Gases And Welding On The Front Lines

Lending real world experience to the mission

Members of the American Armed Forces serve their country in times of peace and conflict, continuing a long tradition of honor and pride. Whether training at a domestic Reserve camp, or being deployed halfway around the globe, these men and women display commitment and determination to protect the United States of America.

In addition to their allegiance to the military, these determined individuals are employed in gases and welding jobs back home in the states. The experience gained by these soldiers is helping them while on active duty and in Reserve units. Conversely, these service people have also benefited from their military experience when returning home to civilian careers. Whether welding tank armor in the desert or running a fill plant at home, the service of these men and women to our country and to our industry is a mark of honor and pride.

Welding & Gases Today salutes these brave and generous men and women of GAWDA companies who are serving their country in this time of national need. Thank you.

Industry Vet Educates Fellow Soldiers

Patrick Fitzsimmons

Sergeant Patrick Fitzsimmons in front of Saddam Hussein's (former) Air Force Academy


Patrick Fitzsimmons joined the Army in 1984 and continues to serve as a member of the National Guard. In 2000, he took a job as an inside salesperson at Middlesex Gases & Technologies (Everett, MA). After 9/11, he was sent to the Middle East. Last November 2005, Sergeant First Class Fitzsimmons returned to his civilian job. During those four years in the Middle East, most recently in Tikrit, Fitzsimmons brought gases and welding lessons to the troops. He recalls a time in Iraq when he observed two soldiers carrying helium tanks used to set up weather balloons used to collect data for artillery practice. “One guy was carrying the tank on one end and another guy had it on the other end. The way they were carrying it was very unsafe. As a senior sergeant and because of my civilian expertise in the gases industry, I found their senior sergeant and gave an impromptu class on proper handling of cylinders to a platoon-sized group of soldiers.” The on-the-spot correction by Fitzsimmons ensured that the soldiers knew how to safely handle gas. “It’s called lending your real world experience to the mission,” he says, and notes that he also made sure their regulators were in good condition. “In my regular Reserve unit in the States, I also check truck cylinders and acetylene gas levels just to help out.”

From the military, Fitzsimmons learned how to relate to individuals from all walks of life and experiences. He also learned how to quickly adapt to change. “Those skills have been helpful in this industry. I’ve been transferred multiple times to different locations where my strengths are needed. While I can say I’m not always happy about it, I accept it because, like the military, things change a lot. And you work for the greater good.”

Brian Bramhall

Air Force Fire Protection Firefighter Brian Bramhall


Military Firefighter Learns Leadership
After Brian Bramhall joined the Air Force, he was sent to the Department of Defense Fire Academy and graduated as a U.S. Air Force Fire Protection Firefighter. Assigned to Balad Air Base in Iraq, Bramhall served for six months in 2004 from one of three fire stations designed to provide fire protection both on and off the base. He says, “There were a lot of serious times.” Despite being only 21 years old, a lot of younger firefighters looked up to Bramhall. “I learned a lot about being a leader while in Iraq,” he says. “I think people looked up to me, in part, because of my welding knowledge.” Bramhall’s industry experience certainly served him well in Iraq. “The first thing our chief asked was what everybody did on the outside in their normal career fields,” Bramhall recalls. An inside sales rep at the Pleasantville, New Jersey, branch store of South Jersey Welding Supply (Vineland, NJ), Bramhall replied that he had a basic knowledge of welding. “So when stuff broke, I made the repairs. We had a nice little shop on base and I would do stick welding and fix vehicle doors, minor repairs just to keep the department operating.” While Bramhall’s main responsibilities in Iraq were firefighting and rescue, he was also a member of the Hazardous Materials Response Team. “My experiences with hazardous materials from my job at South Jersey Welding Supply allowed me to add extensive knowledge to the team when we performed our duties,” he says.

Kevin Williams

Senior Airman Kevin Williams


Branch Manager Overcomes Language and Skill Barriers
Kevin Williams, branch manager at Airgas Mid America’s Camdenton, Missouri, location since 2002, recognizes that his military experience is clearly helping him in his civilian career. “In Iraq, I had to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers to correspond with native people,” he says. “I was dealing with people I couldn’t understand, or who often couldn’t understand me. In my work now, customers often come in who know little about welding yet have to purchase equipment and supplies, or have to understand technical applications beyond their scope of experience. I’ve learned a few things about how to communicate with those who don’t understand my language, or I theirs.” Williams was on active duty with the Army in the 1980s, and after September 11 became a member of the Air Force Guard. From May ‘03 to July ‘04, he was stationed at Baghdad International Airport and in Najaf, where the senior airman served as a combat engineer. Williams built base camps for incoming troops, rebuilt Iraqi schools, and helped run a security checkpoint.

