Dean Yoro, left, flashed a shaka yesterday as he sat with fellow apprentices Michael Souza and Michael Young during the graduation ceremony of 178 apprentices from the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. Some 178 students, including journeymen from 17 different trades, completed a four-year apprentice program.

Pearl apprentices
make mark

A class of 178 people successfully
completes a four-year program
at the naval shipyard

While a career as a shipyard rigger might not be as thrilling or glamorous as a professional bodyboarder, A.J. Arecchi couldn't be happier with his new occupation.

The 30-year-old from Haleiwa was one of 178 apprentices who graduated yesterday from the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, which last month narrowly escaped being added to a list of military bases being considered for closure or downsizing.

The class included journeymen in 17 different trades and is just the third full class since the apprentice program was reinstated in 1999 after a six-year hiatus.

"This is the best-kept secret on the island," he said. "Great benefits, unbelievable working environment and they really stress safety, and I like that."

While rigging might not be as fun as bodyboarding, Arecchi said, "The pay is a whole lot better" and provides stability for his family.

As journeymen they will earn about $50,000 each to start, and their wages can quickly rise with years of service and promotions, said Ben Toyama, vice president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

Erika Dargan of Pearl City was the only female welder in her group. She had worked in property management.

"Big difference," she said. "I've always been interested in mechanics, how things worked, and metals. I just thought it was unique how you can make something out of nothing."

Several military officials and politicians praised the new journeymen for completing the rigorous four-year program and being selected from the more than 3,000 applicants.

"They are truly the cream of the crop," said Capt. Frank Camelio, head of the Pearl Harbor shipyard.

Camelio and other speakers urged the new journeymen to work proudly and diligently. Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard's efficiency was questioned this summer by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

"As the recent BRAC scare taught us all, we cannot rest on the laurels of a historic shipyard of World War II. That is for the history books and the old sailors of my generation to reminisce about," U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said in a statement read by an aide at the ceremony. "The old ways of doing business are no longer going to be acceptable. With the shrinking defense dollars, we must raise the bar."

Inouye was in Washington, D.C., tending to his wife, Maggie, who is recovering from medical procedures for her cancer. Last fall, she had a cancerous growth removed from her large intestine.

Both Dargan and Arecchi said they weren't too worried about the commission proceedings. Five of the nine BRAC members favored adding Pearl Harbor to a hit list, but the vote fell two votes short of the seven needed to make additions to the list originally submitted by the Pentagon in May. The list targeted the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, for closure.

"I feel for the quality of work we do, the amount of work we take on, this place is too vital to be forgotten or lost," Arecchi said.

Thomas Miguel, a veteran electrician, said the BRAC was "a wake-up call that we need to be better."

"It's good to build a ship that does well, but we want to build a ship that does exceedingly well," he said. "I think everybody realized that we all need to step up, whether it's labor, management, planners, finance people -- everybody.

"There's no laying back. You got to stay on the edge and make sure you're sharpening the knife."

Toyama, the labor leader, said improvements to efficiency and productivity are being made at the shipyard, which is Hawaii's largest industrial employer with about 4,500 civilian employees.

But he emphasized that Pearl Harbor is not in the clear yet. After bases on the mainland are closed and reduced, the Navy will realign the work and could decide to add or eliminate jobs at Pearl Harbor.

"We need to improve our efficiencies in all that we do to compete with the other shipyards in spite of the BRAC," he said.

More than 4,000 people have graduated from the Pearl Harbor apprentice program since 1924.

"You're not just an individual doing a discreet job," Gov. Linda Lingle said. "You are a critical part of our country's ability to defend itself. You are the ones who are going to keep our ships sailing."

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