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By Ben Hutto, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs
When Greg Robins, work supervisor, Shop 11/17, Shipfitters, Forge and Sheetmetal, graduated from South Kitsap High School in 2002, he had some ideas about what he wanted to do for a living.
“The one thing I did know was that I didn’t want to work at the shipyard,” he said.
Working at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility wasn’t something he was unfamiliar with. Four generations of his family had worked at the shipyard, starting with his great grandfather, George McKelvey, who took a job in the sheetmetal shop in the 1920s.
McKelvey’s daughter, Mae, followed in her father’s footsteps and took a job during World War II driving a crane for Shop 51, Electricians and selling war bonds, where she met Wilbur A. Sauer, the man who would become Robins’ grandfather. The family lore is that when Robins’ grandfather Sauer saw Mae McKelvey, he wanted to impress her and see her as often as he could, so he became determined to buy more war bonds than anyone else at the shipyard. The tactic worked and, after a brief courtship of 21 days, the pair were married.
“So I guess the shipyard is the reason I’m here,” Robins said with a chuckle.
Despite the family legacy, Robins graduated high school with an eye toward becoming a draftsmen. Robins took jobs working in retail outlets as he pursued an associate’s degree at Olympic College. But, as he got close to earning his associate’s degree two years later, Robins’ father encouraged him to apply for the apprentice program. Despite being leery, Robins put in his application and was accepted.
It began his career in the shipyard and continued the family legacy Robins’ father, Richard, had been carrying on since 1976, when he was accepted for an apprenticeship in Shop 17, as a sheetmetal worker. The elder Robins worked a total of 37 years in that trade before finally retiring in 2020.
Taking the torch from his father, Robins worked hard and completed the Apprentice Program in 2010. It involved a lot of hard work and learning of fabrication skills of the trade. But, Robins’ efforts eventually caught the attention of Shop 11/17’s leadership and he was offered a position as the industrial liaison for Shop 31, Maintenance in 2009, prior to completing the apprenticeship.
Robins tackled his new job with enthusiasm and was soon providing the metal work and guards for the shop. After working in several other departments and codes at PSNS & IMF, Robins was promoted to his current position as a work supervisor. The years of work have been full and rewarding, Robins said.
“I’ve seen a lot of things here,” he said. “There were a lot of projects that many people were skeptical about during COVID. We had to install six thousand barriers to help keep people safe. There was a need everywhere and a lot of people warned me that we didn’t have the resources to get it done. They were wrong.”
Robins said he has continually seen the men and women he works with overcome similar challenges, regularly.
“Honestly, it has made me like and respect the people I work with more,” he said. “It’s really rewarding to work with people like that. It’s not just about what we do. For me, it’s about the people I work with. For us, it’s about what we can do to make things better for the people we work with.”
Equipped with a family legacy, a strong group of co-workers and love for what he does, Robins is glad he followed his father’s advice 18 years ago.
Robins is now a father with two children of his own and another one on the way. How would he feel about one of his children following in his footsteps and working in the shipyard?
“I don’t know,” he said with a grin. “My first daughter helped me take a mountain bike apart and put it back together at one years old. She likes having a wrench in her hand. You never know.”