Working as a Team to Get Planes on Mission
Rhonda Traylor is currently a staff sergeant in the Air Force Reserve, as well as a human resources representative in the Hyattsville, Maryland, branch of Airgas East. Traylor is a 17-year military veteran and joined Airgas after a tour of duty in 2003. When activated for the war, she was stationed in Sicily and responsible for making sure that U.S. planes were mechanically fit to sortie into Iraq and Iran. “Our pilots flew to the war zone to bring back casualities and injured soldiers to Sigonella Air Base in Sicily,” she explains. “Then planes would fly the deceased back to the states.” For this very important job, Traylor points to teamwork as being integral to the mission. “My fellow maintenance workers and I worked as a team, and together we ensured that the planes were intact and ready for service.” Last fall, Traylor was sent on a three-week mission to Turkey, where she refueled planes going to Iraq. She points to the value of teamwork as critical in her daily job. “Regardless of what is needed, it has to get done.”
Troy Hill

Master Sergeant Troy Hill in Iraq


Sales VP Communicates with Diverse Audience
Troy Hill, vice president of sales at Welsco (North Little Rock, AR), joined the Navy 20 years ago. Now a Master Sergeant in the Air National Guard, Hill was deployed last summer to Balad Air Base in Iraq where he supervised a transient alert team overseeing incoming troops and supplies. “I’ve had to communicate with many diverse people who had a variety of backgrounds and skill levels,” says Hill, “and as a result, am now better able to relate to and help Welsco’s customers who have little or no welding experience.” While on duty, Hill made use of his knowledge of welding equipment. “There were a lot of welding machines on base that no one knew how to operate; I was able to assist with training on all those machines.”

Bob Buckman

First Sergeant Bob Buckman


Stress Stretches this Soldier
“Sales can be stressful at times,” notes Bob Buckman, outside sales rep at the Jessup, Maryland, branch of GTS, Inc. (Allentown, PA), who credits his experience in the U.S. Army as teaching him how to be organized while in a variety of situations at once. “I learned how to deal with the stress of the environment while accomplishing my company’s mission,” he says. Buckman also points to time management skills he uses every day at GTS as being critical for his success as a leader in his role as First Sergeant.

Mike Carberry

Captain Mike Carberry at Thar Thar, an area in Iraq southwest of Tikrit


Searching for WMD While Checking Regulators
Mike Carberry, principal engineer at BOC Gases (Murray Hill, NJ), is also a captain in the Army Reserve. A 20-year veteran of the Reserve, Carberry was deployed to Iraq in May 2003. Stationed at Camp Flare on the outskirts of Baghdad, Carberry served in the Iraq Survey Group, a task force charged with uncovering the truth about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Carberry put his five years of experience with BOC to good use while in Iraq. “When we rolled down to an industrial site, I was better able to identify what equipment was intended for, as opposed to fellow soldiers who had no experience with industrial gases,” he says. “I could look at piping and recognize what was a check valve and what was a regulator.” As a result of his military service, Carberry’s improved organizational skills now enable him to better plan and conduct company operations.

LeRay Wesseling

Specialist LeRay Wesseling


Always Fixing Something
Difficulties in the supply of armor for military vehicles forced some American troops to fend for themselves. “I put my welding experience to use as soon as I arrived in Kuwait,” says LeRay Wesseling, a driver for A-Ox Welding Supply Company (Sioux Falls, SD), who was stationed in Iraq from January 2003 to February 2004 with the Army National Guard. “We had to make our own armored doors for high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles.” Wesseling points out that traveling in rough country required follow-up skills. “We were wrecking equipment all the time, so we were always fixing something.” Wesseling, 25, went to basic training the summer between his junior and senior years in high school. Now a specialist with the Army National Guard, he was stationed at Camp Cedar 2 and various other sites, doing site security on ammunition caches. His time in the military taught him many things. “I’ve gained a great work ethic,” he says, “and I’m always on time. Instead of showing up at 8:00, I’m here at 7:30. The military’s philosophy is if you are ten minutes early, you’re late.”

