the water tower too." 

While this is a large job for the sign shop, its work load is not as heavy as it once was, Mr. Holmes said. 

Signs on base were hand-painted until around 1996, when vinyl, which lasts six-to-eight years, replaced paint, which was reapplied every six months. 

Mr. Holmes was originally hired as a welder with Rivet MILE (Minuteman Integrated Life Extension) in 1985, a program designed to improve safety, maintainability and reliability of Minuteman facilities. 

In 1993, he transitioned from his welding job at the Rivet MILE because that position had been terminated. 

"I was a welder for 22 years," Mr. Holmes said. "The sign shop was a hold-over job until they could find me another welding job." 

When an opening did come for him to return to Rivet MILE, he politely declined in favor of crafting signs, he said. 

"There is always a challenge in doing signs and I like that," Mr. Holmes said. "On my first day, they sat me in front of the computer and told me to turn it on. I said 'how?'" 

He confessed his welding experience was not the best pre-requisite for making signs, and he made a few mistakes in the spelling department as an amateur wordsmith. One of his mistakes was captured in the background of a photograph in an Air Force published magazine. 

"The sign had the word 'environmental' on it. I spelled it the way it sounds, and left out the 'n,'" Mr. Holmes said. "I keep a dictionary on my desk now and I use spell-check a lot." 

The ex-welder creates and refinishes thousands of signs per year. Currently, he is working on more than 1,000 signs marking restricted areas for missile alert facilities and launch facilities in the missile field. 

His repertoire includes every sign on base, whether it's at an intersection, on a building door, inside or on the base's water towers. 

Mr. Holmes cannot complete his work without bare aluminum blanks, which is the body of the sign, provided by the 341st CES metal shop, he said. 

These blanks come in either .050- or .080-inch pre-anodized aluminum. The anodizing process makes the signs last longer and helps the vinyl adhere better, said Mark Boser, 341st CES welder. 

"Mr. Holmes will call us and tell us how many sign blanks he needs and what size his regulations require. Then we cut the blanks and build posts for them, if needed," Mr. Boser said. 

During busy months, when sign blanks are needed to replace missing or physically damaged signs, the metal shop may produce as many as 60 aluminum blanks, Mr. Boser said. Most signs are taken down and recovered if they are faded or require new information. 

Whether it is a "parking for any Airman" sign at the commissary or a yield sign by a crosswalk, Mr. Boser and Mr. Holmes have, more than likely, stamped, measured and spell-checked it for everyone to see.