GAWDA Vietnam Vet Aids Families of the Fallen

I’ve seen hell,” says Vietnam Vet Joe Campbell, president of Machinery and Welder Corporation (West Allis, WI), who vividly remembers the disdain returning troops were greeted with upon arriving home. “I can complain about that, or I can turn around and make sure it will never happen again.”

Impacted by the rising military death toll in Operation Iraqi Freedom, including 55 soldiers from Wisconsin, Campbell and a friend established “Being There, Reaching Out,” a program that assists families of Wisconsin men and women lost in the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Established statewide, the program is gaining national attention.

Families come together several times a year for outreach to deal with the loss of loved ones. The organization brings in counselors and connects with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Campbell says, “Unless you’ve been through this tragedy, you can’t understand it, so meeting other people in a similar situation is often helpful and healing.”

Campbell also helps organize the POW/MIA balloon launch that occurs every year on Memorial Day in Milwaukee. In 2006, the group launched 20,000 balloons at Milwaukee’s Vietnam Memorial, the largest balloon launch in the United States. Over 10,000 cu.ft. of helium was donated from Machinery and Welder Corporation and fellow GAWDA member Welders Supply Company in Beloit, Wisconsin.

When he is not running his company, most of Campbell’s time is dedicated to organizations that help military veterans. “We are just a little old welding supply company here in Milwaukee doing all we can to take care of our troops.”

For more information about Being There, Reaching Out, please visit

Dvae Koetter

Sergeant David Koetter at Balad Air Base


Service Tech Develops Procedures for Armoring Vehicles
David Koetter gained extensive experience doing welding repairs while serving with the National Guard as a sergeant and construction engineer at Balad Air Base in Iraq. Koetter helped the base’s maintenance department develop welding procedures for the repair and armoring of military vehicles. “They were using the wrong wire and gas combinations,” he says, and he made sure to remedy that problem. Koetter, a 22-year veteran of the National Guard, was deployed in April 2003 and returned home in March 2004. A service technician at Central McGowan, Inc. (St. Cloud, MN), Koetter says he has new appreciation for civilian life in the United States. “At the beginning of a war, you have to build everything from scratch. Making do with nothing teaches you that there is no goal in your work or in your life that cannot be achieved.”

Driver Makes It Happen
Scott Miller, a driver for Great Lakes Pipe & Supply, the Gaylord location of Alpena Supply Company (Alpena, MI), was a Master Sergeant in the Air Force Reserve when he volunteered to go to Iraq. With 20 years in, he was assigned to work as a vehicle operator at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, where he stayed for six months. His job was moving cargo, and he drove semis, trucks and buses. He describes his talent as “truck driver and juggler,” but more often was called on to be confidant and motivator for troops under him. Miller explains, “We often came up against situations that had to get done, but we didn’t have the manpower or the equipment. The young guys would say it couldn’t be done. But I know what it’s like to work under pressure. In my civilian job, I make it happen every day.” So Miller’s response to his young charges? “We can get it done. We have to get it done.”
Ian Phillips

Sergeant Ian Phillips


Torch Experience Put to Use
Ian Phillips, a Marine Corps sergeant, was very affected by his time overseas. “I value my way of life here and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans so much more now,” says Phillips, currently a member of the Reserves and an account manager in the Ithaca, New York, branch of Airgas East. Phillips spent all of 2005 stationed in the Hip/Haditha corridor in the Al-Anbar Province of Iraq doing counter-insurgency operations, conducting vehicular and foot security patrols. He found his industry knowledge useful while in combat. “When we needed to cut our way into places or clear debris, knowing how to run a propane oxy-fuel torch was very helpful,” he says. He also benefited from his management experience at Airgas. “As account manager, I have to be able to work with a lot of different experience levels simultaneously. On one day, I may have a customer using a laser to cut precision pieces of metal, along with a guy who is welding aircraft grade aluminum for a government contract, and someone welding bumpers back together in an auto repair shop.” Being able to multi-task was carried over to Phillips’ work in Iraq, where he was responsible for soldiers whose average age was 22. “They looked to me as the guy in charge of them, and my professional record assured them that I knew how to get things done.”


Gases and Welding Distributors Association